Fish Fry Friday #4 – St. Josaphat’s

St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Parma is probably one of my favorite fish fries in Cleveland. They have a wide variety of choices, including borscht (Ukrainian beet soup) and salmon, baked fish, baked cod, fried cod, or fried shrimp dinners served with their heavenly homemade pierogies, French fries, cabbage and noodles, or potato pancakes. You also have the choice between coleslaw and applesauce, but get there early or you will only have applesauce. They also offer pizza for the kids. All dinners also come with a dessert and beverages such as coffee or tea, cola, ginger ale, 7-up and water.

It is in the rotunda behind the church buildings. There is plenty of parking. Pull in where the sign says Enter.

The fish fry is a well-run machine. You tell the greeters which dinner you want, along with any extras, and they mark it on a piece of paper, which you then bring to the cashier. They only take cash or checks. Dinners range from $8.00 – $14.00. After you have paid, you take your stamped paper and queue up in line for the food. The line is long, but it moves fairly quickly. There aren’t a lot of stations where you need to think and consider a choice, which tends to slow things down. Once you get to the food table you are given a tray with a plate and plasticware, and the greeter tells you which steam tray contains the food you ordered (in my case #3). You then work your way down the line picking up your side, a roll and butter, and containers of coleslaw or applesauce, cocktail sauce, sour cream, and tartar sauce. You follow the circular path of the rotunda wall as you go along. Walk past the take-out station to choose from a variety of desserts on another table. The drinks are on tables after the desserts. I grabbed two because I was thirsty.

I really should just give in and just order the pierogi dinner here, although the salmon and baked fish also seemed very popular. The fried fish seems like food service since the filets were shaped so uniformly, but they weren’t overcooked or fried beyond recognition so points there. The fish here is just okay. On the other hand, the pierogi here are amazing, and I suspect my grandmother used to buy her pierogi here instead of making them herself. This was, after all, her home church back in the day. The pierogi are cheese and potato, and the dough is perfect and moist. They are sitting in butter and minced onions in the steam tray. You get three pierogi with every fish or shrimp dinner, but you can order more.

Like most church fish fries you shouldn’t count on the food lasting to the end. I wasn’t hungry right at 4:00 (plus I didn’t want to deal with the traffic on E. 55th and the Jennings Freeway, so I rolled up to St. Josaphat at around 6:40. They had already run out of coleslaw, and the desserts were looking mighty meager and picked over. On the bright side, there was plenty of available seats. The rotunda is filled with long tables and some round tables on the opposite side of the food service. Volunteers take your trays to bring them back to the front of the line during the peak dinner time. In any case, they shut down at 7. I felt badly for the cars driving in as I left, as the place had pretty much cleared out by then. I hope they were driving there to pick up their spouses.

The volunteers were all very friendly, and a nice volunteer who was cleaning the tables off even brought me a box so I could bring half of my meal home. All told, I spent $12 and had two pieces of fish, three pierogi, applesauce, a roll, a piece of lemon cake and two soft drinks. I will enjoy my one piece of fish and one pierogi, half my applesauce, and half a roll for lunch tomorrow. And I really should have bought a dozen pierogi to go.

This was the view of the church (I admitted I zoomed in a bit) as I walking out as the sun was setting:

Contact info:

St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
5720 State Road
Parma, OH

Fish Fry Friday #3 – El Carnicero

In keeping with my decision to eat at three church fish fries and three restaurant fish fries, this week a restaurant fish fry was on the docket. My original decision was to go to Sachsenheim Hall for their fish fry, but St. Patrick’s Day threw a wrench in my plans. They were not serving fish on Friday, but instead were doing an Irish buffet. One thing most people don’t know about me is that I hate corned beef. I can stomach it in a Reuben, but I also only eat a Reuben once every five years or so. Corned beef and boiled cabbage, carrots and potatoes? Gag me with a pitchfork. An Irish buffet was not going to be my focus.

I had wanted to try the fish fry at El Carnicero from the moment one of the members of All Things Food in Cleveland posted a photo ad for it in the group. It just looked amazing. I have tried three times to get to El Carnicero, but something has always come up to thwart my plans to organize something for my dining out group. The first time it was closed for a staff holiday party, the second time I was sick and the group went without me, and I think I was out of town for the third time my friends went. When Sachsenheim fell through I focused on El Carnicero, which is also on the west side. Apparently El Carcinero sometimes closes on St. Patrick’s Day, but luckily my friend Nancy ran into Chef/Owner Eric Williams, who assured her they would be open and would be serving their fish fry.

You wouldn’t think a Mexican restaurant would be a good choice, but it really was! They serve Dos Equis beer battered lake perch and also spice things up with a chipotle tartar sauce and chimichurri-drizzled French fries. I was very excited about the prospect. I wasn’t going to let a little snow and ice deter me this time.

After wending my way past a car accident on I-90 that closed three lanes of traffic, I showed up about ten minutes after our agreed upon meeting time. I was thrilled to see that the restaurant has a very large parking lot behind it. I got one of the last spots in the lot and trudged through the sloppy, wintry mess. Even though El Carnicero does not take reservations Chef Eric had been more than happy to reserve a table of four for us. It turns out it wasn’t necessary, since there were quite a few tables available. Thanks, St. Patrick’s Day! It isn’t usually the case in this very popular eatery. The bar had some revelers, but it was a really good vibe overall. Our waitress was wearing green lipstick, which I thought was awesome. My friends already had their drinks, since they passed the accident right after it happened, while traffic was practically at a standstill when I got there. I was going to order a blood orange margarita until Edsel’s regular margarita arrived with its bright green color in honor of the holiday. To make things even more difficult Edsel highly recommended the hibiscus flower margarita. What was a girl to do? Why, order the margarita sampler and enjoy all three! They were all delicious, but I loved the blood orange the best, with the hibiscus coming a very close second. El Carnicero definitely serves some delicious margaritas! Slainte!

We ordered a few appetizers to share. I chose the smoked gouda queso dip,IMG_20170317_191533 Edsel ordered the sikil pak (toasted and ground pepita mixed with lime and chile jalapeño – as he explained “kind of like a hummus but made with pepita”), and Nancy (and the rest of us) wanted guacamole. It was a tough decision as to which guac to order, but we went with the tradicional. I would like to go back and order a sampler to try a few of the others as well. Next time. I loved all three appetizers, but I was really pleased with the queso dip. I kept dripping it on myself even though I tried everything to ensure I didn’t, but that’s just how I roll. It’s a gift.

All four of us ordered the fish fry. We can go back and order tamales, taquitos, etc. next time. We were all really glad we ordered the fish. The beer batter casing was perfectly cooked, not too crisp and not too soggy. The fish was light and flaky and almost melted in our mouths. It was the best piece of fish I’ve had in a while. I also loved the chimichurri French fries. The fries were shoestring, which get cold easily. Nancy thought hers were too cold and had a fresh batch delivered from the kitchen. I didn’t come for the fries, so I wasn’t as concerned. I really enjoyed the chimichurri sauce, which was fresh and light. I was craving it again once I left. Luckily I had to ask for a box and had the other half as leftovers.

Edsel ordered the brussel sprouts as a side, which I found to be very lemony but nicely roasted. Being a sucker for creamed corn I ordered the esquite (achiote creamed corn) and polished it off. It had a nice zing to it and had some heft to it that I think might have been potatoes.

After a delicious meal from start to finish, we left El Carnicero very happy and ventured our way back to the highway to head home in the snow. It was a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Contact info:

El Carnicero
16918 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-3415

Fish Fry Friday #2 – St. Gabriel’s

My favorite fish fry in the Cleveland area is without a doubt St. Gabriel’s in Mentor. It runs from 5:15 to 7:30 every Friday during Lent. Located in its school building on Johnnycake Road near the Concord border, it is a bit of a hike, but it is so worth it. There is a sign indicating the entrance. Plan to walk far from and to your car, but there is plenty of parking (even with douchebags taking up two parking spots). It is run by over 100 volunteers each night, including adorable tykes in Boy Scout uniforms manning the roving garbage cans, and all proceeds benefit the St. Gabriel’s Day School Tuition Assistance Program.

It is extremely popular, so you need to get there early to ensure you get served and can enjoy all the goodness. Some friends went last week at 7 PM and were turned away because they had run out of food. This all-you-can-eat feast will run you $14. They also offer take-out and ala carte items. Click on the link below under “Contact info” for the Fish Fry page on the church website. There are two dining rooms – the main dining room has a shorter line between the cash table and the food, so we chose that one this year. We got there at 6 PM and were in line for about 20 minutes until we were sitting down with our plates. I needed to save six seats, so I jumped out of line to reserve them right after six together cleared and were cleaned off. The gymnasium has no line for the cash table, but the line for the food circles the room. We waited in line for 45 minutes last year. There is more seating, but also more people.

There is a lot of food to choose from, so I was extra judicious this year. I eschewed most of the carbs and saved room for the fish and mussels. Let me see if I can remember everything on offer… starting with salad, cole slaw, applesauce and rolls and butter (which I somehow overlooked), then moving on there were baked potatoes, french fries, mac n cheese, cheese ravioli, fresh green beans in butter, pizza (always popular with the kids), hush puppies, and cheese pierogi, fish choices included baked tilapia, fried cod, baked cod, butter crumb baked cod, mussels, breaded cocktail shrimp and peel-and-eat shrimp and at the end was a pot of seafood chowder that ran out just as I got there. I tried to keep an eye out for when it came back out, but they ran out of it fairly early. They always do. There was a small table in the corner with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. They ran out of tartar sauce several times. Beverages were along another wall, including tea and coffee and unsweetened ice tea, lemonade or ice water. Dessert (on the same table as the beverages) was chocolate or white cake, which ran out by the time I went back for some. Grab it when you can! They eventually brought out a tray of brownies, which were excellent, and when that ran out they brought out orange slices right at the end. I don’t know who makes the food, but every single item is great.

This year I asked for extra mussels and stuck to the battered and baked cod and the shrimp. Like I said, I skipped most of the carbs, but I did get some ravioli and pierogi (because it isn’t a fish fry in Cleveland without pierogi). The pierogi were extra cheesy and well-cooked. The dough was moist and nicely steamed. They had some sauteed onions as an accompaniment. I also really enjoyed the green beans.

From last year:

From 2014:

Contact info:

St. Gabriel’s
9925 Johnnycake Ridge Road
Concord Township, OH 44060
(440) 352-8282

Fish Fry Friday #1 – St. Clare’s

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year as far as I am concerned – fish fry season. Cod, haddock, perch, walleye – what’s not to like? Pillows of beer battered fish served with sides of pierogis, chowder, cole slaw, mac n cheese, etc. Some fish fries go all out with baked fish, shrimp, mussels, etc. I embraced the idea after reading Tom’s fish fry experiences in his blog, Exploring Food My Way. He’s not eating battered fish or salt or butter anymore, so I am going to pick up the torch. Cleveland embraces the fish fry. We have somehow managed to hold on to the Friday fish fry tradition — yes, in churches, but also in bars and restaurants — when most other parts of the country have not.

I decided to document my visits to local fish fries this year. Since most church fish fries tend to be disappointing (long lines, steam tables that make crisp fish soggy, etc.) I decided this year to choose three church fish fries and three restaurant fish fries, trying to balance it out. My favorite fish fries serve pierogi, and that is one of the qualifications I try to look for.

Fish Fry Friday #1 was not very successful. I wanted to stay close to home for the first one, so when I got out of my massage at 5:30 I knew my first choice Sts. Constantine and Helen wasn’t going to be an option. The Sts. Constantine and Helen fish fry runs from 5-8, and, with just a small parking lot and parking on the side streets, parking can be a nightmare – especially smack dab in the middle of dinner service at 6:00. I decided to keep driving and go to St. Clare’s, which was serving from 4-7. I have been to St. Clare’s at the corner of Green and Mayfield in the past and enjoyed it. The fish fry is run by Boy Scout Troop 433, and the proceeds benefit their local troop. Troop 433 has been part of Saint Clare Church since 1955.

The first time I went I remember being absolutely confused about where to go. Luckily, this time I knew to drive all the way to the back and go into the back building and not one of the church buildings. They have learned from the long lines and now swing the cash table to the right. You are then seated by one of the Scouts, who notes your table and runs the order to the kitchen. I ordered the perch dinner, which was $14 and comes with two sides. They also offer fried or baked fish for $11, fried shrimp for $11, pasta with no side for $8.50, 6 pierogi with one side for $8.50, or a fish sandwich for $7. The side choices were french fries, Sophie’s pierogi, cole slaw, mac n cheese, cabbage and noodles and applesauce. I also ordered a bowl of clam chowder for $4 (a cup will run you $2). The cashier asked if I wanted onions with my pierogis, and I was on my way.

I came towards the end of their evening, so there was no line at all and quite a few empty tables. I sat at a completely empty table. There were also quite a few people sitting off to the side waiting for their fish fries to go. The wait was a little long, but they had a cardboard container of buttered popcorn to stave off the hunger. I grabbed a couple cans of soda, which is available along with water for $1. I finished the first one while I waited. I brought my Kindle, so I was perfectly happy with the wait. I think my food came out in about 20-30 minutes.

Let’s talk about the food. Everyone raves about Lake Erie perch at fish fries. Save your money here and get the basic fried fish, which looked good when the tables around me got them. The perch I was served were fish briquettes. Dried out slabs of breading and desiccated fish. I give them a D and I’m being generous. The roll and cole slaw were food service and passable. The pierogi were the highlight, but I only give them a B+ because they weren’t pan fried to finish. The onions were great, so I definitely enjoyed the pierogi. And they were pillowy and well-cooked. They serve Sophie’s Pierogi, so I knew what I was getting ahead of time. The clam chowder was chock-full of clams. It was a little metallic, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy the indigestion that night though. Who knows what caused it, but I want to be honest about my experiences here. I do want to reiterate that I have been here before and had a lovely experience – enough that I wanted to come back, so your experience could be completely different (but avoid the perch). I left feeling good about supporting the Boy Scouts, but went to Arthur Treacher’s the next day for some pillowy fried fish to satisfy my craving. So yeah. Next week is my favorite fish fry in Cleveland – St. Gabriel’s in Mentor!

Contact info:

Church of St. Clare
5659 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44124