With Lent now in full swing, the time has come for this week's journey into the vast sea of fried fish and pierogi to get my fill once again. Except that tonight's destination didn't have any pierogi. "What?" I hear you cry. "Wasn't the point of this whole thing to find churches, clubs, and organizations that serve both fish AND pierogi?" Well, gentle reader, yes, it was. The problem was that once I excluded the bottom half of last year's list (I mean, really, do I need to go two years in a row if the experience was that bad?), sadly, that only left me with six places to visit this year.
So, I did what any resourceful food blogger would do and looked at the remaining fish fries to try and determine if there were two that offered something interesting instead of pierogi. It turned out that tonight's sole destination, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was offering not only some Greek twist's on the traditional Lenten fish fry, but had also loaded their menu offerings with one of my favorite sides, macaroni and cheese! [Ed. note: I am but a simple man, with simple needs. Good macaroni and cheese is one of them.]
At around 4:30 PM, I packed everything up at work, hopped in the car, and by 5:00 PM on the dot, I was sitting in the parking lot of Annunciation, facing the Greek Community Center at the rear of the church. For those not familiar with Annunciation's location, it was 129 South Union Street, Akron, OH 44304. If you have questions about the fish fry, you can call them at 330-434-0000 or you can visit them at their website. One thing I will warn you about, gentle reader, is that Google Maps has the church right at the intersection of South Union and Forge/Mill and you need to continue going south just past the intersection. The church will be on your left.
Here was a shot of the back entrance of the church (also known as the Greek Community Center):
Once inside, you walk to the end of the hallway where the menu is posted on the door leading into the kitchen area:
While the Grecian Baked Plaki Dinner sounded interesting and unique, as far as the fish went, I had to be able to compare apples to apples, so I decided I would get the All You Could Eat (AYCE) fried flounder. After walking through the entrance to the kitchen, I picked up a cafeteria tray and placed an empty Styrofoam plate on it along with my plastic utensils and a napkin. At the beginning of the line, you tell the person behind the chafing dishes which type of fish you'd like. Since I was getting the AYCE fried fish, I told her two pieces would be plenty to start out. Each dinner also comes with two sides and tonight's choices were plentiful: roasted potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rice pilaf, steamed vegetables, salad, and coleslaw. Macaroni and cheese was an obvious choice, but I decided to go with the roasted potatoes for my other side. While I could've stopped there, I decided to also add a side of coleslaw and a piece of baklava for dessert.
After loading up my tray, I walked to the end of the long table and the person sitting there tabulated my bill. My meal tonight, with an extra side and dessert, came to $10.45. I then headed into the large auditorium, grabbed a glass of water, and retired to a somewhat dimly lit table near the back, where I could shoot pictures without disturbing anyone.
Here was a shot of my entire cafeteria tray:
I started out my meal tonight by examining the dinner roll:
While I would be shocked to get anything other than a food service dinner roll at one of these fish fries, when I tore it apart and examined it, it was merely okay. It wasn't stale, but it also wasn't really fresh either.
Fortunately, when I turned my attention to the Fried Flounder,
the meal took a dramatic turn for the better. The fish had been fried quite nicely, with the exterior colored a nice golden brown and the fillets lacking any greasiness. When I cut into the fillets, I was rewarded with moist, juicy fish:
Even though these fillets were clearly fried from frozen (they were way too uniform to be fresh), the kitchen crew had done these a real service by not only frying them correctly, but cooking them until they were hot, tender, and moist. Additionally, the flavor was mild and the problem of an off odor from last week's visit was completely absent tonight. If I had been still hungry after finishing the rest of my meal (and since I didn't have a second meal to attend tonight), I would have gladly gone up and gotten a second serving. The only real criticism was that the fish was a bit thin. That being said, this was a huge improvement over last Friday's visits.
Next on the plate was the Macaroni and Cheese:
I had a sneaking suspicion when the woman doling this side dish out in the kitchen scooped a spoonful and placed it on my plate that it was going to be good. The creamy pasta sort of easily slid from spoon to plate and lacked the amorphous thudding sound I've encountered in the past when the pasta had been cooked beyond done. Sure enough, the sauce was cheesy and wet without being soupy and the flavor was quite good. The only criticism of the pasta was that while it wasn't cooked to mush, it was just slightly overcooked so that it lacked a nice chewiness.
Rotating my plate another quarter turn and I landed on the Roasted Potatoes:
One of the key ingredients that I find most bad roasted potatoes lack is salt. Tonight's version was a mixed bag. While there was some salt on the potatoes, they could've used a bit more. That being said, there was a salt shaker on the table, so take what I say with ... what else? A grain of salt. Seriously, these were nicely roasted and were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The only thing I would've wanted would be a little bit of chopped parsley on top to add just a little bit more flavor as they were just a bit one-note on my palate.
After finishing what was included with my dinner, I turned to my added side, the Coleslaw:
When I asked the woman dishing out the coleslaw in the kitchen if it was homemade, she seemed confused and finally conceded, "No." Based on how uniform it looked and how average it tasted, I would have to agree with her. It wasn't bad, just not memorable. I would have skipped adding it to the bill the next time around.
The savory portion of my meal now complete, I turned to the sweet ending I had purchased just a short time earlier, the Baklava:
I certainly didn't mind paying the $1.25 for this little bit of Greek heaven, but it was essentially three bites of dessert. That being said, the minute I tasted my first bite, I was suddenly jonesing for a nice cup of Greek coffee. The phyllo on top was crispy, the layers of walnuts, honey, and cinnamon were intense and delicious, and even if I only got three bites out of it, it was still worth it. The other dessert being offered today was rice pudding, but something tells me that THIS was the more satisfying of the two desserts.
Finally, when I sat down at my table tonight, I noticed a number of order forms scattered across the surface:
Apparently, you can order many of these fabulous Greek treats and pick them up in mid-April. I have no financial gain in promoting this, but I thought that if something like this interested you, gentle reader, you might want to make your way to Annunciation's fish fry sooner rather than later.
Truly satisfied that I had finally had my first piece of really properly fried fish, I collected my trash and walked the cafeteria tray over to a garbage bin near the front entrance of the auditorium. After depositing my trash, I handed it to one of the women wiping down the trays and proceeded out into the overcast, but still warm spring air. I enjoyed my meal tonight, even if the dinner roll and the coleslaw had been average. Annunciation has clearly set the bar for this year's Lenten Project and I am eager to see who can live up to and perhaps surpass them.
Here are the current rankings so far from best overall to worst overall as well as an individual grade for each of the major elements on the plate.
1. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (Akron): Fish, B+; Macaroni and Cheese, B; Coleslaw, C; Roasted Potatoes, B; Baklava, A-
2. Our Lady of Guadalupe (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Pierogi, D+; French Fries, C; Coleslaw, C
3. St. Mary Church (Hudson): Fish, D+; Pierogi, C-; French Fries, B