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Fish Fries offer food, fellowship and fun

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By Erin Schurenberg

During the Lenten season, the opportunities for food, fellowship and fun abound at area fish fries.

Most happen weekly for the first six Fridays in Lent. Other fish fries are more likely to be one-time events. With the occasional rare exception, such as that of St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Church in Cincinnati, which offers vegetarian, Middle Eastern dinners on certain Lenten Fridays, the menu at most of the Lenten events is fish, always fried, but often baked too. Additions of crab cakes, fish tacos, vegetarian soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, hush puppies, French fries or other sides are often offered.

The Corpus Christi Fish Fryers (CCFF) are nearly a household name for true fry aficionados (“a-fish-ionados”) in the Greater Dayton area. The original group of fryers was organized in 1990, by parents of Corpus Christi student athletes. Today, the CCFF group staffs several area fish fry events. Their participation at the Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School’s fish fry on March 23 marks their biggest cooking event in 2019. They use extra volunteers and more equipment for this “over 21” event, serving more than 1,200 people and cooking over 700 pounds of fish in one night. The CJ Fish Fry isn’t just about good fish, though. In addition to the 6 p.m. dinner, the event includes a silent auction, casino style games and big-screen televised college basketball games.

In New Carlisle, Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Fish Fry happens from 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday from March 8 to April 12. “It’s the biggest social event in town!” said Richard Kraus, the parish business manager. “The food is good, inexpensive and plentiful, and the gatherings are a great opportunity to see friends.”

The Knights of Columbus have been organizing this cash-or-check, all-you-can-eat dinner since the 1980s. The menu includes fried or baked fish, grilled cheese sandwiches, various sides, dessert and a drink (lemonade, iced tea or hot coffee,) for $15. They discount for carryout. Afterwards, at 7:30, the church is opened for the Stations of the Cross.

Last year, the Knights served over 2,200 meals. People came from far and wide. “This event even draws attendees with different telephone area codes,” added Kraus. “One Split-the-Pot winner was a long distance call.”

In the Cincinnati area, parishes host scores of weekly Lenten fish fries. Some have reduced or free meals for little ones. Others, like Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Milford, offer senior specials with reduced prices either during an early bird hour or as a lower cost menu offering.

Two Cincinnati parishes, All Saints in Kenwood and St. William in Price Hill, have garnered regular rankings in annual Top Ten-type contests as being among the best.

Micki Harrell, director of development at All Saints, has been the lead parish’s fish fry for 13 years out of its 15 year run. “We have great crowds all six weeks, with many repeat customers,” she said.

Her core team consists of nine parishioners with an additional crew of about 25 needed every Friday to ensure a successful run. Their busiest day in 2018 had them serving up 750 dinners in two and a half hours. For a facility with only a warming kitchen, and grilling and frying happening under outdoor tents, this number is impressive. Desserts are handled by other organizations, such
as the Boy Scouts, who keep their own proceeds. The cheese pizza is regularly delivered by Krimmer’s Italianette Restaurant. Meanwhile, the fish and other fare is prepared by the All Saints crew.
Staple favorites like fried cod are always on the menu, but new offerings are tried to see how they might improve attendees’ satisfaction. Fish tacos were added a few years ago and have become a favorite. The pico sauce, the regular and chipolte coleslaws are all homemade. This year’s new addition will be craft beer. Uniquely available again is a quiet room, seating 20 to 30 people who prefer a hushed environment to the sometimes friendly, “low roar” that gym seating presents.

A good fish fry has “a variety of offerings and a great sense of community,” said Harrell. “We work hard but we have fun.

St. William Parish has its fish fry down to almost military precision. They begin the season before Lent with a “Fat Friday” on March 1. Mozarella sticks, fried pickles, chicken wings and other popular appetizers are featured from 5 to 8 p.m. While this event is dine-in only, once the Lenten Fish Fries begin, St. William offers a weekly drive thru from 4 to 7 p.m.

“Our drive-thru is a much-valued option,” said Jessica Young, 2019 event organizer. “Located on West 8th Street, we offer the convenience to drivers to pick up dinner on their way home from work. We offer a two-lane drive thru, which has a police detail to help control traffic. Cars pull up to order takers, make their selections, then, while they wait for their orders to be filled and run out by student volunteers, the drivers have the option of also choosing desserts from the outdoor bake sale workers,”

Meanwhile, indoor dining is open from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event is cash-only, but there is an ATM machine located on site.

“One of our top picks is the crab cakes, which we make from scratch,” Young said “We sell about 140 of these weekly. In 2018, we sold 840 cakes.” A successful weekly fish fry for the
St. William’ crew is a three-day event starting with 30 people prepping food on Thursdays, 50 adults, along with several students, helping on Fridays, and 15 people cleaning and shopping on Saturdays.

For the comprehensive Catholic Telegraph Fish Fry Guide click here

Check out The Catholic Telegraph Fish Fry Video:

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