The only purple hair we expected to see walking into the place was on the heads of Kellogg’s many lovely grannies. So we were mildly bewildered when we slipped out of the torrential summer rain and into the Sunshine Inn to be greeted by a smiling young waitress with shoulder-length vibrant violet locks and rocker girl gear.
Her soundtrack was the corny, fist-pumping grunge of Puddle of Mudd’s “She Hates Me,” which blared at a delightfully disruptive volume from the open passageway that separates the dining room from the chaos of the attached lounge. “Anywhere you like, guys!” she hollered over the music and the outbursts of laughter emanating from the just-off-work Friday bar crowd.
We were cruising Kellogg looking for dinner and were drawn in by the gigantic, retro-tastic neon sign out front. Bill Woolum, whose dad poured drinks there in the ’60s, recounts his youthful memories of the place on his Kellogg Bloggin’ Web site.
He describes how then-owners Sig and Bunny Peterson lived in a small apartment behind the lounge and would “come right out of their residence onto the dance floor and circulate, saying hi, drinking right along with their customers, and adding a sense of cheer to the bar.”
After years of ownership changes and general neglect, the Sunshine and its attached motel sat looking sad and abandoned for a large part of this decade. Current owners Tim and Cheryl Moyer saw potential in the old beast, bringing it up to par and reopening in February 2008.
We were really just expecting burgers and fries, BLTs, tuna melts, that sort of thing. I was too caught up taking in all the oddball rummage sale bric-a-brac to get into the menu right away, but my dining partner was examining it with a dropped jaw. “Whoa. Kinda spendy,” he warned. Certainly, the contents of the menu were completely incongruous with the rowdy, truck-stop atmosphere.
Back in the golden days when it was known as the “Jackass Room,” it was quite a classy, steak-and-baked-potato destination dining spot. Perhaps the new owners are attempting to re-create that vibe, offering a selection of entrees mostly in the $15 to $20 price range. No matter, we were starved and somewhat impressed by a few of the options.
We considered an appetizer, perhaps some spinach artichoke dip or the “blistering” hot wings, but decided to nix the idea after reading that all dinners came with trips through the salad bar. It was tough to decide; maybe a nice seafood or chicken fettuccine? Or was I in the mood for chicken cordon bleu, coconut prawns or a juicy, 16 oz. prime rib with sautéed mushrooms?
We considered the hard-core comfort foods under “Specialties” like chicken pot pie, pork chops and applesauce, or liver and onions with bacon. Part of me was still craving a greasy burger but alas, unless the bar side had a menu I wasn’t made aware of, it wasn’t an option. Ultimately, I decided on the Friday “Chef’s Special,” the clam chowder and seafood platter, loftily described as a “ship of dreams.”
Our purple-haired waitress, breezed by to take our order. She told us to go ahead and help ourselves to the soup and salad bar while she collected our beverages. A man ahead of us in line lifted the lid of the soup pot and frowned in horror.
“Uh, Miss, I think this soup is done for.” I peered inside at an inch of a dried-up, chunky yellow sludge that had allegedly been clam chowder at some point. She yelled into the kitchen for a fresh batch and an unseen voice returned with “Sorry, folks, we’re all out.”
“Well, you can have as much salad as you like,” she offered apologetically, but the options on the bar were quite slim and only a scant few scraps of lettuce remained. “Um, it’ll be a few minutes on that one,” she said.
We returned to our table, our salad plates consisting exclusively of pickled beets, shredded carrots and black olives. An hour passed before our meals arrived, but we were willing to forgive the wait. We felt sorry for the waitress, who was truly working her tush off, maintaining 10 full tables, a motel front desk, and a phone that seemed to be constantly ringing.
For some reason, I’d pictured a platter filled with fresh fish, something broiled in lemon butter, maybe crab legs or oyster shooters. I realized my error when Sky set down my plate and explained how they’d lost use of all but one deep fryer. Indeed, this “ship of dreams” was covered in breading and sailing on a sea of hot oil. Everything had to be cooked one item at a time, so the under layer of French fries and mini-shrimp was already cold, the middle layer of oysters and salmon (yes, deep-fried salmon) was lukewarm, and the top layer of cod was hot and somewhat edible (with lots of tartar sauce).
Horrifyingly, my dinner pal’s chicken fried steak was served with canned Veg-All, sprinkled with parmesan in an impossible, humorous attempt to make it seem “gourmet.” We picked at our plates and as the crowd in the next room continued to audibly whoop it up, we began to wish we’d chosen to hit the bar for a liquid dinner instead. Not wanting to seem rude, we asked the server for to-go boxes and lied “all that salad must have filled us up.”
We laughed heartily at the tab, deciding it was worth the interesting experience. Thanking the waitress for her efforts and relentless cheer in the face of doom, we exited the Sunshine and returned to the rain.