[Ed. Note: Here is my Christmas Gift to all of my readers out there. Good food and an even better story to go along with it. Happy Holidays!]
Let me set the mood of this entry by starting with a quote from the movie Casablanca:
"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."
Yep, it was going to be one of those nights.
After finishing up my sessions at this year's Ohio Linuxfest, I decided to meet up with my aunt at the Easton Shopping Center on the city's east side of town. While there are plenty of places to eat at Easton, I wasn't really feeling the love for any of them. Remembering a tiny vegetarian Indian restaurant that used to be located close to the first apartment complex I lived at while residing in Columbus, I suggested that we eat there. The food was always spectacular and as there were usually far more Indian clientèle than American, I figured the food had to be pretty authentic. Unfortunately, it was no longer there. Feeling pretty famished, we chose plan "B" and decided to settle on what was always a favorite of mine, the Old Bag of Nails Pub. There are several around town, but the one we chose was the one in Worthington, near the intersection of Rt. 161 and High Street. They are located at 663 High Street and can be reached at 614-436-5552.
Parking was located both on the street and behind the row of buildings. After parking my car, my aunt and I walked up to the front of the restaurant. Here was what the front of the building looked like:
My aunt was a little concerned that we were going on a Saturday night after the Ohio State football game just ended and that there would be a horrendous wait. Fortunately, there were a lot of two tops coming available and the hostess was able to seat us within five minutes of our arrival. As we proceeded to walk past the bar area into the back part of the restaurant, I became aware that she would be seating us at the middle table (which of course had the poorest lighting conditions). As we sat down, I happened to glance at the table to my left and noticed a four top consisting of two couples. While I couldn't see the couple at the table sitting directly to my left, I did manage to get enough of an impression of the couple sitting opposite them to give me pause.
Here was where the story got interesting.
My mind started to race. I got the distinct impression that the woman looked vaguely familiar. Was this someone I know? I racked my brain for about ten seconds or so and decided I needed another look. I quickly glanced over and focused on both of their faces for what seemed like an eternity, but I'm sure was closer to a second and a half. I only broke my glance when the mystery woman turned her head and I got the full facial outline. Then it suddenly hit me. At the table next to me was my old high school girlfriend, let's just call her 'K', from my senior year. The one I had dumped prior to prom and hadn't spoken to in over nineteen years. The one who used to wonder how we could talk for hours and hours at a time over the phone but when we were together, there was never any physical chemistry between us. The one who as my life continued to unfold during my college and post-college years I thought about contacting several times in order to explain that it, "really was me and not her," but never did.
As soon as I recognized K, I also recognized D, her husband, too. He ran in the same circle of friends that K and I did. To add another level or resolve to my conviction, I then heard her laugh at something someone else at the table said. I hadn't heard that laugh in nineteen years, but as soon as I heard it, I knew for certain that my suspicions were right. Had the vegetarian Indian place still been open, had we gone to a different Old Bag of Nails Pub location, heck, had we sat at a different spot in the restaurant we were in, this serendipitous meeting would never have happened.
Normally, I would've just quietly leaned over the table and told my aunt what was going on, but I didn't want to draw any undue attention to myself, lest K or D make the same realization about me and heaven forbid, actually start up a conversation. So I did the only thing a freaked out nerd could do, I texted my aunt's cellphone.
"OMG! Do U know who is sitting at the tbl next 2 U? Ex from HS. Break-up was very bad."
Unfortunately, she was sitting on the same side of the table as K and D, so the only thing she could see was the left side of D. It wasn't until the entire table finished paying the check and got up to leave that she was finally able to get a good look at the entire party. I don't know if K or D ever figured out who I was, but none of them said a word as they all filed past me towards the front of the restaurant. I almost felt like I had been holding my breath the entire time and now I could finally let out a huge breath of used air in one big "whoosh!"
Now that I've thoroughly entertained you, gentle reader, with my multi-decade drama, we can progress onto the meal itself. While I have eaten many items off of the menu, the one thing for which I come whenever I manage to get to Columbus is the fish and chips. In fact, it is the bar by which I judge all other fried fish dishes; it is simply that good. After sitting down, our hostess handed us each a menu:
I didn't take pictures of the individual pages for two reasons. First, the menu is on the website I linked to earlier in this write-up. Second, the lighting was atrocious and I didn't want to post picture after picture of heavily doctored photos. So, the only other menu-related photo I took was of the fish and chips dinner:
At $12.99, this was several dollars more than I remember it being since the last time I had been here. However, it was now all you can eat. Which was a little strange, because unless they had changed the size of the fish fillets used, the two pieces it initially comes with were plenty. My aunt and I both placed an order for the fish and chips and continued talking about the oddness of the evening while the kitchen cooked up our order. After about fifteen minutes or so, we each received this:
The fries were hidden underneath the two large whitefish fillets, but you can see them barely sticking out of the bottom of the basket. Served with cole slaw and tartar sauce, I couldn't imagine anyone being able to eat more than this, and I suppose that when the restaurant decided they had to raise the price, they probably figured that giving people an AYCE option was a good way to justify it.
The thing that I've always loved about the fried fish at Old Bag of Nails Pub was that it always combined the best of all worlds. The fish was cut thick enough so that it stayed juicy and hot. The beer batter was thick enough to add texture and crunch, but no so thick that you felt like you were eating mostly breading and just a little bit of fish. How did tonight's version stack up to previous visits? I still think it is my favorite version of fried fish, but tonight's sampling was just a tad dry in spots. My aunt felt the same way about her fish, too. That being said, it was still delicious. The chips, or more accurately, steak fries, were a bit disappointing in that they were only lukewarm. Fortunately, they weren't limp or greasy, so I cut the kitchen a little slack given how busy they were.
Every fish and chips platter comes with a side of cole slaw:
The cole slaw had a nice tang to it and did well to help cut through the fattiness of the fried fish and the tartar sauce. I only managed to eat about half of it, almost all of my fish and chips, and about half of my pint of Guinness before I decided to throw in the towel and give up. Our server returned to check on us to see if we needed her to put in another order of fried fish. After rebuffing her question, she looked shocked and proceeded to regale us with the tale of another patron who not only ordered two appetizers and the fish and chips, but also had two extra fish fillets on top of that. I don't know if I was being truly empathic that night or not, but I almost felt ill just listening to it.
Overall, I think that the Old Bag of Nails Pub still puts out a very good fried fish dinner. My steak fries weren't quite as hot as I thought they should have been, but they still managed to avoid the pitfalls of most poorly fried food. Would I return again the next time I find myself in Columbus? Absolutely. Would I surreptitiously scout out the joint first just to make sure I don't have a repeat run-in with an old ex-girlfriend? You'd better believe it!
And K, if you're out there and you actually manage to find this, I did walk away from that relationship with your love of North By Northwest. Well, that and a few more things that aren't particularly relevant to a food blog.