There are surprisingly few things I miss about living in the PNW. Family and friends, of course. Powell’s Books. Liberalism. But most of my fondest memories are tempered by reality: the worsening traffic jams, the median home price inching ever closer to $400,000. Tara longs for the ocean at times, and while the ruggedly beautiful Oregon Coast will always hold a special place in my heart, I have lived within 100 miles of an ocean for 82 percent of my life. Yes, I did the math. I think it’s safe to say I’ve gotten sand and saltwater out of my system at this point in my life.
One thing I do miss, however, is our favorite hangout: Shanahan’s, an unassuming little Irish pub in downtown Vancouver, WA. Many a Friday night was spent tucked into our favorite spot in the corner. We had a server who became so familiar with us, she would bring us our drinks without even taking our order. Tequila soda for me, Bud Light for Tara. Once, she saw us crossing the street, and had them ready for us the moment we sat down. It’s hard to find service like that anywhere.
Always, that first round of drinks was accompanied by fried pickle spears. They were our go-to app, and those are what I miss more than anything else. Hot and crispy, with fresh dill weed mixed right into the batter…that was the secret. You might think a fried pickle is a fried pickle is a fried pickle, but you would be wrong, wrong, and wrong. It’s very hard to find the perfect fried pickle. Some places serve them sliced, but then the ratio of batter to pickle is off. Murphy’s Pub in Rapid City is known for their fried pickles, and yes, they’re good, but they come wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with mozzarella. It’s the definition of overkill: tasty but unnecessary. The pickle should be the star, not everything that surrounds it. Like Shakira during the Super Bowl halftime show, not her backup dancers. Her hips don’t lie. Her backup dancers’ hips might be a little looser with the truth, but I’m not invested in theirs like I am hers.
Err…weird analogy. Hopefully you catch my drift.
So, we simply resigned ourselves to a life without fried pickles. It was one of those trade-offs of moving to the Midwest, like giving up the ocean for the prairie or swapping Dungeness crab for buffalo.
And then, a funny thing happened. We discovered the pretzel sticks at Paddy O’Neill’s. Like Shanahan’s, it’s an Irish pub. A little more upscale—it’s in the lobby of the Hotel Alex Johnson, after all—but the Happy Hour is decent, the drinks are good, and the food is on point.
Especially those pretzel sticks.
They’re Bavarian style—soft, chewy, and buttery. Topped with finely sliced green onions and served with a warm queso dipping sauce that has a subtle kick. We’ve ordered them a few times now, and I’m always surprised at just how addictively delicious they are. We stopped by last Friday after work, and after scarfing ’em down, I realized something interesting: I didn’t miss those fried pickle spears from Shanahan’s quite as much as I had in the past. The pretzel sticks at Paddy’s are a worthy successor to the pickles and our new go-to appetizer. I can live with that.
I’m not saying we won’t be hitting up Shanahan’s on our next visit to the PNW….but it wouldn’t shock me if I find myself wistfully longing for the pretzels when we’re there. You always want what you can’t have, right?