Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Lenten Project, Week 2

For the second week of The Lenten Project, I was supposed to stop by for lunch at Peninsula United Methodist Church and then dinner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hudson. Sadly, Mother Nature decided to throw a last minute curve ball my way by dumping several inches of snow on the northeast Ohio area last night making the roads impassable until well after lunchtime. And, in fact, looking at the projected radar forecast for the early evening hours, it appeared that I would have a narrow window of opportunity to drive up to Hudson for dinner and back before additional flurries began falling once again. That said, the taste for fried fish and pierogi being especially strong today, I decided to take the risk and venture out.

I was fortunate to have started writing this entry before heading out to Hudson. After linking to the website of St. Mary Catholic Church, I clicked on the link to make sure it was good. I'm glad I did. Apparently St. Mary had already canceled the dinner for Friday, February 26th. An appropriate response? Mustering up my best Homer Simpson voice, "D'oh!" I debated what to do now. When I started The Lenten Project, it was with the idea that I wanted to taste some of the area's non-commercial fish fries. Today, however, I had been given a big old basket of lemons. Thinking locally, I decided to re-focus and decided that in this particular case, I would still honor the notion of a fish fry, but at a restaurant that was very close to where I live, Duffy's Restaurant and Grill. They have been advertising an AYCE (all you can eat) fish fry on Fridays for quite some time.

Duffy's was located at 231 Darrow Road, Akron, OH 44305 and can be reached at 330-784-5043. Parking was in the lot connected to the south side of the restaurant and in a single row on the north side.

I had actually been wanting to try Duffy's since they reopened in December 2009. Very early in 2009, a fire had broken out in the kitchen during dinner service at the end of January and completely destroyed the inside of the restaurant. Fortunately, all of the patrons and staff were able to evacuate the building safely. Unfortunately, it took them almost a year to re-open. I didn't want to review them too soon after they opened because every restaurant needs a couple of weeks or a month to work out the service kinks. Tonight seemed like an opportune time.

As I drove up Darrow Road, the first thing I noticed was the roadside sign:

I had gone early today, both wishing to beat the impending snow storm and the Friday dinnertime crowds. Even at 4:50 PM, I pulled into an almost completely filled parking lot. There were two entrances to Duffy's. One was on the side of the building and leads you directly into the bar area. The other, the front entrance,

leads you to a reception area where you can go left to enter the restaurant area or right to enter the bar area. While the interior of Duffy's was essentially one big room, a partition divided the restaurant in half. That being said, I could easily see the barside flat panel TV's from my table on the restaurant side. While I've heard tales of the dim interior before the fire, the current interior was decently lit and looked modern and updated.

While I knew I was here for the fried fish, I went ahead and took photographs of the menu:

The daily specials were printed on a piece of paper and affixed to the top of the menu:

From what I gathered on additional signs around the restaurant also listing the daily specials, the cheese ravioli were homemade. Half-tempted to go with something that I knew was made from scratch, I stuck to my guns and ordered the fried fish dinner. With my dinner, I received a dinner roll and my choice of salad.

Here was a shot of the dinner roll and pats of butter that my server brought me:

The roll was nothing special. It was room temperature and fresh. The butter was nice because it was also room temperature and spread easily on the roll.

My server brought my cole slaw out with my dinner roll:

As I began to eat this side dish, I started to sense a tingling, almost burning sensation, in my nostril. After eating another bite or two, I put two and two together and realized that there must be horseradish in the cole slaw. It was a nice slow burn and while I quite enjoyed it, those who aren't fans of the spicy root will probably find it a bit too overpowering. Thinking that this must be homemade, I asked my server about it. It turns out that Duffy's was serving Grandma's Original Recipes Cole Slaw, of which horseradish was indeed one of the ingredients. I know I have seen this brand in local supermarkets here in Akron, but I had a devil of a time finding a website for the manufacturer of this product. The closest I got was to click on this link, which gives you what the product looks like, but not the name of the manufacturer. Regardless, the cole slaw would turn out to be the highlight of the meal.

After only a few additional minutes, my fried fish platter arrived at my table:

With the fried fish dinner, you got to choose a side. As my server ran through the list when I first placed my order, I discovered that one of my options was macaroni and cheese. While I figured that there wouldn't be pierogi on tonight's menu, I was happy to see that I could carry something forward from last week's tasting to tonight.

Here was a shot of the fried fish:

While at first the fish appeared to be fried perfectly and not greasy, upon lifting up the white fish fillets and inspecting the underside, I noticed that parts of the bottoms of the fillets were indeed a bit too greasy. The majority of the coating was nice and crunchy, but there were a few pieces that I sort of pushed aside on my plate because it was too soggy from sitting in grease. The beer batter coating did have some seasoning in it, but it was clear that it needed just a bit more salt. I'm guessing that the fillets weren't seasoned after being pulled out of the fryer. The biggest disappointment for me, however, was the rather anemic strips of fish inside the coating. The fish wasn't dried out, but there was so little meat that it also wasn't moist either. My server checked in on me several times to see if I wanted to order additional fish, but I politely declined each time.

Where the fish had been a bit mediocre, the macaroni and cheese side that I received was downright awful:

The cheese sauce was creamy, but fairly unremarkable in its flavor. While I am normally critical of the taste of food, in this instance it turned out that the elbow macaroni was the Achilles' heel of this dish. Having been cooked WAY past done, it had no texture at all. Engaging in the perfunctory act of simply chewing food before swallowing seemed entirely unnecessary as the minute I put a bite of this side dish in my mouth, it more or less dissolved. I found it akin to taking the time to chew pureed baby food. I did end up eating about half of the portion I was given, but it was mostly out of some morbid curiosity to see if I could discover a mouthful that didn't leave me disappointed.

The final element on the plate was the tartar sauce:

I didn't have a chance to ask too many questions of my server as the restaurant was filling up by this point, so I don't know if this was homemade or not. My guess would be no, but I'm willing to concede being wrong. It had a nice balance of flavors between sweet and sour and the mayonnaise-based condiment did help the fried fish a little bit in the moistness department.

Quite honestly, I was disappointed with my meal tonight at Duffy's. As I mentioned earlier in this entry, my goal during The Lenten Project was to focus only on non-commercial entities so as to level the playing field. These churches, lodges, and clubs only do these fish fries during this one time of the year. My expectation was that a commercial establishment should easily surpass a non-commercial one. Last Friday's meal at Our Lady of Peace in Canton far outshone the meal I had tonight at Duffy's. While I obviously cannot comment on the rest of the menu offered by the restaurant since I didn't taste it tonight, I can tell you that there are far better places to get fried fish and macaroni and cheese than at this establishment.

Duffy's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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