Welcome back to Fish Fry Fridays, 2017 Edition! It is going to be a great spring filled with fish, fish and some occasional shrimp.
Name: St. Peter/Our Lady Queen of Peace (Northside)
Date: March 10, 2017
Time We Ate: 5:00 PM
In review, the factors we assess include:
- Atmosphere/Volunteer Friendliness/Engagement
- Menu: variety, portions, taste and price
- LGBTQ cultural competency
- Ecofactors such as reusable/disposable items, recycling bins, takeout containers
This week, we had a vet appointment scheduled for 8 pm on Friday so we had to pick a location close to our home. We settled upon St. Peters because it had been a few years since we last visited. Take a few moments to read about the history of this parish and how it consolidated multiple ethnic Northside Catholic communities. I have a personal interest as I’ve learned more and more about my family’s deep ties to the Northside/Allegheny City. St. Peters is actually on Arch Street; the fish fry is in the hall of Our Lady, Queen of Peace (part of the merged parish) in Deutschtown near Max’s Allegheny Tavern.
Right off the bat, I’ll tell you that the signage is a huge issue. We were quite puzzled about where to enter the building which is a big red flag that this is an internal fish fry counting on people knowing the building. I can’t emphasize enough that assuming everyone knows how to find the church hall is a poor assumption, both in terms of raising fish fry $$ and in terms of welcoming new people to your community of faith.
Parking was fine – on the street. The dedicated parking lot was a nightmare. But we managed to avoid it.
Anyway, Ledcat found the door and down into the hall we descended. The set up was a bit old school, but fine enough. At the door, very friendly greeters explained the process and took our money, giving us a slip to take to the food area. They were doing everything by hand, on paper with a simple cash box.
We decided on two dinners – Ledcat opted for traditional fried fish sandwich and I went for the crab cakes. The cost was $10 each. Then we took our tickets into a separate room to get our food.
This is where the church shined – there were about 10000 women in that room pointing us in the right direction with a mixture of friendliness and an immediate appreciation that it wasn’t necessarily easy to navigate – in other words, they were great hosts.
I immediately realized that I had forgotten to pay extra for cans of pop (and I really wanted a sprite/ginger ale) but the church had that covered by placing a tip jar next to the iced pops with a little sign indicating the donation amount ($.75/can) which was genius. I put in $2 for 2 pops so they made a profit on us.
We picked up our trays, already set with wrapped disposable tableware and moved along the food lines. First, we had a choice of dessert that came with the $10 price – a whole table filled with homemade goodies. Dessert first was probably just a practical issue, but it certainly sets a great tone. I opted for a piece of yellow cake and Ledcat chose chocolate cake. Then we hit the side dish table – pickled beets or coleslaw, both prepackaged in little catering type to-go containers. We both opted for coleslaw.
Then we hit the entrée line. The food was coming out of a kitchen somewhere in the back and being loaded into chafing dishes. The crab cakes were thin little things with a breading; the serving was two. The fish was huge as per usual. The next set of ladies offered us mac & cheese, steamed vegetables and haluski. We both opted for mac & cheese plus veggies. Then condiments and bread.
I should mention that we were asked to return our ticket which was entered into a drawing to win a free future meal – excellent, excellent idea. I also loved that the older woman seated at this table wasn’t verbal, but very clear about the choice of condiments and the return of our slips.
We walked back into the wood-paneled church hall that definitely felt like it was left in the 70’s but was neat and clean and organized. We grabbed some seats and set ourselves up. Ledcat realized she had received a dinner roll in lieu of a sandwich bun so she went back in search of appropriate bread. She came back a few minutes later triumphantly waving a giant hoagie bun which apparently she received ‘on the sly’ from the bread lady. It was one of the few times that the bun matched the fish so kudos on that.
The fish was moist and fine, but the breading had a slightly unique taste. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. I thought it looked a bit scorched, but Ledcat told me it was probably just the lighting. My crab cakes were okay, but heavy on a thick breading and light on the artificial crab interior. They tasted fine. I ate one, Ledcat tried a bit of another and that was it.
The mac and cheese was pretty decent if a bit bland. It could have used a bit more cheese or perhaps some sharp cheddar. But it was more like what I grew up with – baked macaroni and cheese. The coleslaw was fine, even tasty but it was a very small portion. The veggies actually worked for me – I liked having a bland boiled carrot to cleanse my palate before moving onto a new item. Ledcat thinks there should be less stewed tomatoes & boiled veggies, but more pierogies and fruit cups. But that’s likely a resource issue. Someone has to make those pierogies. Or cut the fruit which is likely more expensive than frozen veggies.
Our bread came in individually sealed ziploc bags so we were able to repack our extra fish to take home for the kitties even though I forgot our own take away containers. So into my purse went the bags of fish. And the rolls. And the piece of chocolate cake. I drew the line at taking the unused condiment packages.
It was a very small, older crowd. People smiled at us in a friendly manner, but noone was chatting. There was no information about the parish, no signage, no bulletins, no nothing. A helpful young man was dutifully clearing off tables, but wasn’t very talkative. He was a kid and polite so that’s cool. It was clear that a lot of people had a preferred seat and I think we occupied two of them. An older hetero couple came in, stole placemats from all of the tables for their own and leaned four chairs up against the table to show that they were claimed for whomever they were expecting. Then they sat down next to one another and ate their meals in silence. No one joined them while we were there. It was sweet and sad all at once. It is why the churches are dying and yet a reflection of what their existing congregants seek – to feel like they have a place at the table. Or maybe they were expecting Jesus and three friends?
I was pleased to see a recycling bin prominently placed near the entrance. First one this season. It made me feel good, as if the church has good priorities. There was a lift chair elevator type thing from the church to the hall. I’m not sure where the ramp was but I suspect if they had gone that far – there was a ramp from the street somewhere.
What about LGBTQ competence? Well, it was a cold winter day and Ledcat was bundled up in her winter coat and hat, so I had the suspicion that they once again thought she was my kid. Sigh. There was zero reaction to my paying and ordering for both of us which is good. I did have the feeling the dessert lady wanted my approval over Ledcat’s selection – so ha on that.
Pros: cost, portion, good mac and cheese, bun to fish ratio, recycling containers, accessibility, dessert options, availability of pop, inclusion of people with different abilities in the service
Cons: overreliance on styrofoam, lack of engagement, lack of information on the church and faith community, lack of signage
I did really enjoy the raffle item – a St. Patty’s wreath. I would have entered except I had no more singles. And Ledcat has a strict rule about new “stuff” coming into the house. But it was cute and sweet if only good for half of Lent.
St. Peter’s is a decent enough fish fry that could benefit from an infusion of new energy and some modest updates to draw new folks. A card swiper would be super useful. Put some old bulletins on the tables to inform the masses (ha – see what I did there?) and tap into the rich Northside history of this parish. If they simply printed out the information from the website and distributed on the tables, that would be awesome. I’d imagine a lot of people would like to visit the church their ancestors attended for nostalgic purposes if nothing else.
I think the Diocese could be a big help in this regard – the promotion and outreach component, versus changing the menu. Invite people from the suburbs to visit the church their great-grandmother attended as a young girl. Offer a tour. Put out the historical information. That’s an overlooked angle that could prove useful to the future of these small parishes.
SAVE THE DATE: Judah Fellowship Christian Church will hold their annual fish fy on Friday, March 31. We are big fans of this radically inclusive Christian Ministry and their fish fry (and Pastor Shanea Leonard’s mac & cheese.) All LGBTQ allies in or near the Hill District should make a point to support this important fundraiser. Read our previous mentions of this important LGBTQ resource.