Back in Oklahoma, where I grew up, sardines are a tinned affair — not to mention a lonely business. Their appearance in, say, a kid’s brown-bag lunch could mark one as a decidedly fishy outsider right through graduation. But now he or she can have the last laugh while indulging urbanely, on any given Thursday, in the sardine piatto del giorno ("plate of the day") at Neptune Oyster. The preparation (and price) changes from week to week, but the punch these pungent little guys pack definitely does not. They may pop up as meaty, briny grilled chunks in an otherwise soothing bowl of spaghettini aglio e olio with mussels ($20.50), where their role is to keep your taste buds on their tiptoes — or better yet, knock them on their asses — with sudden bursts of strong savor. Perhaps they’ll come grilled in a sandwich ($14.50), layered on mustard-spread country bread with salami and pieces of hard-boiled egg, and studded with capers. Maybe they’ll arrive baked whole under a salt crust, and served with a salad of red peppers and black olives ($10.95). Or maybe, in fine fried form, they’ll add zest to a classic caprese salad of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil ($10.95). And maybe, just maybe, you heartland types can eat your hearts out.
Available at Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street, in Boston. Call (617) 742-3474.