Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lenten Project II: Week 3, Part 2

Tonight's second fish fry destination shared two things in common with last Friday's visit to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on the campus of Akron University. First, the menu lacked pierogi and thus filled the other spot on my list of churches I added after I ran out of places to visit having both fish and pierogi on their menu. Second, while tonight's parish was not Greek, it was Romanian and thus offered up something interesting that I hadn't seen on the other churches' menus.

I speak, for those not familiar with my Lenten Project schedule, of St. George Romanian Byzantine Catholic Cathedral located at 1123 44th Street NE, Canton 44714. For those in need of additional information, they can be reached at 330-492-8413. St. George is one of many churches which just appear out of the middle of nowhere while traveling through residential neighborhoods in Canton. Last year's second place winner, Our Lady of Peace, was exactly the same. Regardless, I pulled into the rather long driveway for St. George and took it around to the back parking lot. While it was pretty full, I assumed that the first wave of diners would probably be finishing up and leaving shortly.

At roughly 6:45 PM, I got out of my car and took a picture of the rear of the church:

Entrance to St. George's Catholic Church
The entrance to the fish fry was to the rear left in the above picture. Behind the columns was a small corridor that led to a door. Once inside I was greeted warmly and handed the menu:

St. George's Menu
Mercifully, the fried fish was offered as one, two, or three piece dinners. While I hadn't eaten all of my dinner at my previous stop, I still wasn't really in the mood to put away (much less pay for) a full three pieces of fried fish. Each dinner came with two sides and extra sides could be ordered for between $1-$2 each. While pierogi were off the table (so to speak), St. George was offering something quite unique in its place, which was why I decided to visit them in the first place, mamaliga. My interest clearly piqued, I decided to go with macaroni and cheese and mamaliga for my included sides and added a side of coleslaw.

After paying for my meal ($6 + $1 for my coleslaw), I grabbed a tray and proceeded to walk the service line from start to finish. From what I had been told by the woman greeting visitors at the front door and what I could tell from the chafing dish, mamaliga was a layer of corn polenta that had been topped with both sour cream and melted cheese. After gathering my entire meal, I retired to a table that had a couple of open chairs.

Here was a shot of my dinner at St. George:

Fried Fish Dinner
First up was the Fried Fish:

Fried Fish
Sadly, my timing on the fried fish was off by just a few seconds. When I got to the position in line where the fish was being served, the pickings were pretty slim. After being served my portion, one of the kitchen crew walked around the corner carrying a brand new hotel pan filled with freshly fried fish. When I finally had a chance to cut into the fish, it was lukewarm and the outside soggy and limp. The coating had not an ounce of crispness left in it and the fish was definitely dried out.

Here was a shot of the interior of the fish:

Interior of Fried Fish
I tried to pair it with some of the pickle-laden tartar sauce, but there was just no hope for this. I will give St. George the benefit of the doubt that while when first fried it may or may not have been perfect, it still would've been better than what I was served.

Next up on the plate was the Macaroni and Cheese:

Macaroni and Cheese
After the terrible version of this American staple I had eaten earlier in the evening, I knew that my odds could only improve. Yes and no. Fortunately, the kitchen staff at St. George had managed to not cook the pasta to death, but it was still overcooked. As opposed to my fish, the macaroni and cheese was fresh out of the kitchen, so sitting in a hotel pan for any length of time couldn't be the culprit. Helpfully, the crispy topping added some textural contrast. The down side was that this pasta lacked necessary assertive cheese flavor. I understand that there are many variations of macaroni and cheese, but with only two ingredients in the name, I need to be able to taste both.

Up next, the very item for which I had been excited to stop at St. George, the Mamaliga:

Mamaliga with Cheese
The texture of the polenta was firm, as such I needed to slice it and not spoon it. I cut a piece and placed it in my mouth. I definitely got the corn flavor from the cornmeal. The sour cream and cheese added a bit of flavor contrast to the corn and just a touch of saltiness. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to cover up the fact that while the polenta layer had a bit of salt, it was grossly underseasoned. While I obviously realize that the people making up the kitchen crew are not restaurant professionals, if your church or organization is going to charge money for food, then it really does fall under the same level of critique that a restaurant would. Were I served this in a restaurant, I don't think I would order it again.

With both sides being tasted and evaluated, I turned to my extra side, the Coleslaw:

While I don't believe this was homemade, it was nice and tangy and a good representation of what most people expect when they order this shredded cabbage salad. After the relative blandness of the mamaliga, this was a nice change of pace.

And in an odd show of solidarity to tonight's earlier meal, it turned out that the fresh bread stole the culinary show:

Fresh Bread
While I am not exactly sure where Queen of Heaven was getting their fantastic bread, I learned quickly the provenance of tonight's offering. At least three volunteers working at St. George tonight made sure everyone knew that the bread was homemade by one of the parishioners. The bread was incredibly fresh and had a nice pull to both the crust and crumb. One sniff of the crumb and I immediately could tell that this bread was made with no pre-ferment (aka starter) as I was missing that wonderful yeasty acidic smell. As such, while it was WAY better than food-service dinner rolls, it didn't quite tickle my taste buds as much as Queen of Heaven's had. However, I give the baker an A for effort as I know how much time it takes to bake enough bread to feed such a large crowd week after week.

My second meal now complete, I packed up my camera, grabbed my coat and walked out the door into the parking lot saddened by the fact that the high points for both meals tonight had been the bread. After making strides in all areas last week, tonight was one of those "one step forward, two steps back" experiences. Let's hope that next week's dinner will dole out some fried fish and pierogi redemption.

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

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