Fish Fry Friday: St. James in Sewickley

Name: St. James Church

Pittsburgh Fish Fry
Fish Fry Map Logo

Date: February 12, 2016

Time We Ate: 7 PM

Random review of #fishburgh adventures during Lent. Find a fish fry on this Google maps collection. You can also follow them on Facebook and find tons of reviews and suggestions. Here is our general criteria:

In review, the factors we assess or review include:

  • Location/directions/parking/signage
  • Atmosphere/Volunteer Friendliness/Engagement
  • Accessibility
  • Menu: variety, portions, taste and price
  • LGBTQ cultural competency
  • Ecofactors such as reusable/disposable items, recycling bins, takeout containers

We were invited to an art show opening in Sewickley so we thought it would be a good opportunity to try a new-to-us fish fry. I hit up the official google fish fry map and settled on St. James Roman Catholic Church. The website had plenty of information. Most important to us on this particular night was the later hours of the fry because we had to travel in rush hour traffic from Pittsburgh. It took as a solid 30 minutes, including a brief detour to the local ATM.

Sewickley is a ritzy white suburb along the Ohio river. The houses are huge, the streets are well-paved and there is a lot of cute little shops to visit. But it is very much above our paygrade.

St. James Sewickley

A nearby fish fry had lots of signage out so that was a bit distracting, but GPS brought us safely to the St. James parking lot which, while not very well lit from the street, was plentiful. St. James boasts a practical campus between the church buildings and the school. We followed the trudging bodies into the school building and down the stairs to the school cafeteria.

St. James Sewickley

A giant menu was printed at the front entrance which was very helpful, but as with most fish fries – it was a slightly chaotic mess. Two people were directing us in opposite directions, a few volunteers were chit chatting in the line we needed to join and the women taking our orders were gossiping  a bit about the servers taking too long to get people seated.  All amusing, but a bit exasperating since we just wanted to place our orders. Lots of chefs, so to speak, at the front end, not enough sous chefs and chef assistants.

St. James Sewickley
side order of piergoies
St. James Sewickley
Fried Fish sandwich, coleslaw and fries
St. James Sewickley
Salmon with Macaroni & cheese.

We opted for a baked salmon dinner and a fish sandwich dinner with sides of mac and cheese, cole slaw, fries and applesauce. We also asked for a side order of pierogies. And it was pricey, by far the most expensive fish fry we’ve visited – $29. Our order included beverages (iced tea, lemonade, water, coffee, etc) but still a bit much.

St. James Sewickley

St. James Sewickley

 

The hall was nicely decorated with student art, including many crayon depictions of President Lincoln. It was a tight fit, but our escort took us to table #13 and whisked our order off to the kitchen. It was at this moment that I realized I was wearing my ScareHouse Bunny tee shirt which features a bloody axe wielding bunny on the back. I had forgotten to toss on a sweatshirt so my choices were to either wear my coat during dinner or risk freaking out someone about the fate of the Easter Bunny. I opted to take off my coat and prepared myself to say I was involved in a performance art project if anyone asked. I’ve heard that works.

Laura trotted off to the bathroom and along the way made a wonderful discovery – our friends Tom and Harry were volunteering! We hadn’t remembered this was their parish, but they were both able to take a short break and visit with us. Also joining our table was a family of three women. The grandma in the group told me she had been born and raised on Perrysville Avenue over 80 years ago. She said back then it was all the Northside and people identified by streets. She was a hoot, especially when she made a good point – she said everyone should wear a name tag, not just volunteers. That would make it more friendly.

St. James Sewickley
Volunteers taking a break!

The food was rather delicious. Everything was served on regular dinnerware. The salmon was perfectly baked and served with a garnish of a few capers. It was moist and light. We salvaged half the portion to take home to our cats. The fish sandwich was huge, of course, but the breading was light and unique. The pierogies which we learned are NOT homemade, but shipped in from somewhere – doesn’t that sound scandalous?- were tasty as well. The macaroni and cheese was the best we’ve bad with the exception of Reverend Shanea Leonard’s version served at Judah Fellowship. It was obviously made with real cheese and perhaps some cream. The coleslaw was fine, but not excellent.

It was a good meal and they had other options on the menu, including a grilled cod and clam chowder. The price was a bit high, but the quality made it worthwhile. Not weekly, but once.

Students were handling the distribution of beverages and clean-up duties. A young man named Evan was assigned to our table and he was delightful. He kept us informed on the status of the lemonade batch being made in the back and brought us water to tide us over. Evan is a fan of the mac and cheese and told us that the kids ate before they were put to work. Always a good practice. Our cups were kept filled and we had many opportunities to have our plates cleared as we finished off our meals.

St. James Sewickley
Raffle Items

A dessert cart was making the rounds, but we passed as we were heading to an art show at Starbucks and wanted to save room for decadent beverages.  Plus, we had already purchased raffle tickets and I was feeling tapped out for a fish fry.

There are a lot of things to like about this fish fry. Not enough things to make me drive to Sewickley again just for fish, but it certainly would be on my list if I had another reason to be in Sewickley on a Friday night during Lent.

I also have to point this out – there is a giant sign in the entrance that reads “Handicapped Elevator” with an arrow. My assumption is that they don’t want the able-bodied youth to use the elevator during school hours, but the sign is a bit offputting and othering. I don’t expect an affluent suburban/rural Catholic school district to be aces in terms of social justice issue even though they have the funds to do so. However, if I came into that entrance as the parent of a child who needed to use an elevator, I might think twice about enrolling my child and/or donating to the school. It actually did keep me from dropping a few extra dollars into the donation requests.

So as to the cultural competency, no one batted an eye that we came together, ordered together and sat together. Nor did they blink when we ate each other’s food for tasting purposes. Our friends are a married gay couple. They are out in the parish and we talked about their reception overall. I did catch a few folks staring at us but that could have been the blood axe-wielding bunny shirt to be fair.

Nice event, good food and so forth. I continue to be disappointed that the fish fry menus have evolved but the ties to the church values has not. If you are washing plates and silverware, why not use reusable cups and glasses (even plastic) instead of disposable? What about the earth we inherit – where is that mindset?

Pros: tasty food, multiple options, reusable plates and silverware, good service and REALLY good macaroni and cheese

Cons: disorganization/personality conflicts at the front end, styrofoam to-go boxes, no obvious recycling efforts, high prices and a lot of asks for money (raffle tickets, 50/50, extras, etc) Also, the signage for the elevator

Fish Fry Fridays are brought to you by the fine folks at SueCat Social Media and with the gracious participation of Ledcat who does not particularly want to eat fried fish every Friday for 40 days, but rolls with it. If you have a suggestion for a fish fry, please leave a comment.

St. James Sewickley
Selfie taken after the dinner. I title it “It’s not how you spend your Friday, it’s how you frame your adventures”

 

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