For my first stop on this third year of the Lenten Project, I was happy to be returning to a place where I've gotten pretty good fish fries in the past, The American Legion Post 281 located at 1601 Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. This wasn't my first Friday fish fry at the Legion as they offer these fish dinners starting in the fall through the winter and finish up in the spring. While the fish has never been spectacular, it has always been in the sort of "very good" category and I was looking to a nice piece of fried fish to kick off this year's search for good fried fish.
I pulled into the left parking lot around 5:00 PM to find a nearly packed lot. Here was what the front of the Legion looked like:
After parking, I approached the rear of the building and the entrance to the hall was located at the very center of the wall. Once inside the door, I found myself in the outer room, lined with tables, chairs, and patrons. Moving towards the inner room, I found a bar, more tables, chairs, and patrons, and the kitchen. Here was a shot of tonight's menu:
Here was how the system worked at the Legion. There was a person sitting at a table by the menu on the wall. After giving her my order, my name, and paying for it, she submits the written ticket to the kitchen and gives a carbon yellow copy. Keep this ticket as you will need to submit it when they bring your food to the table. Between the end of the bar and the spot where I ordered my food were several other service tables. One contained such items as napkins, silverware, coffee, etc. The other contained a variety of "side" dishes. There were three salads from which you can choose (you can have one, two, or three), slices of white bread and pats of butter, and other pre-dispensed condiments (such as tartar sauce).
After building up my sides, I was fortunate to find a four-top table open up and cleaned off. I should also mention that drinks were my own responsibility at the bar. After unpacking my camera get and getting it ready, all I had to do was wait ten minutes or so before the food runner called out my name. As she approached my table, I retrieved the yellow ticket from my shirt pocket and we switched ticket for plate. Here was a shot of my dinner tonight:
This was fried whitefish, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans. There were other forms of potatoes I could've ordered instead of mashed, and they were available sans gravy, but the green beans were the vegetable of the evening. Let's talk about the star of the plate first. The batter was light, crunchy and grease-free. The fish was moist and tender. The seasoning was nowhere to be found. One could easily make the assertion that since most of the people attending these fish dinners were seniors, perhaps the kitchen was just being prudent and allowing people to season their own food, given the presence of salt and pepper shakers on each table.
One could make that assertion until trying either the mashed potatoes and gravy or the green beans, veritable salt bombs that were straight from the box (or can). While the mashed potatoes and gravy weren't bad, they were also clearly not homemade. I tried the green beans and images of every bad school cafeteria vegetable came rushing to my brain. If you like this flavor, you'll certainly be happy with the results. I personally don't like the taste of canned green beans.
For one of my side salads, I decided on a small dish of the cole slaw:
It was food service, but was decent enough and I appreciated the slight horseradish kick to it.
The other items I had retrieved before sitting down were a slice of the white bread and a small plastic ramekin of pre-portioned tartar sauce:
The bread was ... well, plain old white bread. I did try the tartar sauce with the fish and found it to be a bit too sweet for my taste. It did add some seasoning to the largely unsalted fish, but the sweetness it added didn't help the cause. Fortunately, there was ketchup on the table and I found that because of the acidity and salt in the ketchup, it made a much better pairing with the fried fish.
My meal finished, I asked for a "to go" box and crated up my other large fish filet and cole slaw (I still had one more meal to review tonight and I didn't want to completely fill up) and packed away my camera gear. As I got up to leave, I heard a "Tom?" from behind me. At first I didn't respond, but when the voice repeated the question, I turned to discover that two of my blog readers had decided to come to tonight's dinner and were seated at the table directly next to mine. We chatted for just a minute or two before I thanked them for coming tonight and made my way out into the dimming light.
Would I go back the American Legion again? Absolutely. For all of the negatives I identified above, the notion of fish cooked to order that was juicy and fresh, even if not seasoned properly, would be enough of a draw to get me to return. The fact that the Legion does these fish fries every Friday, even outside of Lent, is a big plus, too.
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. American Legion Post 281 (Cuyahoga Falls): Fish, B; Coleslaw, C+; Green Beans, C; Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, B-