I have to admit that going into the fifth and final week of The Lenten Project, I'm getting a little sick of fried fish and pierogi. Not so sick that I couldn't fulfill my final duties, but enough that I think its going to be at least a month or two before I look at any of this food with lust in my eyes again. Thankfully, Lent only comes around once per year or I might just have to pick a different holiday to explore next time.
Tonight's early dinner was at a lodge / bowling alley / watering hole that I had never heard of before taking on this project, the Slovak J Club. When discussing my impending dinner with a good friend of mine, he had never heard of the Slovak J Club, but when he heard the address, he almost immediately exclaimed, "Oh, you mean the Jednota Club?!" Um ... yes? The Akron Beacon Journal, the source from which I compiled my original list of locations I would be visiting, had listed it as the Slovak J Club. Located at 485 Morgan Avenue, Akron, OH 44311, they can be reached at 330-724-0141. There was no website associated with this organization when this review was written.
Finding the Slovak J Club wasn't too difficult. I simply traveled south on Brown Street (starting at Akron University) until I crossed under I-76. A few more streets south and I found Morgan Avenue. I made a right onto Morgan and almost immediately came upon the front of the building:
To the left of the building was the entrance to the parking area and once off the street I realized that there was ample parking available next to and behind this enormous structure. As has been the case all too often, the actual entrance to the fish fry was at the rear of the building. After walking through this door,
I proceeded to walk down a set of stairs and through a metal door. On the other side of the door was a bar area and across the room was a nicely lit dining room where the fish fry was actually taking place. I walked over to the dining area where a woman greeted me and handed me a paper menu. She indicated that I could sit anywhere I liked and someone would be over to take my order. Other than Duffy's (which was a restaurant), this was the only other location that had full table service, from taking your order to bringing your food and checking in on you.
Here was a shot of the menu for today's meal:
Sadly, pierogi were only offered as a side and couldn't be substituted in any of the dinners. Not really caring about the potato option, green beans, or hot rice, I asked if I could just substitute in a couple of pierogi for those items. My server looked apprehensive, lowered her voice and head and whispered, "We're not supposed to make any substitutions." Fair enough, I wasn't trying to rock the boat, just order the main tastes for which I was here in the most economically feasible way possible. I also learned from my server that the Lake Erie perch was actually fresh tonight. The Ocean perch, while a full $2 cheaper, was being fried-from-frozen. Realizing that there was no way to avoid dropping some coin tonight for my first dinner, I ordered the Lake Erie perch dinner with a side of pierogi for the full $12.
Dinner service started with a basket of bread and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter:
I skipped the packaged spread and went straight for the bread. It was fresh and tasty and I assumed it was simply pre-sliced Italian bread. The crumb had a little bit of give, but the crust was nice and chewy. This was actually a step above most of the food service dinner rolls I have been eating over the last couple of weeks.
With my bread, my server also brought me my choice of salad; I went with the coleslaw:
Just by looking at it, I suspected that it was homemade. After tasting, I was further convinced. The dressing tasted good and had the balance I so desperately look for in a well dressed salad: salty, sweet, creamy, and acidic. The vegetables still had a nice crunch to them and hadn't been totally wilted by the vinegar. When my server returned with my main meal, she confirmed that the coleslaw was indeed homemade.
Speaking of my meal, here was a shot of the Lake Erie fried perch platter:
I had my choice of baked potato or French fries. I chose the fries simply because I knew I would be taking food home and the fried potatoes might hold up better. The French fried potatoes were cooked well and didn't look or taste greasy. However, they were kind of limp and a bit cold. The fried fish, however, was hot and the fish itself tasted quite fresh. The coating was nicely crisped and wasn't oily. That being said, the perch fillets were so thin and small that there just wasn't that moistness and juiciness I love to find in the middle of a nice piece of fish. It wasn't like fish jerky, but it wasn't done to the level of the first fish fry I attended, Our Lady of Peace. I tasted the tartar sauce on its own before pairing it with a bite of the fish and while not exceptional, it did bring some flavor to the party.
Along with my fried fish dinner, I received three side dishes:
To the rear were the dreaded canned green beans with little bits of onion. While my friend and fellow food blogger Jill would be gobbling these up in no time flat, I generally avoid this hated dish from my childhood. However, trying to be completely fair to the entire experience today at Slovak J, I did taste them. While not as horribly offensive as they were during my visit to the Knights of Columbus in Mantua, Ohio two weeks ago, they still had the same scent and flavor for which I simply just don't care. In the front right was a dish of hot rice. This is a side dish that only seems to exist here in northeast Ohio and can be primarily found in many of the Barberton chicken houses. Slovak J's version was good, with just a little bit of heat in the background, but the one quality I noticed was that it was a bit too sweet. Not cloyingly sweet, but enough that I kept thinking to myself, "Something is strangely amiss." The third side was the homemade macaroni and cheese. The pasta in the dish gets high marks for not being overcooked and having a wonderful toothy texture. The cheese sauce, while definitely creamy, had a certain sourness to it which I found a little off-putting.
As if that wasn't enough food to make your head spin, I also had to contend with the side order of pierogi I had placed at the beginning of my meal:
At four pierogi for $2, this was definitely an economical addition to my meal. As soon as these were set down in front of me, I didn't even need to ask if they were homemade. The regular patterns of the crimping machine were entirely obvious on each dough pocket. I asked my server what flavor they were and she simply answered, "Potato." The onions on top had been cooked so long that they had basically given up their structure and had been transformed into more of a onion marmalade. The pierogi themselves were pretty much what you'd think boiled-from-frozen pierogi taste like, but the onion marmalade actually added a nice bit of salt and flavor to the party.
Overall, I'd say that Slovak J did a decent job of doing a Lenten fish fry. While the commercially made pierogi were easily forgettable, the coleslaw, some of the sides, and the onion marmalade were a nice touch. While Slovak J didn't top my list of favorites, it certainly showed up in the upper tier.
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. Slovak J Club (Akron): Fish, B-; Mac & Cheese, B; Pierogi, C+
4. United Methodist Church (Peninsula): Fish, C+; Pierogi, B
5. Knights of Columbus (Mantua): Fish, C; Mac & Cheese, C-; Pierogi, A
6. Our Lady of Grace (Hinckley): Fish, C; Pierogi, C; Clam Chowder, C
7. Duffy's Restaurant (Akron): Fish, C-; Mac & Cheese, F