Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lenten Project, Week 4 (2 of 2)

After enjoying the pierogi at my first fish fry of the day during the fourth week of The Lenten Project, I had time to digest my food this week before attending my second of the day. Tonight's fish fry was at Our Lady of Grace in Hinckley, Ohio and had the distinction of ending on Friday, March 19th instead of Friday, March 26th. For that reason alone I knew I needed to review it sooner rather than later so that you, gentle reader, would have time to read about my experience tonight and decide if you'd want to attend next Friday or not.

Our Lady of Grace was located at 1088 Ridge Road, Hinckley, OH 44233 and can be reached at 330-278-4121. They do have a website and even mention the Lenten fish fries they are doing on their events page.

Just north of the don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it downtown area of Hinckley, the roadside sign for Our Lady of Grace was pretty easy to see:

However, this sign at the end of the driveway made it very clear what was happening inside the church:

The parking lot was absolutely enormous and besides the lot that you pull into off of Ridge Road, there was also parking at the rear of the church (which was where the entrance to the fish fry happened to be). Having parked my car, I approached the rear entrance:

Once through the doors, take a right. Posted on a column outside the eating area was today's menu:

Our Lady of Grace was another location that had fish and pierogi, but no macaroni and cheese. They did, however, have something that no other location so far has had, Boston clam chowder for an extra $1.00. For $7.50, you can select from a range of proteins, a range of carbs, and a range of salads. Honestly, I liked that there was so much choice, but the way it was written was a tad confusing. As I tried to place my order, I ended up miscommunicating what I wanted and ended up getting overcharged until I went over my order again. As with St. Joan of Arc, depending on what you order you will receive several color-coded tickets that you then place on your tray. Our Lady of Grace also served the food from a long table of chaffing dishes. As you walked down the line, workers on the other side of the table served you the appropriate components of your meal.

After loading up my plate and tray with fried fish and pierogi goodness, I selected a table that was a little out of the way and retrieved a glass of chilled water from a table at the head of the room. Here was a shot of my entire dinner:

Let's start with the Boston clam chowder first:

Having been ladled from a large crockpot into this styrofoam bowl, I was fairly confident that this was a homemade soup. Sadly, this would turn out to be the only thing homemade on the dinner buffet tonight. While the creamy soup was nicely seasoned and had a nice flavor, there was hardly anything solid in the bowl. From the very first spoonful to the last, the amount of potatoes, clams, and anything else was just lacking. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to grab a few of the oyster cracker packages when I was being served my food. At least I could add them in to break up the textural monotony.

Having eaten half of my soup, I next turned to the fried fish:

I learned from the woman dishing out the fried fish that this was actually made from a fish called hoki. Considering that the origin of this fish was somewhere between Australia and New Zealand, I think it's pretty safe to say that the fish being served at Our Lady of Grace was fried-from-frozen. The coating was crisp, but a tad bit too greasy. The flesh of the fish had a nice flavor and wasn't too thin, but lacked the kind of moistness I had experienced at Our Lady of Peace and St. Joan of Arc.

As soon as the worker serving the pierogi lifted the lid on her chaffing dish,

I knew from their uniformity that these had to be commercially made. However, I played dumb and asked about their provenance. The woman spooning these out paused, looked at me thoughtfully, and responded, "Well, they were made in somebody's home. Does that count?" She and I both chuckled, but on the inside I was thinking, "No." While physically these didn't look like the Mrs. T's pierogi I had eaten at Our Lady of Peace, the taste and texture of casing and filling were identical. The fried onions, which I suspect had been made by emptying bags of frozen, pre-cut onions (like the kind my grandmother buys because her arthritis prevents her from possessing the dexterity to chop the real thing) into a pot with butter, were cooked all the way through and added a nice contrasting flavor. It should be noted that the only flavor of pierogi available tonight was potato and cheese.

Here was a side shot of one of my pierogi:

While the homemade potato and cheese pierogi I had eaten earlier in the day at Peninsula United Methodist had contained little nuggets of actual potato, the filling in this pierogi was completely homogenized so that there was no variation in taste or texture. As one would expect, the pierogi were simply average.

Turning my attention to the cold items on my tray, next up was the coleslaw:

If the fish and the pierogi were both made from frozen, I didn't have high hopes for the coleslaw either. There really wasn't a whole lot to say except that two or three bites of this side dish and my suspicions were confirmed. You could've easily substituted in any other commercially made coleslaw and it would've had the same impact.

Finally, the last remaining bit of food on my plate:

I'll keep this one short: Food service roll, pat of butter, packet of cloyingly sweet tartar sauce.

Having now finished my sixth Lenten fish fry of the season, I sat back in my chair and began to ruminate on the meals I had eaten so far. Sadly, it seems that for some, a Lenten fish fry is just a time of the year when you eat specific foods, without regard to actually serving good versions of that food. This reminds me of my own family's Thanksgiving day traditions where before I insisted on making things from scratch, the gravy was out of a jar and the casseroles were made with canned vegetables and Campbell's cream of this soup and cream of that soup. Just because you eat a specific food on the appropriate holiday doesn't mean you can check it off your successfully completed list. If the food wasn't made with the kind of quality ingredients, time and love that it deserves, it's just calories, fat, and protein. I can buy frozen fish and pierogi any time of the year I want. Why would I wait until Lent, drive forty-five minutes from my home to the venue, just to have the exact same thing I can purchase at Giant Eagle or Acme year round?

To continue with my rankings from best overall to worst overall as well as an individual grade for each of the major elements on the plate (Fish, Mac & Cheese, Pierogi, and Clam Chowder):

1. St. Joan of Arc (Streetsboro): Fish, B; Mac & Cheese, A; Pierogi, A
2. Our Lady of Peace (Canton): Fish, A; Mac & Cheese, C; Pierogi, C
3. United Methodist Church (Peninsula): Fish, C+; Pierogi, B
4. Knights of Columbus (Mantua): Fish, C; Mac & Cheese, C-; Pierogi, A
5. Our Lady of Grace (Hinckley): Fish, C; Pierogi, C; Clam Chowder, C
6. Duffy's Restaurant (Akron): Fish, C-; Mac & Cheese, F

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