Friday, March 23, 2012

Lenten Project III: Fish Schedule 3-23-12

Here are the final two locations that I will be visiting for the 2012 Lenten Fish Fry season. First up is the overall winner from the first year I started doing this project, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church:

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church
8894 Ohio Rt. 14
Streetsboro, OH 44241
(330) 626-3424
4:30 PM - 7:00 PM

Cafe in Stow
4591 Darrow Road
Stow, OH 44224
(330) 688-0200
11:00 AM - 9:30 PM

I plan on being at St. Joan of Arc at roughly 5:15 PM tonight and the Cafe in Stow at around 6:30 PM. Please feel free to join me for either dinner if you are feeling up to it. It has been such a strange Lenten fish fry season with the weather being so warm. In the past two years, I've had to cancel at least one Friday because of impassable roads and inclement weather.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lenten Project III: Murphy's Law Can Kiss My $$$

Generally speaking, I am a non-religious man. Spiritual, perhaps, but religious, no. I am also not particularly superstitious. I may not walk under ladders in fear of something falling on me, but I have no problem taking the elevator to the thirteenth floor or opening an umbrella indoors in order to let the fabric dry off after a good soaking in the rain. I seldom read my horoscope and when I do, I always think to myself that the scribblings are so generalized that they really could apply to anyone.

However, after days like today, I have to think some force is out there keeping an eye on me and every once in a while, a perfect storm brews in such a way that my life is suddenly made miserable, at least temporarily. Let me walk you through such an example, gentle reader. While the only person truly in pain is yours truly, perhaps my tale of woe will give you some entertainment in this mad cap world we live in.

The setup actually began back in January, earlier this year. I happen to be a substitute handbell ringer in my mother's church choir. It was an activity I did growing up and throughout high school. After graduating high school, I didn't pick up another handbell for at least fifteen years. I've alternated being a member and a substitute for the last couple of years. To make a long story shorter, every couple of years, various handbell ringing groups get together for ... well, for lack of a better word, a "conference" where we all play the same music, just en masse. Back in January, I agreed to pay my $60 to be a part of this year's festival since it will be in Akron this weekend.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I had shown up early to my weekly camera club meeting and as this was a competition week, the room needed to be transformed to accommodate the night's activities. One of the other members asked me to help bring the lightbox down from the second floor. As I slowly helped to lower the cumbersome (but surprisingly light) box down step by step, I had an odd sensation in my upper right thigh. I didn't think much about it at the time as it was simply a quick tinge of pain, but that was all it took to strain the muscle.

As I walked back to my car after the camera club meeting, I noticed a slight change in my gait. It wasn't until I woke up Thursday morning that I really felt it. "Eh," I thought, "it'll work itself out as I start walking." It sort of did and by the time I went out to grab some lunch, I was doing better.

Last night, I attended the final handbell choir rehearsal for the upcoming festival. Unfortunately, even with the occasional aid of a wooden stool upon which to sit, I essentially stood for about ninety minutes during rehearsal. When I went to leave, I felt a noticeable amount of pain with each step. Hoping that another night's sleep might help, I returned home, plopped my butt down on a chair (which helps immensely) until it was time to go to bed.

I woke up this morning, hopeful that my time spent lacking verticality would pay off with decreased soreness and pain. Nope, no such luck. I'm okay when I sit, but when I stand and/or try to walk, it's quite obvious that I am in pain. Not crippling pain, but enough pain that I kind of hobble along. Since the festival starts tonight, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get in any Friday night Lenten fish fries in.

But then an idea struck me. Just down the road from where I work is a small complex of buildings housing a local chain that does fresh fish fries and an Acme Super Market right next door to it. If I take my camera with me, I could do a review of the fried fish sandwich at On Tap Bar and Grille and then stop in at Acme and pick up something to help me deal with the pain (as there will be a *LOT* of standing at this festival). So, I made sure to grab my camera bag along with my keys and wallet and headed out to my car.

As I pulled into the very packed parking lot that On Tap and Acme share, I found a spot a tad closer to Acme. Not my preference, but on Friday at 12:30 pm for lunch, it was the only spot available. I decided to do lunch first. On Tap Bar and Grille (one of four locations in the area) was located at 3997 Medina Road, Montrose, OH 44333 and can be reached at 330-668-1116. Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

On Tap Bar and Grille in Montrose, OH
Once inside, I asked to be seated in the lounge area. I find that in general, there are fewer children sitting on that side and it is a more relaxed environment as the tables give you a chance to sit comfortably. While I was handed a menu, I knew what I wanted already and placed my order with my server. The room was pretty packed and I knew that they only did the freshly beer-battered fish on Fridays until they ran out. Fortunately, this was the only thing that was working for me today as they still had fish in the kitchen. After only about fifteen minutes, my sandwich arrived at the table:

Fried Fish Sandwich and Shells and Cheese
The sandwich, available year round on Fridays comes with a standard array of sides, some of which came at no additional expense (Fresh-cut fries, applesauce, cole slaw) and some for an additional $1.00 (sweet potato fries, onion rings, pasta shells and cheese, cottage cheese). Having had all of the sides at some point or another, I knew how much I really don't care for most of the fried items. I would normally get the applesauce as my side, but decided in the "macaroni and cheese" spirit of Lent that I would try On Tap's "Shells and Cheese."

Today's fish sandwich was fried nicely -- the exterior was crispy and not greasy. However, the actual fish, scrod, was a tad on the dry side. That being said, a little of the (not-so-homemade) tartar sauce and a bit of ketchup and I was good to go. The bun has always been a bit uninspired, neither having a deliciousness of its own or imbued by the kitchen staff by say, buttering and toasting the roll first. The tartar sauce had a nice balance between sweetness and acidity. The shredded lettuce and March tomatoes were more or less pointless and I removed them before eating the sandwich.

I could tell that the shells and cheese had been plated first and allowed to sit while the fish was finishing in the fryer as the top of the shells were cold and a bit dried out while the shells at the bottom of the dish were lusciously creamy and still warm. Other than that little bit of discontentment, the shells and cheese were actually quite good and I highly recommend them for the extra $1.

My lunch finished, I paid my check (roughly $9 before tip) and wandered back out into the lovely, sunny Friday air. I dropped my camera bag off on my way into Acme, managed to find a bottle of Bayer and made my way to the front of the superstore to pay for my purchase. It wasn't until I got back to my car that Murphy, poised to strike this entire time, delivered his fatal blow. My car refused to start.

It wasn't the case of a dead battery. I've had plenty of those over the course of my driving history. The starter was trying to turn over the engine, but it just wasn't happening. After assuring myself it wasn't the battery, my thoughts drifted to the starter motor. Well, if it WAS the starter, would I even get any reaction at all when I turned the key in the ignition switch? I tried on and off for the next ten minutes to get my car started with no luck. Beginning to see that I might have to accept defeat and actually call AAA, I first called the Firestone store in the mall located across the street from my workplace to see if they could take it. "Sure, have it towed here."

Next I called AAA where a very helpful woman took down my information and told me that as soon as they arranged for a tow service, they would call me back. Fearing that I might now need a ride to the beginning and ending of tonight's festival plans, I called my mother, who as the group's intrepid organizer, began to escalate her voice in full-on panic attack mode. Fortunately, since I was already in Akron and the festival was in Akron, arrangements could be made for someone to pick me up. As I waited for AAA to call me back, I had time to think about the fact that the car more than likely wouldn't be ready today. And if not, I will have to either have someone pick me up on their way in, or just skip the festival until I can pick the car up. Not exactly what I was hoping for when I signed on back in January.

Half an hour went by with no word from AAA, but at that moment, I noticed a tow truck slowly and methodically driving up and down the car aisles. I got out of my car and flagged him down. I told the driver what was going on and he tried to start the car himself. Rrr, rrr, rrr, rrr. Nothing. "Yeah, it's probably your fuel pump. My guess would be $270 for parts and another $250 for labor." Great. Another $500 put into a car I was only planning on keeping for perhaps a few more months.

He quickly mounted my car onto the metal bars of his tow truck and off we went to drop it off at the Firestone store. When we arrived, I hopped out of the car (painfully, I might add), grabbed my camera bag, and a folder I had snatched from my car just as the tow truck driver arrived at the scene. It had all of the information I needed for this weekend's festival. After dropping off my keys at the front desk, I gave the clerk my cellphone number and suddenly realized the impossibility of the task now set in front of me.

Because of an injury I sustained while helping out at camera club and exacerbated by standing for ninety minutes at the handbell choir practice in preparation for this weekend's festival, I had aggravated the pulled muscle in my right thigh to the point where I had a painful walk and noticeably different gait. I had stopped at Acme to pick up some Bayer to help with the pain, only to leave it in the car, now nicely buoyed into the air at Firestone. I had also decided that since the festival wouldn't allow me the opportunity to attend any Lenten fish fry dinners tonight, I further decided to lug along my twenty pound bag of camera gear in order to get a shot of the food for this blog post.

To get back to my office, all I had to do was walk through the mall to the front entrance, cross the main street and walk up to the front door. However, what would take pain-free and unencumbered people ten minutes to do took me roughly half an hour of painful after painful step. Now, I sit here at the festival, waiting for a phone call from Firestone to tell me that it in fact WAS the fuel pump and oh, by the way, might I have $500 laying around with which to pay for the repairs?

I have a feeling if I didn't have a good sense of humor, I'd be a lot more depressed.

So, there you have it for this week's Lenten fish fry. The good news is that On Tap does a reasonably decent fish fry from fresh fish on Friday's, even outside of Lent. If you're going to get a side, get a non-fried one, even at the premium price if necessary. I do still have reviews from several places last Friday to publish, but I will get those up in the next few days.

I sincerely hope that Murphy got it ALL out of his system for now. I don't think I could withstand another round.

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. On Tap Bar and Grille (Montrose, OH): Fish, B+, Macaroni and Cheese, A-
3. Fat Casual BBQ (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Hushpuppies, B; Cole Slaw, A
4. American Legion Post 281 (Cuyahoga Falls): Fish, B; Cole Slaw, C+; Green Beans, C; Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, B-

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lenten Project III: Fish Schedule 3-9-12

It has been a CRAZY week at work. I know I've already posted Part I of my second week visits already. I promise to get Part II up tonight or tomorrow morning.

That being said, here are the two fish fries that I will be attending tonight. Please feel free to come along if you'd like.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (5 to 7 PM)
755 South Cleveland Avenue
Mogadore, OH 44260

Harbor Inn / Lighthouse Bar & Grill (5 to 9 PM)
562 Portage Lakes Drive
Coventry Township, OH 44319

I plan on hitting up St. Nicholas right around 5 PM and the Harbor Inn at 6:30 PM. I've been told that homemade pierogi await me at both, so I'm excited to see what I find during tonight's adventure.

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-

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Having A Meal At The Mothership

Even though Bricco Restaurant opened in downtown Akron in 2003, my first visit ever made to this local chain was at their Cleveland location back in 2008, located across from Playhouse Square. Since then, I've eaten numerous times at Cafe Bricco and Pub Bricco, but never managed in the nine years since the original opened to eat at the Akron location. Last Thursday I decided to complete the cycle -- sometimes it takes a while to go full circle.

The original Bricco Restaurant was located in downtown Akron at 1 West Exchange Street, Akron, OH 44308 and can be reached at 330-475-1600. Valet parking was available, but I opted to park on the street about a quarter mile down Exchange Street and walk to the restaurant. Since it was after 6 PM, there was no cost to park on the street.

I worried slightly that a walk-in for dinner on a Thursday night might have meant a bit of a wait. While the restaurant was fairly busy when I arrived, fortunately, there were a smattering of tables that had yet to be sat. The host left me with the regular dinner menu as well as wine and cocktail menus to examine:

Bricco Restaurant's Menu Front
Bricco Restaurant's Menu Rear
If you examine the menu a little more closely, you'll catch one of my pet peeves of menu writing: capitalization of the key words in the descriptions. This annoys me on two levels. First, it breaks up the reading flow by making the eye stop on certain words (which I suppose is the point). But, it also strikes me as a bit foolhardy to think that you consider your customers not capable of deciphering your menu, so they have to pre-digest it for you.

After placing my order, my server brought out the bread service:

Bread Service
As I unfolded the napkin, I was rewarded to find multiple slices of thickly cut white bread. I decide to make use of my bread plate:

Fresh Bread with Whipped Sweetened Butter
While the bread was fresh and tasty, it wasn't exceptional. The crust had a nice chew to it, but the crumb wasn't particularly remarkable. The butter had been whipped and sweetened slightly and spread easily on the bread.

As I was dining solo tonight, I wanted to experience as much of the menu as possible without going overboard. For my appetizer, I decided to go with the Fried Risotto Balls in Marinara:

Fried Risotto Balls with Marinara
While more classically known as arancini, tonight's risotto balls were filled with a mixture of smoked mozzarella and pancetta. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, these were quite good and I found myself enjoying the contrast of the fattiness of the smoked cheese against the acidity of the tomato sauce. The only criticism I could really levy against this dish was that the pancetta was a bit few and far between.

In keeping along the lines of trying as much off the menu as I could, I was pleased to see that all of the salads were offered at both full-sized and half-sized portions. I decided to follow up my arancini with the smaller portion of the Baby Spinach Salad:

Baby Spinach Salad
I am a firm believer that a properly "dressed" salad is one in which all of the leaves get a thin, even coating of the dressing. This is why whenever I dine in a restaurant where I think this won't be the case, I ask for the dressing on the side. At restaurants of Bricco's caliber, however, I trust that the individual running the garde manger station (i.e., "cold line") will properly dress the salad leaves. If you take a closer look at the picture above, you'll notice the same thing I did -- namely that the baby spinach leaves were dressed very unevenly. In fact, most of the leaves toward the front and right side weren't even dressed at all. Not a good start.

I tasted individual components of the dish before building a forkful with each flavor and texture. While the slight sweetness from the maple bacon vinaigrette came through, none of the smoke or porky flavor from the bacon was evident in my mouthful. The white cheddar was a nice touch, but the overwhelming sweetness from the candied walnuts dominated the other flavors. The roasted squash didn't really bring a lot of flavor to the party, but it did add a surprising crunch that one normally wouldn't associated with a vegetable that had been roasted. Overall, I didn't particularly enjoy this course of my meal.

For my main course, I decided to go with the Pan-Seared Scallops and Grilled Shrimp:

Pan-Seared Scallops and Grilled Shrimp Entree
Served with a apple, bacon, and bacon risotto, the plate also contained tender haricot verts and a buerre blanc. The plating of the dish was a bit one-sided (as you can see from the picture above) and struck me as a tad odd. I would have thought that distributing the scallops and shrimp around the risotto might have been a better choice.

As for flavors, I started with the scallops. As I sliced into the beautifully caramelized exterior of the first scallop, I was rewarded with a lovely translucent interior. The scallops were perfectly seasoned and cooked. The grilled shrimp were also excellently seasoned, but had just a hint of chewiness to them, indicating that they were overcooked just slightly. The haricot verts were seasoned well and had both a softness and crispness to them. The risotto, this time around in its original more liquid form, was creamy, soft, and delicious. There was one bite where it came across as too salty, but it must have been a bite where there was a lot of bacon on the fork as I couldn't replicate it. The buerre blanc, while pairing nicely with the seafood, didn't really add that much to the rest of the dish.

When my server mentioned dessert to me, I was a bit wary about having anything too heavy or rich. Even though I had asked my server to box up half of my appetizer and entree, I was still feeling pretty full. When I indicated that I'd at least be willing to look at the dessert menu, my server proceeded to rattle off a list of tired and predictable stand-ins from decades ago: two flavors of NY-style cheesecake, creme brulee, and the classic, warm chocolate lava cake. All of these were made in-house. The two frozen items, a peach-mange gelato and a sorbet (whose flavor I cannot remember now) were made by an outside local company, Country Parlour.

Figuring that a nice gelato and a cup of decaf might make an enjoyable way to end the meal, I decided on taking that route. While waiting for my dessert to arrive, I pulled up the website for Country Parlour and then, curious to see what other flavors of gelato they had, I navigated to the page containing their flavors. I discovered two VERY interesting things. First, their webpage of flavors didn't list gelato of any kind ... Italian ice, yes, gelato, no. The second was that regardless of the type of frozen dessert, none of them were of the peach-mango variety. Perhaps Bricco was having Country Parlour make something special that only they served.

Right around this time, my dessert and coffee arrived:

Peach-Mango Gelato
While I was impressed with the quantity of the serving, visually, this looked unimpressive. I was expecting several nicely rounded balls of gelato, instead I received a bowl full of frozen wedges. One of the hallmarks of fruit-based gelati is their intensity of flavor. The peach flavor was evident upon taking my first bite, but the intensity wasn't there. Because peach and mango share similar flavor profiles, it is easy to see why pairing them would be a good idea. The mango was imperceptible at the start of the mouthful, and was only barely there at the finish, due to the slight acidic flavor of the mango. In the end, it was still a nice way to end a meal, if not fully meeting my expectations.

When the final check came, I wasn't surprised that my total, with tax, came to a little bit north of $41. While I would say this was on the moderately expensive side of the dining options available, there were enough positive points regarding tonight's dinner that I would still recommend them. Other than the arancini I received for my appetizer course, the one standout criticism I would say concerned me the most was attention to the fine details -- salads that aren't completely dressed and plates that look unbalanced are unimpressive at the level which Bricco seeks to reside. In the end, I think Bricco adds a nice, upscale Italian food restaurant to the downtown Akron dining scene, but it would do them wise to pay attention to every plate that comes out of the kitchen.

Bricco on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lenten Project III: Tonight's Fish Schedule

Tonight's Fried Fish schedule for those who might be interested is as follows:

Ancient Order of Hibernians (5 - 7 PM through March 30th)
2000 Brown Street
Akron, OH 44319

Bialy's at the Lake(s) (11 AM - 9 PM, also on Wednesdays)
433 Portage Lakes Drive
Coventry Township, OH 44319

I plan on being at the Hibernians at 5 PM sharp when they first open for business and at Bialy's at 6:30 PM. Last Friday I was fortunate enough to have readers attend both locations. If you'd like to join me for either dinner, you are cordially invited. Perhaps this week I can find that 'A+' rated piece of fried fish.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lenten Project III: Week 1, Part 2 of 2

After a somewhat successful attempt at getting a great piece of fried fish at my first destination of the evening, my second fried fish dinner involved a stop out and see the guys at Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia. I missed their Lenten fish fry last year because at the time, I was still only reviewing non-commerical (i.e., not restaurants) organizations. Given that I greatly enjoy their regular menu (and have written about them twice already), they were a shoe-in for a stop on the search for fabulous fried fish.

Fat Casual BBQ was located at 223 East Highland Road, Macedonia, OH 44056 and can be reached at 330-748-4690. Parking was in the lot surrounding the building. Here was a shot of the front of the building:

Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia, OH
I arrived slightly after 6:15 PM to find one of the three large tables filled with regulars, the communal table only slightly filled and the only other table in the room, a six-seater, completely open. Knowing that I was being joined by several guests, I claimed the empty table and waited for my tablemates to arrive. Shortly after everyone arrived, we headed up to the counter by the front door to place our orders.

Fat Casual belongs to a category of restaurants known as "fast casual." This means that you order and pay for your food up front and when your order is ready, they will run it out to the table for you. Here was a shot of tonight's special Lenten menu:

Friday Fish Fry Menu
Normally, I might have tried the clam chowder in addition to ordering the fried fish dinner, but because this was my second meal of the evening, I decided to exercise a bit of restraint (so says the man consuming two fried fish dinners in one evening). After ordering my dinner, it wasn't ten minutes before this arrived at my table:

Cornmeal-Dusted Catfish Dinner
This was a Cornmeal-dusted Fried Catfish with Cajun Hushpuppies, Cole Slaw, Tartar Sauce and a squeeze of lemon. From a technique perspective, both the fried fish and hushpuppies were cooked perfectly -- crispy on the outside without being at all greasy. While I normally expect to find finely chopped onions in my hushpuppies, Fat Casual had decided to put a twist on the standard recipe and went a different route with some added cajun seasoning. The texture of the hushpuppies was nice, but the cajun seasoning left me a little disappointed. The catfish was wonderfully moist and I found it amazing that these thin catfish filets which had been thawed from frozen and dusted before frying were still moist and juicy.

The two issues I had with the catfish were that the seasoning in the coating was a bit aggressive. Whereas my earlier fish in the evening had been quite bland, the catfish was close to being too salty. The second issue I had with the catfish was the catfish itself. While I am in no way doubting the quality of the fish, catfish in general has a very unique flavor profile that you either like or your don't. This particular catfish had a very pronounced fishiness to it that may be off-putting to those normally averse to fishy-tasting fish.

I had absolutely no issues with the homemade cole slaw. It was crunchy, creamy, slightly acidic, and barely sweet. It hit on multiple flavor and textural combinations and was (and has always been) one of my more favorite versions of this side dish. The tartar sauce, also homemade, had a better balance between tart, salty, and sweet that my earlier dinner's version did not. One of the co-owners, Walter, suggested that I also try the catfish with the house BBQ sauce, which I did. It was an interesting combination, fried fish and BBQ sauce, but not one that I found worked great together.

While the execution in the preparation of the dishes was flawless, some of the flavors and seasonings were a tad off tonight. Would I go back for another fish fry at Fat Casual? With catfish on the menu, probably not. Were they to switch to a different kind of fish, absolutely. And, of course, I will always return for their mainstay, the barbecued meats and side dishes. That stuff is killer good.

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. Fat Casual BBQ (Macedonia): Fish, B-; Hushpuppies, B; Cole Slaw, A
2. American Legion Post 281 (Cuyahoga Falls): Fish, B; Cole Slaw, C+; Green Beans, C; Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, B-
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