Of all the fish fries I would be attending this year, I knew that two would be repeats from last year's project. Queen of Heaven was the first and turned out to be almost completely identical to last year's meal. I was curious to see if the other repeat contender, Slovak J Club (aka Jednota Club) was going to fare in a similar light as last year. While Slovak J's previous meal was good enough to find them in a spot on the top half of my final scorecard, I do remember that it wasn't particularly stellar. It turns out that really good fish fries are surprisingly hard to find; mediocrity is often enough to guarantee you a spot in the top 50%.
Tonight's meal at Slovak J was during my earlier Friday time slot and I turned onto Morgan Avenue promptly at 5:00 PM to see the following familiar edifice:
This building was located at 485 Morgan Avenue, Akron, OH 44311 and questions about the fish fry can be directed to 330-786-9972. After pulling past the front of the building, there was a driveway immediately to the left which I turned into and pulled into the rear parking lot. The entrance to the fish fry was actually located at the very rear of the building:
After entering these doors, I walked down a small flight of steps into a dimly lit corridor and approached the double set of doors at the end of the hall. I'm guessing during at other times of the year, a membership was required to gain entrance, but fortunately, a simple tug on the door revealed the underground bar area and just beyond, the fairly well-lit dining hall.
Last year, Slovak J had sit down service. This year, it was an all you can eat (AYCE) buffet. A hostess stand was in front of the dining hall and after paying my $8, I was stamped (a fish, how appropriate!) on the top of my hand and told that while water was available inside, soft drinks and other beverages could be purchased at the bar. I walked into the dining hall and immediately noticed on my right a series of tables holding chafing dishes and volunteers efficiently scooping out various fish fry items.
I grabbed an empty plate and essentially went down the line, getting a serving of everything they had. When I got to the end and didn't see any pierogi, I asked about its odd absence. I mean, come on, they had pierogi last year, even if they were commercially made! That's when I discovered that I hadn't read the original Akron Beacon Listing posting about Slovak J closely enough. Towards the end of my meal, I pulled up the original article on my smartphone to discover that pierogi were only being offered on Ash Wednesday, the day the Beacon's article went live. Drat!
I took my meal and found a nice empty table towards the rear of the hall where I proceeded to pull out my camera and start taking pictures. Here was a shot of the entire dinner:
Slovak J was definitely not shy about loading up the plate with food! If your Lenten fish fry desire is to load up on sheer volume of food, Slovak J would probably be first on the list. Here was a shot of the Fried Fish with French Fries sitting on top:
The first item I dug into was the fried fish. I noticed almost immediately that the two predominant descriptors that kept coming to my mind were dry and salty. Neither of which was so strong that it made me spit it out, but both kept nagging at me as I continued to try and eat it.
Here was an interior shot of the fish:
While it looked like it should be moist, it simply wasn't. I also thought that since this was the first bit of food I had eaten since lunchtime, maybe my palate just hadn't adjusted yet to the saltiness. I purposely came back to the fish after trying everything else out and it still tasted too salty. After cleaning up after myself at the end of my meal, I approached the hostess in the bar to ask her if the fish was fresh or fried from frozen. She replied that the fish was actually fresh pollack.
She then made the unfortunate choice of asking me how it was. Normally when I am doing these reviews, unless something is WAY off, I usually respond with answers like, "Fine." or "Good." By this point in the Lenten Project, however, I had pretty much had it with crappy fried fish. I responded with a back-and-forth tilting motion of my palm and said, "Eh ... so, so." When I mentioned the saltiness, she quickly added, "Yeah, I kind of thought it was too salty, too. But then again, I'm sensitive to salt." So am I. Especially when there is too much of it. But I digress.
I should mention that the French Fries were okay, but a little bit on the lukewarm side and not quite as crisp as they would be straight out of the frier. I suppose that's the trade-off you get when you put them into a chafing dish on a buffet table.
Next up on the plate was the Macaroni and Cheese:
I was very happy to see that the noodles the woman dishing this cheesy pasta dish out were creamy and not an amorphous clump of overcooked dough. One look and one taste confirmed that the texture on the pasta was quite good, the creaminess was nicely balanced (meaning that it wasn't swimming in sauce nor overly dry), and the cheese flavor was decent. The only odd note about tonight's macaroni and cheese was that it had quite a bit of black pepper in it. I've used freshly cracked black pepper in my own macaroni and cheese before, but tonight's version at Slovak J almost bordered on too much. It competed a bit too much with the cheese flavor.
Something that is very common in northeast Ohio but has been lacking at any of the fish fries this season was Hot Rice:
A staple of Barberton chicken joints, this combination of cooked rice, tomato base, onions and peppers is definitely an acquired taste. I don't know that I personally have acquired a taste for it, but I've eaten enough of it to know whether tonight's rendition represented a proper hot rice. For the most part, it did. It lacked some depth of flavor that I've found in better tasting examples, but I'd say that Slovak J's hot rice was about on par with most restaurant offerings.
Next up was the Coleslaw:
Food service. Average. Nothing out of the ordinary to see or taste here. The dinner roll, as with the coleslaw, while fairly fresh, was also a food service product and not particularly interesting.
All said and done, I finished my macaroni and cheese and that was about it. I felt bad throwing the rest out, but it wasn't particularly noteworthy and I had another fish fry to attend in about an hour. Normally, I'd ask for a "to go" box and take the rest home and have it later that evening or for breakfast the next morning, but I had absolutely no compulsion to do so. If AYCE is your cup of tea, perhaps Slovak J is for you. Me, not so much.
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. Andrew Ukranian Catholic Church (Parma): Fish, C; Macaroni and Cheese, C; Coleslaw, B; Pierogi, A; Honey Cake, B
3. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Mogadore): Fish, C+; Jo Jo's, B; Pierogi, B-; Coleslaw, C+; Punchki, B+
4. Slovak J Club/Jednota (Akron) : Fish, D; Macaroni and Cheese, B-; Coleslaw, C; Hot Rice, B; French Fries, B-
5. St. George Catholic Church (North Canton): Fish, C-; Macaroni and Cheese, C-; Coleslaw, C+; Mamaliga, C
6. Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Green): Fish, C+; Macaroni and Cheese, D; Roasted Potatoes, C; Pierogi, C; Coleslaw, B-
7. Our Lady of Guadalupe (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Pierogi, D+; French Fries, C; Coleslaw, C
8. St. Mary Church (Hudson): Fish, D+; Pierogi, C-; French Fries, B