Saturday night in Tifton, Georgia. Wanting to beat the crowd to Charles Seafood, the city’s long-time favorite fish house, I arrive just after 5pm, when it opens for dinner. The parking area already is nearly full and inside the fairly capacious restaurant, I am lucky to nab the one available seat, at a tiny two-top table in the middle of the dining room.
It isn’t just crowded. It is jumping with joy. Families, extended families, friends, and couples on dates are yakking, laughing, and having a sweet good time that is the opposite of the frenzied desperation you feel in a hip city singles bar at the end of the work week. In some ways, the room tone reminds me of a good-times revival meeting … but perfumed by frying fish.
A git-er-done staff of fast-moving waitresses and an absolutely casual style of service (everything comes from the semi-open kitchen in or on disposable dishware) encourage the high spirits of Charles clientele. Then there’s the seafood: Nothing fancy here. It is all familiar, friendly Dixie fishhouse fish, including mullet, shrimp, oysters, catfish, flounder, and red snapper. Most are available either broiled or fried, served with hushpuppies (of course) and your choice of French fries, baked potato, or cheese grits. What I get on my top-of-the-line broiled Admiral’s Platter is darn good. Mullet is especially flavorful in its oily way (but not for fish frowners!); shrimp, scallops, and oysters all are exemplary, and these, I suspect, might be even better if ordered fried.
To be clear, the food at Charles Seafood may not have you singing culinary hallelujah, but it’s fine fare; and the experience of coming here is an inspiration for anyone seeking to tap into the good spirits of life in a small Dixie city far from the madding crowd.