Welcome to Fish Fry Fridays, 2023 Edition! Click here to learn more about this project.
Name: Croatian National Hall Javor (Northside)
Date: February 24, 2023
Time We Ate: 5:45 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
We’re back. Sort of. Stretching back to 2014, we’ve regularly visited local fish fry venues around the Pittsburgh region and I created this little review format to share some of my thoughts. After the Grand Jury Report in 2018, I just couldn’t do it. The pain and trauma of the sexual violence and coverup by the Catholic Church was literally too close to home.
Now that the person who spearheaded that report is the Governor of Pennsylvania and I’ve had some time to regain perspective on a millennia old atrocities, I was ready to wade back in. I’ll save further ruminating for a separate post.
To kick off 2023 Fish Fry season, I wanted to find someplace new to us, but realistic with our timeframe. Laura was at work, neither of us loved standing in a crowded space for hours to get a seat, etc. I visited the Fish Fry map and did some poking around. And that’s how I found a hidden gem right here in the Northside (Allegheny West) – the Croatian National Hall Javor. We’ve driven past a hundred times, but never knew they had a fish fry.
I poked around the interwebs to gather recon for our decision. The biggest challenge was the lack of an actual current menu anywhere, but I found an old one and made an educated guess. They had a takeout number so we made the decision to leap.
The fry opened at 4:30 so I called at 4:31 from home to place the order. The very nice woman who answered the phone read the menu to me, explained the process and meal options as well as describing the menu items. She didn’t sound rushed or try to hurry me. I placed my order, she told me it would be ready in 50 minutes and payment was cash only.
I picked Laura up at the T and we headed a few miles to the other side of the Northside. I had no idea where to park and didn’t look it up because I planned to wait in the car. As I waited, I saw people trailing in from various directions so my guess is parking is simply catch as catch can.
Laura headed inside with cash, our order details (to confirm), and firm instructions to choose two interesting dessert options from the bake sale table. I waited. And waited. And waited. But they did bring her in by 5:20 as promised so that’s fair enough.
The menu was fairly straightforward. Three dinner options – fried fish sandwich, baked fish, or fried shrimp – with two sides. French fries, macaroni and cheese, American Coleslaw, Croatian Coleslaw, and Francuska Salad (potato salad.) A slice of cheese if desired. They also had kid options – grilled cheese or chicken nuggets plus a side and a juice box and fruit.
Laura opted for a fried fish sandwich and I went for the shrimp. We ordered four different sides to share – fries, mac & cheese, and both coleslaw versions.
Of course, it was packed in styrofoam. Sigh. The food was in wax paper, but no foil or any other insulation to keep it warm. Still, it was our choice to opt for takeout.
We drove home and dove in to our meals.
The fish was really good. Flaky, moist, and a good portion. The shrimp were huge, nicely battered, and handled the commute well. I shared with the cats and they also enjoyed. I was slightly freaked out by the impression the shrimp were undercooked until I realized I ate raw shrimp cocktail with delight. Still, it was unsettling as a sensory experience. And probably due to my not feeling well.
As for the sides. The fries were good. A little piece of foil might have kept them warm. The mac and cheese we were divided over – I thought it was bland and lacking enough cheese, Laura thought it was fine just a wee bit cold.
Then comes the coleslaw. So what exactly is Croatian coleslaw? If you Google, you’ll sort through 87999 recipes to discover that Croatian coleslaw and potato salad are vinegar based, not a hint of mayo. I haven’t yet found a site explaining why that is the case.
Find Javor on the web and Facebook.
I sort of liked the vinegar version, but it was a little intense. I ended up mixing them together and found that mixture delicious. Laura liked the Croatian version better – she’s not a fan of mayo.
We had dessert a little later. Laura had selected a small slice of berry coffee cake and a cream puff made with a custard. We split them – both were good. the berry cake slightly better, but I realized the custard was a very nice way to offset the puff pastry. I wish I knew what they were. I’ll reach out to Javor and ask.
Update – the cream puff is known as Princes Kofne. The cake was called Hidden Cherries.
The prices are reasonable – $15 for the meal that includes two sides, $2 for extra sides, $7 for the kid’s meal. Desserts were at a bake sale table and I think just a few dollars – Laura handled that. I ordered a few extra shrimp to share with the cats (don’t roll your eyes) so our total was about $36 for two meals and two desserts. Not bad for dinner, especially going to support a neighborhood organization.
Laura told me there was seating that was filling up, but not packed. She described hearing the phone constantly ringing and the line growing in size.
I was unable to assess the LGBTQ competency, the accessibility, the eco factors, or the volunteer friendliness beyond the initial phone call.
Overall, this was a solid way to start Fish Fry season. It was convenient, affordable, and tasty.
The added bonus is that it was new to both of us. We’ve passed the building, noted the signage, but never had reason to stop. I took a dive into the history of the organization and the Croatian community in Pittsburgh after ordering our meal and that was a nice bit of education. My interest in piqued. At one point, the Hall was based in Manchester where I currently live and for most of its time, it was in the Allegheny City neighborhoods known as East Allegheny and the North Shore where my own ancestors lived.
But as I’ve said in previous years, there’s a HUGE missed opportunity for outreach and engagement. Even something as simple as a flyer in the bag with some background about the organization would be helpful. Tell me about the Croatian recipes, the desserts, the people who belong to this community. Add a QR code to the menu and connect me to the links I had to find on my own.
Pros: quick and friendly phone response, good fried fish and fried shrimp, generous portions, reasonable prices, very tasty homemade desserts, order ready exactly when estimated, lots of nearby street parking, opportunity to sample culturally diverse foods
Cons: Styrofoam containers, take away not wrapped in foil or insulation, macaroni and cheese not very cheesy, no pirogi, no advance copy of the menu online, very little online information.
I don’t know if we’ll return this year, but I am glad to know there is another local option. And I’m glad to have an opportunity to learn more about regional history as much as I am to witness people who are vested in keeping those cultural ties alive in the present day.
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