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?
It's not at all uncommon during Lent to meet people at St. Cecilia's 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).
The beer list features $6 pitchers of A-B products, and also Corona, Tecate and Dos Equis in cans for $2 a pop. Canned sodas are $1; lemonade, coffee and water are included in the $10 meal deal. Those who need a little something to tide them over in line can purchase chips and salsa ($3 for a small order, $5 for a large) 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
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. Note, however, that after serving a fish fry this Ash Wednesday, they're taking a break until Friday, February 19. The complete schedule can be found on the parish website. — Cheryl Baehr