Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Quest For Fish

Circleville, Ohio is the home of the annual "Pumpkin Show" which is hands-down the greatest festival I have ever visited. I had family connections in Circleville and every October we would make the trek to this quaint little town just south of Columbus just to view the giant pumpkins awaiting judging on Main Street, see again the world's largest pumpkin pie in the window of Lindsey's Bakery, ride the rides and watch the two parades that happened each of the festival's four days. It is a place and time full of fond memories. This year's festival starts tomorrow (Jackie, you should definitely take the little Lanterns). It is magnitudes beyond Milton's little wing ding in scope and coolness.

Okay, okay, but where's the hot dog relevance? Well, it's a stretch, but before I found that I had been liberated from my allergy to coleslaw I had another obsession that took me to odd little restaurants looking for the perfect specimen. It started when I was about 14 years old in a bar in Circleville.

The bar was (and still is) called "Shifty's" and it was (and I assume still is) the most perfect example of a small town watering hole that I have ever seen or even heard of. From the outside it's nothing special but walk through the creaky red door and you immediately know that this place is very special. To a fourteen year old boy it was more than special: It was positively magical. Pictures of local celebrities with autographs wishing the owners good luck in future endeavors lined the walls. A TV hanging in one corner was always on and always seemed to have an Ohio State football game on whenever I was there - which I'm sure was impossible because it was long before ESPN and VCRs. In two of the other corners were screens for what would best be described as a video game, but it wasn't. It was a dart throwing game where a cartoonish character did the throwing, controlled by a bar-goer holding a remote that controlled when the dart was released. The dart would go from one screen and seemingly through the ether to the other screen that held the image of the dart board. Depending on at what point in the throwing motion of the cartoon dart thrower the button was pressed, the dart would hit the edge of the target or a bullseye with varying point levels for each zone. The game kept score and two or four players could play against each other. Since this was perhaps a year before I saw "Pong" for the first time it was mesmerizing, as you can imagine. I played for hours.

My uncle, who lived in Circleville, and my stepfather were the adults that were responsible for my presence in the bar, and while it might seem unimaginable in this day and time, it was quite normal for a young man to be in a bar in those days. I'm not sure it was legal at all, but it was fairly common for a man to take his son into bars to show him off to his drinking buddies. My uncle and stepdad would sometimes take me to play golf with them at my uncle's club and they never played golf without stopping off at Shifty's for a "snort" on the way home. So I went to Shifty's, but no snorts for me.

Sometimes we would eat at Shifty's and that is when I fell completely in love with the fish sandwich they served there. It was the tastiest and most satisfying sandwich I had ever eaten and to this day I have never found one as good. And I have tried. I can't tell you a single detail about it after all these years except that it was majorly awesome.

I made it my hobby for many years to find a fish sandwich in Charleston as good as Shifty's. I have to tell you that I never found one that was as good, but the closest I ever found was at the drive in that used to be located on Kanawha Boulevard where the Moose Lodge is today (I think it was called the "Tip Top Drive In"). Of course there was no Blogger in those days so I never documented my quest for fish but I assure you it was every bit as involved as my search for hot dogs.

Well, the reason I bring this up is because I was thinking about Shifty's and the Circleville Pumpkin Show recently and I did a little Googling. Lo and behold I found this little ukulele music video that was shot outside and inside Shifty's! As I watched it I laughed, and as I watched it again it brought a tear to my eye as I missed those scrumptious sandwiches. In the video you get a glimpse of the inside and the people who patronize the place these days. Check it out.

Isn't the Internet great sometimes?

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