Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Project III: The Search For Fabulous Fried Fish

It is upon us once again, gentle reader, the season of Lent. And with the season of Lent comes the third annual installment of the Lenten Project. While I am not a particularly religious person, I do look forward every year to a good fish fry. Sadly, and if last year was proof of this, it isn't easy finding a good fish fry. So I've decided to take the fish by the tail and try and improve my odds.

Two years ago, I came up with the idea to use the list of churches and organizations published in the Akron Beacon Journal to determine which churches and organizations to visit during the surprisingly short fish fry season. And because of my love of pierogi, the first year I used the criteria of selecting only those establishments that served both fried fish and pierogi. This yielded me nine different places to visit over the course of five weeks. That first year, I found an overall winner and a runner up where the pierogi were mundane, but the fish was great.

The second year I did the Lenten Project, I decided not to visit any of the organizations from the previous year that were in the lower half of the standings. I again used the criteria of fried fish and pierogi as the determinant for which establishments to try. Sadly, last year's crop were mediocre at best and really, even though there was a church that finished on top, it wasn't a knock-out winner. To top that, several of the organizations I ended up visiting two years in a row not only didn't improve, but some actually got worse. As Joshua so eloquently stated in the 1983 movie Wargames, "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Bound and determined to get a nice piece of fried fish THIS time around, when Lisa Abraham published her annual list of commercial and non-commercial fish fries, I immediately realized that the list needed to be in a more computer friendly form so that I can add notes and sort more easily. Thus, I transcribed the entire list into a Google spreadsheet. It is free for anyone to view and no software needs to be installed, but obviously I've set it up so that only I can update it.

Since none of the descriptions in her article listed whether the fish being used was fresh or fell off the back of a Sysco food truck, I took it upon myself to call each and every organization on both lists. What shocked me (and might go a long way in explaining why last year's fish fries turned out so poorly) was that virtually none of the organizations were using fresh fish. Of the forty-three non-commercial organizations listed in the Beacon article, only TWO were using fresh fish. Pierogi fared a little better, percentage-wise. Of the seven establishments offering pieorgi, only two were homemade and one of those was only being offered this Friday, February 24th -- so if you miss it, too bad.

Now, gentle reader, before I get a deluge of emails and comments saying that you can fry up a perfectly nice piece of fish from frozen, I agree. You can. But a good majority of these organizations are getting the fish pre-battered and frozen and simply frying them from that state. There just didn't seem to be an emphasis in the past on putting out a piece of fried fish that was moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside and not greasy. Thus, save a few exceptions where I know that care has been taken to make sure the fish will be at its best, I have decided to only include places where the fish is fresh.

However, given that only two non-commercial establishments are serving fresh, how will I be able to come up with eight to ten places to try during the next five Fridays? I've decided that I am going to open it up to the commercial (e.g., restaurants) locations listed in the Beacon article, too. Instead of telling you where NOT to go as in the past two years, I want to tell you where you SHOULD go. I want you to have options. Just to be sure, I also called (actually, I'm still in the process of calling) all of the restaurants on the list to determine which places I will visit.

Because I haven't quite finished calling all of the restaurants yet, here is the list of places I will be going for a fried fish dinner during the first Friday of the Lenten Project III, Friday, February 24th:

American Legion Post 281 (4:30 to 7 p.m.)
1601 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221

Fat Casual BBQ (5:00 to 8:00 p.m.)
223 East Highland Road, Macedonia, OH 44056

I'm planning on hitting up the American Legion right at about 5:00 PM and then venturing my way up to Fat Casual between 6:30 and 6:45 PM. If you'd care to join me for either location, you are cordially invited, no reservations required. Once you arrive, you surely cannot miss me, I'll be the guy sitting by himself with a massively-sized camera on a small tabletop tripod. It's hard to miss, really.

So, with that, the Lenten Project III: The Search For Fabulous Fried Fish officially kicks off for 2012. After finishing up my research on the final twenty-ish restaurants, I will post the remainder of my fish-eating schedule next week. If Lent has a more spiritual meaning for you, I wish you the best during this next forty days. For me, I'm looking forward to some good fried fish!


DianeS said...

Tom, were there places using frozen fish that didn't come in pre-battered/breaded or all of of the places using frozen fish using the pre-battered/breaded kind?

Another question to ask of the places serving perch is if it's farmed or not. Farmed perch is often flavorless not to mention all the other issues with farmed fish. In addition to that, some places use Turkish Yellow Perch which tastes nothing like lake perch and is completely flavorless.

I don't mean to make it more confusing but it would be great to know what kind of perch places are serving so we as customers know what places to put at the end of the list.

Tino said...

@DianeS: Based on my experiences from the past two years and my phone calls this year, I'm making an educated guess that most of the non-commercial places using frozen fish are using the kind that come pre-battered/breaded and simply frying from frozen.

The restaurants, on the other hand, are more likely to get the frozen fish plain, thaw it, then batter/bread it and fry it. Almost all of them so far said "Yes." to the question, "Are you frying frozen fish or fresh fish?" When I then asked, "Does the fish get delivered as fresh or frozen?", then most admitted it was coming in frozen and then thawed.

I have a funny feeling that had I put too fine a point to my questions and asked whether the perch was farmed or not, heads would've exploded on the other end of the phone call.

cate stitch said...

HI Tom, So glad you're doing this again...I'm a big fan of the non-restaurant fish fry, church or other institution - sometimes you luck out with some great homecooks in the kitchens. Friends and I went last year to the VFW on Front St in Cuyahoga Falls and had a really nice dinner: lightly battered perch, crisp, not greasy and hot. Hate cool fried fish! I'm going to be a repeat there this year. Keep us posted on your travels as usual! You're my foot soldier...

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