Monday, March 5, 2012

Lenten Project III: Week 2, Part 1 of 2

It seems like every year since I started the Lenten Project back in 2010, there has been a Friday with inclement weather that has either jeopardized or threatened to jeopardize the schedule of fish fries I set before myself. The first year, a mountainous amount of snow fell between Thursday and Friday and caused St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hudson to cancel their fish fry entirely. This led me to visit Duffy's Restaurant in its place (as the restaurant was at the end of the street where I lived at the time) and try their rather disastrous attempt at a fish fry. I still have nightmares about the macaroni and cheese served at Duffy's.

Fortunately, this year the winter weather has been much tamer. That being said, as "fried fish hour" approached last Friday night, storms started rolling through the area. Other than a few monsoon-like moments between the two fish fries on the slate for tonight, the weather cooperated for the most part. The first visit of the evening was to another organization with which I am familiar as several of my friends are members, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, located at 2000 Brown Street, Akron, OH 44319. They are operating their Lenten fish fry from 5 PM to 7 PM until March 30.

Here was a shot of the front of the building:

Ancient Order of the Hibernians in Akron, OH
Parking was all around the building and a small unpaved (and muddy) lot behind the building. Since I had arrived precisely at 5 PM, parking wasn't a problem. While there was a door on the right side of the building that said, "Entrance," this was actually to the bar area. The correct door to walk through (unless you want to walk through the bar) is the double set of doors at the front entrance. Once inside, you'll queue up into a line and wait your turn to order.

Sadly, I didn't get a picture of the menu being served at the Hibernians. However, it was pretty straightforward. For $6, you could get an AYCE (all you can eat) fried whitefish dinner with two sides. For $7, you could get either a piece of baked or fried cod and two sides. For $10, you could get two pieces of either baked or fried cod with two sides. Knowing that I still had another fish fry to attend tonight, I opted for the single piece of fried cod. Of the five or six side dishes from which to choose, I went with cole slaw and macaroni and cheese to complete my meal.

Having paid, I was handed a yellow meal ticket. The main hall had been set up with long rectangular tables and chairs. Since it was just myself for the visit, I went up to the bar to procure a beverage (there was a bar area with a bar, but there was also a bar in the main dining hall, too). The Hibernians does sell beer, wine, and spirits (and quite cheaply, I might add), but in order to be eligible to purchase them, you must show a membership card. Fortunately, water and soft drinks require no such identification. I grabbed my glass of water and headed toward the rear of the room.

I sat down and within a few moments, a woman approached my table and asked for my ticket. She returned a short time later with a basket of bread and pats of butter:

Bread Basket
The bread was fresh, the pats of butter cold. That being said, this was typical American sandwich bread. Nothing remarkable here.

In an interesting twist, my server brought out the side dishes before the fried fish. Here was a shot of the Cole Slaw:

Cole Slaw
I originally asked my server if the sides were homemade. She kind of squirmed and said that she really didn't know. As soon as I tasted the cole slaw, I had the answer I needed: this was DEFINITELY homemade. Sadly, in this case, being homemade was not a good thing. While I could tell just by looking at the cole slaw that it wasn't mayonnaise based (which is fine), bite after bite of this incredibly bland dish of shredded vegetables left me wondering if the person who made this actually tasted it before serving it. In addition to lack of salt, there was an incredible lack of acidity. It was like eating shredded crunchy vegetables with a barely acidulated water dressing it.

I moved onto the Macaroni and Cheese:

Macaroni and Cheese
Having not been particularly impressed with the cole slaw, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this rendition of the American classic had excellent cheese flavor and was creamy without being soupy. The downside was that it had been cooked nearly within an inch of its life and the phrase al dente had long left the building by this point. Remember that I had shown up at 5 PM on the dot for dinner. Imagine how much worse the texture would be on the macaroni and cheese that wasn't served until 6:45 PM. If you like the texture on your pasta to be near mush, this might just be up your alley.

Having just finished assessing the other components of my meal tonight, the star finally arrived:

Fried Cod, Tartar Sauce
I'll have to admit, with the two sides being served ahead of time, this lone piece of fried fish looked a little lonely sitting on the plate next to a cup of tartar sauce, adorned by a single wedge of lemon. Visually, I could tell that the fish had been fried very well -- no signs of oil either absorbed by the paper plate or when I put pressure on the crust to cut it with my fork. As I cut into the fish, I was rewarded with rising steam. Unadorned by either lemon or tartar sauce, I tried the first bite of fish and was pleased as punch to find that it was delicious. It was salted well, was juicy and overall tasted like what fish should taste like. It wasn't the juiciest nor the hottest piece of fish I've ever eaten, but for the crap shoot that I collectively call the Lenten Project, this was an excellent piece of fried fish.

I also tried the fish paired with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of tartar sauce. For those that enjoy tartar sauce, it was an excellent pairing with the fish. I doubt the tartar sauce was homemade, but in all fairness, I didn't ask. After finishing with my meal, I packed up my camera gear and headed back out into the wet Friday evening, glad that I had about an hour before the next stop on my pescetarian tour.

I would definitely go back to the Ancient Order of Hibernians for another fish fry, but I would definitely avoid the cole slaw the next time.

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. Ancient Order of the Hibernians (Akron): Fish, A; Macaroni and Cheese, B-; Cole Slaw, C-
2. Fat Casual BBQ (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Hushpuppies, B; Cole Slaw, A
3. American Legion Post 281 (Cuyahoga Falls): Fish, B; Cole Slaw, C+; Green Beans, C; Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, B-

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