Organizations take on challenges to serve Lenten fish fries

Lenten fish fries are more than a western Pennsylvania Catholic tradition. They are nationwide and are also found in Protestant faith communities as well as secular groups.

Serving fish dinners to the public is a great way to raise money, not only for churches, but also for firefighters and other nonprofits.

Grab a big slice of fried or baked fish, a soft roll, coleslaw, and fries, and you’ll hardly think you’re making a Lenten sacrifice. Add the haluski, mac and cheese, pierogies and other often-served dishes, and it looks like one downright sinful indulgence.

The bad news is that the pandemic has been difficult for entities that depend on fundraisers for fish fry. Many have had to cancel outright or turn to takeout-only service.

The good news is that there are still plenty of fish fries, eat-in and take-out, planned throughout the region this year. You might have to travel a bit further to find one, but they’ll be there.

Be warned, however, that those moving forward have encountered supply chain disruptions, increased costs for food and other supplies, and difficulties in lining up volunteers.

So when you sit down for your Lenten fish feast – even if the price is a little higher this year – don’t forget to thank those who made it possible for you to enjoy it.

Work together

Many of the area’s fish fries are hosted by a church or fire department. In Crabtree, these two entities have joined forces.

For over 25 years, the meal was served by the Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department. In 2021, for the first time, the neighboring Saint-Barthélemy church joined in the process.

“In the past, we didn’t do fish fry because the firefighters did,” said Reverend Justin Matro, St. Bartholomew’s pastor. “Last year they approached us and said they were struggling to find enough volunteers. They asked if we could team up, and I said, “Hey, I’d love that.” ”

After the church received approval from the Diocese of Greensburg, the two groups rolled up their sleeves and got to cooking.

Courtesy of John Rock

Volunteers pack orders at a 2021 fish fry at the Crabtree Volunteer Fire Department, held in conjunction with St. Bartholomew’s Church in Crabtree.

“Most firefighters are also parishioners, so they’re equally invested in both,” Matro said. “The work and food picking is all done in the fire department, but we give most of the staff. And then we split the profits.

Since the firefighters have been dealing with the fry for years, they have a pretty good system in place.

“They cook or oversee the cooking,” Matro said. “It takes a lot more people to prepare the meals and assemble them as the orders come in, so that’s where we use almost all of our parishioners.”

The 2021 fry were take-out only and will be the case again this year. In 2023, the groups hope to welcome diners indoors again.

“Next year we’ll probably be at church, because we’re remodeling our kitchen a bit,” Matro said. “The fire brigade kitchen is a bit small and ours is a good size. If we can do it next year in our Marian Hall, we can get people in and sit down.

Since the cost of food has gone up, “dinner prices will be a little higher this year,” Fire Chief Bill Watkins said. It also took a little more effort than usual to find a good supply of fish.

“I wouldn’t say we have an endless supply, but we should be good for the whole year,” he said.

They will be serving fried cod with coleslaw and fries, and baked cod with pierogies and coleslaw. Haluski and mac and cheese will also be available.

Matro tasted the fish and gave it a thumbs up: “I’ll tell you, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had.”

The fry proceeds likely cover between 10% and 20% of the fire department’s annual costs, Watkins said.

Besides the financial benefit, participating in the nursery has other benefits for the church.

“He’s tapping into a whole new pool of volunteers,” Matro said. “With something short-term like this, you get a lot of people who have never tried (volunteering) before. It builds our community.

It also introduces church members and their pastor to local residents who might not have walked through the doors of the church.

“We meet a lot of local people who may not have been active in the church,” Matro said. “I’m there in my usual all the time, so I have a lot of great conversations with people. It is therefore also an opportunity for a certain evangelization.

It’s a lot of work, Watkins said, but “the community wants it and looks forward to it.”

Fish fries will be offered from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. beginning on Ash Wednesday, which is March 2, and on Fridays during Lent, including Good Friday, at the fire station at 1610 Latrobe Crabtree Road, about 6 miles northeast of downtown Greensburg in Unity. Takeout-only orders can be called at 724-837-2231 or 724-838-7734.

Back to the dining room

Lenten fingerlings are also a major fundraiser for the Highland Hose Fire Company in Taranto.

Fish fry was canceled midway through 2020 due to the pandemic and last year was only takeout.

It returns this year for on-site and take-out orders.

Robert Stoebener, president of Highland Hose Fire Company, said he contacted his fish supplier, Land & Sea in Monroeville, to check availability.

“We had to raise the price a bit to cover the cost of the fish,” Stoebener said. “The fry are so important to the fire company. We appreciate all the support from the community. We will be here this year with very good fish and prawn dinners.

Hours will be 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the fire station at 401 E. Eighth Ave. from Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent. The menu includes a fish sandwich or shrimp dinner with coleslaw and fries. Fish sandwiches will also be available. For details, call 724-224-0999.

Fish, and more

There’s fish and more at Lower Burrell Fire Department No. 1 Kinloch Fish Fry.

Chef Ted Hereda said he did extra planning this year and bought items earlier, which saved on some extra expenses. They are prepared for additional customers with less fish fries this year.

The menu includes fish dinners, crab cakes and shrimp, as well as homemade macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables and grilled cheese and chicken strips.

“We’re always busy, which is a good thing,” Hereda said. “It’s an event that people look forward to every year. They share a meal and see people they may not have seen in a while. Fish fries are a community thing.

The room is at 915 New York Ave. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning on Ash Wednesday, then every Friday. For details, call 724-339-7537 or 724-212-3120.

Take it out

It will be take-out only at Mount St. Peter’s Catholic Church Fish Fry in New Kensington.

President Maria Tallarico said the parish decided to do so this year. They are also serving a simpler menu this year. There will be a fried fish dinner with steak fries and coleslaw and a bun. People can add a side of macaroni and cheese.

All the cod is breaded by hand, Tallarico said.

“That’s a good sized piece of cod,” she said.

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Courtesy of Maria Guzzo

Each piece of fish is hand breaded at Mount St. Peter’s Church in New Kensington.

The coleslaw and macaroni and cheese are homemade, and their fish supplier is Land & Sea in Monroeville. The church uses fresh rolls from Fazio’s Pizza & Italian Food in Arnold. Tallarico said they realize they might be busier with less fish fries this year. They will be prepared, she said.

“The past two years have been tough, but we love fry and our volunteers can’t wait to see everyone,” Tallarico said. “Fish fry is more than a place to eat something. It’s a matter of community.

The church is at 100 Freeport Road. It will be open on Lenten Fridays but not on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. Masks will be mandatory. Telephone orders will be accepted from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Walk-in orders are accepted at Marble Hall from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays. For details, call 724-335-1458 or visit newkensingtoncatholic.org.

Partnership for Brother Andre’s Cafe

At Epiphany Church’s Divine Mercy Parish, adjacent to Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, fry begins on Ash Wednesday and continues on Fridays in Lent. There will be no fried fish on Good Friday.

The menu will include fried or baked fish sandwiches, and sides will include fries, homemade coleslaw, macaroni and cheese and applesauce.

The church partners with Brother Andre’s Cafe, a nonprofit church organization that employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They will sell desserts and coffee.

“The cost of fish is higher than usual this year and volunteers are showing up slowly, but we are not worried. God will provide,” said office manager Cynthia Goetz. “Another challenge for us, especially in the downtown core, is that many businesses have not returned to a full 9-to-5 Monday-Friday work schedule.”

In the past, she said, these businesses in the region accounted for more than 60% of orders. Diners can eat inside the Church Hall at 164 Washington Place or grab takeout.

“Reverend Chris Donley wants to promote brotherhood and community by offering people to sit and enjoy their fish sandwiches in the church hall while enjoying coffee and cookies at Brother Andre’s Café,” Goetz said. “However, take-out is always an option. ”

Fry opening hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more details, visit divinemercypgh.org.

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