Munch goes to Cherries Diner and Hook Fish & Chicken

When middle-school classmates of Munch were vacationing at Disney or visiting amusement parks, Father of Munch was dragging the family to places such as Gettysburg and Fort Necessity.

Is it because Father of Munch was a humorless man, consumed with war and its rattling, historical fascinations? Partly.

But it also was because Pops is an impatient man, who, when presented with a 75-minute wait to ride a roller coaster and a zero-minute wait to enter a battlefield cemetery, would pick the cemetery every time.

"Dad," Munch would plead, "this is sooo boring."

"But there's no line!" he would say, gesturing toward the panorama of weeds and marble.

"I'm being eaten alive by mosquitoes."

"No line!"

"Jimmy's pinned beneath a toppled grave marker."

"No line!"

Lo, two decades later, and Munch is beginning to understand this thing called heredity. Munch wanted a fish sandwich last Friday, on account of it being Lent -- when in Rome, eat as the Roman Catholics eat -- but all of Munch's favorite places were mobbed with bandwagon Catholics. Where are these guys the rest of the year?

I bet these are the same people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.

Guess what, America? Munch eats fried fish all the time.

This sort of religious discipline requires a dietary commitment that most people aren't ready to make, frankly, which is why Munch resents these Johnny-Come-Fridays. Then again, Munch resents a lot of things.

George Aiken's? Swamped. Original Oyster House? Line out the door. Munch needed a backup plan. Munch needed a place with no line. And suddenly it occurred to Munch that Munch had indeed become like Father of Munch. The fish sandwich doesn't fall far from the tree.

Fortunately, Munch knows of a couple of spots where one can grab a fish sandwich on a Lenten Friday without much of a wait. The first is right beside George Aiken's -- it's called Cherries Diner, and you may know it better for its breakfasts, big plates of eggs, meat, home fries and grits. But it makes a quick lunch, too, and a nice, lunch-sized fish sandwich.

By lunch-sized, I mean it wasn't one of those epic Moby Dick sandwiches, 2 feet of fried fish squeezed between a dinner roll.

Munch appreciates value as much as the next person, but when the fish sandwich starts looking like it was wrestled from the sea during a Homeric poem, we've gone overboard. Cherries' sandwich was pleasant enough, crispy but not oily, served in about five minutes with a side of steaming-hot fries, dusted with paprika.

That, plus a drink, will set you back about $7.

You can do take-out or eat-in, at Cherries' small diner counter or one of its handful of tables. At Hook Fish & Chicken in the North Side, though, sitting at a table isn't an option. This place is strictly take-out (although there is seating at its Edgewood location, and some outdoor seating at its Homewood business).

Hook takes its fried fish seriously, offering cod, tilapia, whiting, catfish and perch, which is less common as a fried fish option, at least in Pittsburgh. So Munch went with the three-piece perch meal, with three fried oysters stacked on top ($9.99).

These are not the fried oysters that you'll find at the Oyster House in Market Square -- which is to say, nearly oyster-less.

No, these are fried oysters fishy, briny and dense, not everybody's cup of tea, to be sure, but they suit Munch just fine. (Hint: a little hot sauce goes a long way with oysters.)

Bowling Fanatic Buddy of Munch (BFBOM) is a chicken connoisseur, and ordered the three-piece wings meal ($3.69). These wings are the real deal -- each wing full and intact, not the pre-separated wing dings. Although normally a fan of "The Hook," BFBOM judged these wings to be fair-to-middling, lacking the lemon-pepper zing that she is used to. ("I should have asked for extra spice," she said.) Meals come with a side of sweet cole slaw and french fries.

Best part about it?

No line.

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