To date, I've eaten a fried fish and pierogi meal at five churches, two clubs, and one restaurant. I was hoping to end The Lenten Project with more of a bang than the whimper that was awaiting me at my final destination during this five week journey. I've been subjected to the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The one element that I hadn't been subjected to, much to my surprise, were crowds of people. That could be because of my penchant for arriving shortly after the meals started or it could just be dumb luck. For my final meal today, however, I arrived right in the thick of it and was afraid that I might be waiting in line a long time.
Today's second meal of the day was held at Queen of Heaven Catholic church located at 1800 Steese Road, Uniontown, OH 44685 and can be reached at 330-896-2345. Their website is located here. The fried fish dinner was actually being served in the Parish Life Center, which was across the parking lot from the actual church. While there was a very large parking lot, it was nearly full and finding a spot took some effort.
Once I successfully parked the car, I approached the front of the Parish Life Center:
I walked inside to find a lot of noise, but no lines. There were two signs posted: The one to the left indicated where to head for dining room sales and the one on the right indicated where to head for take-out sales. I headed down the left hallway off the main entrance to discover a room where there were two tables set up and two very short lines of people. Sitting on a chair next to the line in which I was standing was today's menu:
Fortunately, for my second meal, macaroni and cheese and pierogi were considered side items and the fried fish dinner came with two sides for $8. Perfect! I waited for my turn and finally placed and paid for my order. I was handed this meal ticket:
A short walk out of the room and across the hallway and I entered the gymnasium where the fish fry was being served. This was clearly the source of the noise I had heard when I first entered the center. A sign was erected just inside the doors asking for patrons to wait to be seated. Seeing as I was the only one standing at this sign, it didn't take long for one of the volunteers to steer me to a table near the back of the room.
Within a minute or so, a different volunteer wearing food service gloves approached me and asked what I wanted to drink and if I preferred apple sauce or coleslaw. She indicated that I needed to take my meal ticket up to one of the two buffet service lines at the front of the room and hand it to one of the workers there. Neither line was incredibly long, but I did stand for about ten minutes before reaching the buffet table lined with chaffing dishes. I handed my server my ticket and she plated my fried fish before handing it to the next woman who was dishing out sides. My plate now complete, I returned to my table to discover that bread, a cup of coleslaw, and a glass of water had been left by our server.
Here was a shot of the bread:
Served in a paper "sleeve," there was also a pat of butter inside as well. Like my meal earlier in the evening, this was probably the nicest piece of bread I've had so far during the project. This one almost felt artisan. While the crust and crumb were nice, I could tell that it wasn't a true artisan bread because it didn't have the wonderful yeasty, sourdoughy smell that well-made bread has. Nevertheless, it was fresh and leaps and bounds better than some of the regular food service dinner rolls that had made an appearance at other meals.
I next turned my attention to the coleslaw:
Tonight has apparently been a good night for coleslaw. Just like at Slovak J, Queen of Heaven's coleslaw was immediately identifiable as being homemade: The irregularity on the cut of the vegetables, the crunchiness of the cabbage and the dressing. At first I thought that the dressing was of the vinegar - sugar - salt variety, but upon digging around the bottom of the cup, I discovered that the dressing did have a mayonnaise base to it. The problem was that it was so soupy and diluted, that unless you dug out a bite from the bottom of the dish, the cabbage on top didn't stay well dressed. Still, it was a decent enough version.
After sitting down at my table and removing my plate from the cafeteria tray, I took a shot of my main meal:
Both the fried and the baked fish available tonight were cod. The adult dinner netted you three pieces of fried or one piece of baked fish. Overall, I think the fish was pretty good. The batter was crunchy without being oily. The piece of cod inside the batter was of decent thickness and the entire bite was seasoned properly. The only miss on tonight's dinner was that the fish just couldn't live up to the moistness and juiciness I had experienced at Our Lady of Peace. This was a good version of fried fish, but not a great one. I'm not sure if the tartar sauce was homemade or not, but it was a little bit lacking in the flavor department. It tasted more like straight mayonnaise than the sweet and sour piquancy that pickles and capers would've brought to the party.
The one item on the plate I was absolutely sure was not homemade were the potato pierogi:
With their perfectly stamped and crimped edges, these doughy puffs were simply mediocre. The fried onions were nicely done however and gave the pierogi a sweeter flavor rather than a savory one. After finishing my meal, I approached one of the workers who wasn't busy and asked about the provenance of the pierogi. "Mrs. T's," she said as she hunched her shoulders as if to say, "Yeah, sorry about that."
The final item on my plate tonight was the macaroni and cheese:
As soon as the woman scooped out a portion at the buffet line, I immediately thought I was in trouble. As she turned her ladle over, this amorphous mass landed with an almost sickening thud on my plate and ceased movement. While I have to assume that this was made from scratch (and to be fair, I think all of the macaroni and cheeses I've tasted so far have been homemade), sadly this version reminded me all too much of the version I had eaten at Duffy's Restaurant during week two of the project. While it was certainly infused with cheese flavor, the pasta had been grossly overcooked and almost had no texture. It wasn't quite as bad as Duffy's, which was the only reason it barely earned a passing grade. Queen of Heaven's version required a minimal amount of chewing where Duffy's literally dissolved in your mouth, no chewing required. Needless to say, as this was the last side eaten at my second dinner of the evening, I took a bite or two and passed on the rest.
There were desserts available priced at only $1 each, but as you can imagine, I was too full to take advantage. As I was walking out of the gymnasium I overheard one of the volunteers mentioning to another that they were going to be running out of macaroni and cheese before the end of dinner service if people continued to walk through the front door at the same rate they had been all night. To which I quickly muttered under my breath, "Thank goodness."
So now that I'm done evaluating all of the meals, it is time to crown the winner. I figured I would give out an award to best overall meal and an award for best fried fish since they happen to be two different locations. The winner of the best overall meal goes to the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church located in Streetsboro. While the fried fish wasn't quite perfect, the homemade macaroni and cheese and potato and cheese pierogi were top of the class. The winner of the best fried fish goes to Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church located in Canton. Fried perfectly, hot, juicy, and thick, this was a piece of fried fish that no one else could match.
Here are my final 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. Queen of Heaven (Green): Fish, B; Mac & Cheese, D; Pierogi, C
5. United Methodist Church (Peninsula): Fish, C+; Pierogi, B
6. Knights of Columbus (Mantua): Fish, C; Mac & Cheese, C-; Pierogi, A
7. Our Lady of Grace (Hinckley): Fish, C; Pierogi, C; Clam Chowder, C
8. Duffy's Restaurant (Akron): Fish, C-; Mac & Cheese, F
For those who have been following my adventures from the beginning, I wish to thank you. For those tuning in a little late, at least you managed to arrive in the nick of time to find out who I felt had the best overall fish fry. Remember that other than Our Lady of Grace, you still have next Friday, March 26th to try out any of the fish fries I've listed above. Whichever you decide to attend, I hope you have a fantastic meal and for those who celebrate the Christian holiday of Easter, I'd like to wish you an early Happy Easter.