So what if it feels like the dead of winter? Lent began this week, and while Ash Wednesday always makes us reflect on what we're giving up, Fridays have a different effect. In this convivial, Catholic city, Friday isn't just about giving up meat — it's also about the sheer joy of a good fish fry. Where else can you mingle with friends and family, scarf down some fried cod, and wash away the cares of the workweek with a beer — or even a chile relleno?
You don't have to live within parish boundaries to join in the fun — and you definitely don't have to be Catholic. Our guide covers four of the best-loved fish fries in the city; read up to find out which best fits your needs and suits your mood.
1. St. Cecilia: The Best Fish Fry Fiesta
Photo by Rease Kirchner
The fish fry at St. Cecilia includes chile rellenos, which are so popular they're limited to one per customer.
Parroquia Santa Cecilia
(906 Eichelberger Street; 314-351-1318
), a.k.a. St. Cecilia, is the unofficial church for Mexican-American Catholics in St. Louis. Families come together for its Lenten events and bring to the table an entire new universe of fish-fry fare, with the emphasis on fare, as opposed to fish. St. Cecilia fish fries are perhaps best known for their chiles rellenos — big-ass mildly spicy poblano peppers jammed full of cheese, then dipped in batter and fried till the exterior browns and the cheesy depth-charge inside achieves molten status. Praise the Lord and pass the cervezas; these calorie bombs are addictive to the very last gooey bite.
It's not at all uncommon during Lent to meet people at St. Cecilia who've driven in from out of town — yes, what we have here is a Destination Fish Fry. Depending on when you arrive (official fish fry hours are 4:30-8 p.m.), expect a wait that ranges from long to oh-please-I-can't-hold-out-any-longer: The line might snake out and around the building, with hungry patrons enduring a two-hour holding pattern.
Besides the chiles rellenos (limited to one per customer!), the main-course lineup at St. Cecilia includes quesadillas and bean tostadas, as well as fried shrimp, jack salmon and cod; for $10 you choose two from that list, and two sides (rice, beans, mac & cheese, French fries and cole slaw). You can also get pitchers of beer or cans. Those who need a little something to tide them over in line can purchase chips and salsa and/or tamales.
The dessert options are the typical fish-fry sweet eats, which is to say a variety of homemade cakes and cookies. But you didn't come to this fish fry for dessert.
You might not have come for live entertainment, either, but at St. Cecilia you're gonna get it. Throughout the event, mariachis circle the church gymnasium, serenading tables one after another. Keep an eye out for the St. Cecilia Mexican dancers, too (and be prepared for cute overload, in the form of girls ranging from toddlers to twelve-year-olds decked out in traditional Mexican attire).
When you're feeling as stuffed as a poblano, you can walk off a little of your meal by taking a tour of the church, which is one of the most intricately and beautifully decorated in the city. — Rease Kirchner
2. Epiphany of Our Lord: The Best-Kept Secret
Photo by Cheryl Baehr
An Admiral's Feast at Ephiphany of our Lord.
Monica Hunyar wears a pin of three gilded fish on her apron. "It was a gift from one of the old-timers," she explains. "His wife used to be really involved with fish fry, and when she passed, he gave it to me."
Hunyar's story pretty much sums up the tradition-steeped fish fry at Epiphany of Our Lord (6596 Smiley Avenue; 314-781-1199). For more than 50 years (Hunyar can't exactly recall, but she's certain it's been that long), the Clifton Heights parish has honored this Lenten tradition with a massive feast every Ash Wednesday and Friday during Lent, except Good Friday.
It's a three-day undertaking: Parishioners begin prepping the food the Wednesday before the Friday fry, making homemade sides and desserts to accompany the seafood extravaganza. "We call ourselves the best-kept secret in Southwest city," Henyar proudly states. Judging from the packed gymnasium, the cat(fish) is out of the bag.
In addition to the traditional fried cod, Epiphany serves cornmeal-crusted catfish, fried jack salmon and battered shrimp by the piece. The parishioners are proud of their homemade sides, including creamy mac & cheese (the highlight of the feast) and vinegary coleslaw.
Epiphany's fish fry is packed, with a line usually wrapping around the gymnasium. It's a welcoming crowd — we wonder if this is because of the generous wine pours handed out for a mere $2. Be sure to grab a piece of the gooey-butter-topped chocolate cake if you see it on the dessert line, and don't forget to buy your wine tickets when you pay for your food.
This fish fry is a bargain. A couple can eat for under ten bucks. Check out the parish's Facebook page for more details. — Cheryl Baehr
3. St. Mary Magdalen: The Drive-Thru Option
Your prayers have been answered — one church here in St. Louis that offers its delicious fish-fry eats in drive-through form. The "God's Cod" drive-through at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic School
(8750 Magdalen Avenue, Brentwood; 314-961-0149
) makes it easy to get your Lent on, even if you're in a hurry.
There's a fish fry every Friday until Easter from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., including tonight. The full menu is available to dine in or carry out, and the drive-through has an abbreviated menu. Pick up a single meal, a family meal or even a whole cheese pizza for the kids on your way home from work. The full menu includes fried cod, fish tacos, baked salmon, jumbo shrimp, mac & cheese, cole slaw, green beans amandine and more. Beer and wine are also available. Here's a link to this year's menu
. —Nancy Stiles
4. St. Ferdinand: The People's Choice
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jeffrey W
A classic fried fish dinner.
In 2014, the RFT
asked its readers for their pick for St. Louis' best fish fry. The clear favorite? St. Ferdinand Catholic Church
(1765 Charbonier Road, Florissant; 314-837-3165
readers, as we all know, are seldom wrong. If you live in North County — heck, if you live north of the boot heel — you know that St. Ferdinand is the gold standard of fish fries. For over 60 years, this Florissant church has been serving its flaky fried cod by the pound to hungry Catholics — and they don't just do it during Lent. St. Ferdinand's seafood supper is so popular, the parish operates it every Friday of the year. It doesn't have margaritas or flashy specialty items. Here you'll find little more than cod, catfish, spaghetti and green beans — washed down with Busch beer and consumed under the basketball scoreboard in its school's gym. And perhaps this is the reason for its staying power — it's the quintessential fish fry experience.
St. Ferdinand's fish fry is held 3 to 7:30 p.m. And yes, there is one tonight ... just like every night. —Cheryl Baehr
5. St. Pius V: A South-City Family Gathering
A musician performs at St. Pius V.
The Lenten feasts in the basement hall of St. Pius V (3540 Utah Street, 314-772-1525)
are the everyman's fish fry. Cod baked or fried. Fried catfish. Three sides, one of which will almost surely be cafeteria-style mac and cheese, plus dessert. All for $9. It's beautiful in its simplicity. The hall is always filled with families, and you are guaranteed to see little kids dancing away in the aisles to a live band that shifts its makeup through the evening as members of the crowd join in. The lines can be long, but not that long. And if you're lucky, the volunteers will swing through with free cans of Budweiser, like friendly beer angels to ease the burden. —Doyle Murphy
6. St. Peter: The Weekly Celebration
At St. Peter, everyone gets a fortune cookie for its Chinese New Year-themed fish fry on February 16.
At St. Peter Catholic Church (215 N. Clay Avenue, Kirkwood)
, every Friday is a celebration — and this Friday is more celebratory than most. The Kirkwood parish may be the only Catholic congregation in Missouri to note that Friday, February 16, is also the Chinese New Year — so they're serving hoisin-glazed salmon in addition to the regularly weekly options (Gloucester-style cod, oven-baked cod and fried butterfly shrimp). Oh, and for this special occasion, everyone gets a fortune cookie! If you can't make it tonight, don't despair: Each Friday has a special theme. February 23 includes "Krabby Kakes" and crab and shrimp bisque; March 2 offers Mediterranean sole. And on March 16, you can get crusted haddock and Irish soda bread. Special offerings are limited, so get there early. St. Peter serves from 4:30 to 7 p.m. each Friday. —Sarah Fenske
This post has been edited and updated since its original 2016 publication.