Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lenten Project II: Week 3, Part 1

In the movie The Matrix, when one of the characters noticed the same cat cross the same doorway twice, it ultimately meant trouble for the small band of freedom fighters. Deja vu, or that sense that you've experienced some emotion, feeling, or experience before is something that I think everyone has had to deal with from time to time. The only two dinners on my list of destinations this year that are return visits include stops at the Slovak J Club and tonight's visit to Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Green, Ohio.

While consistency is something for which any good restaurant strives, in the case of Queen of Heaven, I could've simply placed a link to last year's review and walked away. But, of course, I haven't given out the whole story quite yet. While consistency is a great thing, if you aren't consistently good, then that presents its own problem. At just after 5:00 PM today, I pulled into the parking lot for Queen of Heaven to discover an already full parking lot. When I went last year for my second dinner of the evening, I had a somewhat tricky time even finding a parking spot. Clearly this dinner was a popular Lenten destination.

Queen of Heaven Catholic Church was located at 1800 Steese Road, Uniontown, OH 44685 and can be reached at 330-896-2345. They also have a website. Like last year, the fried fish dinner was held in the Parish Life Center:

Entrance to Parish Life Center
Being an experienced diner at Queen of Heaven this year, I knew that once inside the door, there would be two lines, one for placing take-out dinner orders and the other for dine-in only. As I approached the order and payment tables in the dine-in line, I took a snapshot of the menu:

Queen of Heaven's Menu
As I wanted to make sure I sampled both the pierogi and macaroni and cheese (to see if they had improved from last year), I was happy to see that all dinners came with two sides. Since I had discovered the roasted potatoes from the previous week's visit to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, I decided to add an additional side of the potatoes. I paid my somewhat reasonable tab of $9.50, took my filled-in order form, and walked into the entrance of the gymnasium/cafeteria/fellowship hall. Once there, I was greeted and shown to a table.

After sitting for only a minute, one of the church volunteers approached me with a tray containing fresh bread slices and a choice between applesauce and coleslaw. I selected the coleslaw, placed my drink order, and proceeded to walk up to the front of the hall and queue up behind roughly fifteen other people.

After getting all of the food for which I had paid, I return to the table and began dutifully photographing all of it. Here was a shot of my entire meal:

Fried Fish Dinner
The table at which I had been placed was already populated by two other sets of couples. When I began taking pictures, one of the other diners at my table sort of laughed/snickered and said, "I don't have to take pictures to remember what the food tastes like!" I briefly thought about engaging him, but then thought the better of it and just let the comment lie. You have to pick your battles and this was one I didn't feel was worth the effort.

The one thing I remembered as being outstanding from last year's visit was the bread. As you stand in line waiting to be served, you invariably ended up walking past the table where a volunteer was slicing the bread fresh and inserting each slice into it's own waxed paper envelop. This year's dinner was no exception. It was fresh, it was tasty, and it had a wonderful chew to both the crust and crumb. If Queen of Heaven succeeded nowhere else, they absolutely rule when it came to their choice in bread. Sadly, this was the high point.

Having enjoyed the bread, next up on the tasting docket was the Fried Fish:

Fried Fish
I seem to remember the fried fish from last year being the second brightest point of that meal. This time around, the fish looked nicely fried and golden brown on the outside, but the slightest pressure or touch yielded very greasy fingers. The coating was crisp and nicely seasoned, but once I tasted the fish, I was longing for a bit of seasoning. While the standard fried fish dinner came with three pieces, I ate the first and about half of the second before giving up.

Here was a shot of the interior of the fish:

Interior of Fried Fish
In an interesting turn of events, while the first piece of fish I ate was decent in turns of moisture, the second piece was much drier and less enjoyable. Considering that they had come from the same batch on the same side of the chafing dish, this was a little worrisome. Overall, I think the execution of the fish dropped a bit this year.

New on my plate this year were the Roasted Potatoes:

Roasted Potatoes
While I was excited to see some herbs sprinkled on these potatoes (the very thing for which I dinged Annunciation's version), sadly these had none of the magic that came from a properly roasted potato. The potatoes were lacking any crispy exterior, although the interior was definitely creamy enough. Additionally, these lacked seasoning. To their credit, they weren't unsalted, just undersalted. For a boiled or steamed potato, this would have worked well. Roasted? Not so much.

Next up on the plate was the Macaroni and Cheese:

Macaroni and Cheese
This was the one item I was eager to see if it had improved from last year. I figured it really could only improve (I mean, I gave it a 'D' last year). As soon as the woman working the chafing dish scooped my portion and placed it on my plate, I knew that this was going to be deja vu all over again. And it was. Apparently, completely overcooked, mushy pasta was how they like to serve it at Queen of Heaven. While the macaroni and cheese had a decent cheese flavor, the pasta was BEYOND done. I took approximately two bites, one to register my first impression and the second to confirm it. I left the rest.

The next item I tried on my plate were the Pierogi with Fried Onions:

Potato Pierogi with Fried Onions
While the pierogi looked slightly different than the ones from last year, they also looked 100% uniform and resembled the standard Mrs. T's frozen product that I can get year round at the grocery store. One bite of these potato-filled dumplings confirmed my suspicions. The onions, while somewhat fried, still had a bit of raw crunch to them and didn't do that much in adding any sweetness to the pierogi. All in all, as was my assessment last year, average.

The final component on my tray tonight was the Coleslaw:

This dish intrigued me last year and it intrigued me this year. I asked my the woman delivering this side dish if it was homemade (I kind of guessed that it was last year) and she gave me the most incredulous look and said, "I have no idea if it is homemade." Still, based on the irregularity of the cut on the vegetables, it looks homemade. And, just like last year, the dressing was very light and sank to the bottom of the cup. It would be easy to think this was a mayonnaise-less dressing because it didn't taste heavy, but the scant milky dressing at the bottom of the cup would beg to differ with that conclusion. While this was certainly better than standard food service coleslaw, it didn't really sing either.

My meal now complete, I gathered my personal affects and headed outside, convinced that what I had experienced at Queen of Heaven's fish fry last year was indeed an accurate reflection. While the fish suffered a bit this year, the pierogi were still average, the macaroni and cheese was still sub-par, the coleslaw was still intriguing, and the fresh bread still remained the best part of the entire meal.

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. Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Green): Fish, C+; Macaroni and Cheese, D; Roasted Potatoes, C; Pierogi, C; Coleslaw, B-
3. Our Lady of Guadalupe (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Pierogi, D+; French Fries, C; Coleslaw, C
4. St. Mary Church (Hudson): Fish, D+; Pierogi, C-; French Fries, B

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