And So It Begins

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 16, 2024 22:17 in Dining Diary

Incredibly, it’s already the first Friday in Lent 2024, so it behooved us to find a Fish Fry.  Should we choose a regular Catholic Parish repast or the more hip restaurant version that came about with COVID?

These latter-day plates of fried fish came about as restaurants scrambled to find their footing in early 2020. A lot of great restaurants, including A-listers, got into the game offering restaurant-quality seafood plates with 2 sides that were considerably upscale from the familiar versions offered by the Knights of Columbus and the Scouts. And for only a few dollars more!

I worried about the boring plates of seafood dutifully presented by these service organizations in school cafeterias around town. Who would buy those when a favorite restaurant could do the same thing, only better?

It turns out that there is much more to the Fish Fry than what is on the plate. It is about community. Catholic Parish Fish Frys have come a long way since the ones we helped with when the kids were young, and certainly, they are different than the ones my parents worked. The price when I was a kid was $5 for the plate, and now it’s not kept up with inflation. They’re only $12.

What is different is how extravagant some of the offerings are now. Last year we drove through one at St. Anselm on the north shore and got a gigantic platter that included a crab cake, both shrimp and catfish, and even a small 

soft shell crab.

We went out in search of both kinds of Fish Frys this evening. I noticed on Instagram that Pyre BBQ in Mandeville was offering a catfish plate with fries and hush puppies for $12.99. I chose that one over the $20 plate from Gabrielle, mainly because of the soggy weather.

This was a sensational plate of catfish and fries. I wasn’t at all surprised, but the flavor was really terrific. It was crunchy and piping hot and cornmeal-crusted. When I asked for tartar sauce I was told that theirs was great, and that turned out to be an understatement. It was perky with a hint of lemon and creamy with a strong pickle flavor. I’d go back for the tartar sauce.

We were both thrilled with this plate of crispy catfish, fries, and hush puppies, and the divine housemade condiment.

Since we were in the neighborhood I thought of stopping in at the school where our kids went. Our Lady of The Lake always had a Fish Fry, and we worked it with the Scouts. When we pulled up there was a line of at least 50 waiting for food. I was disappointed. We never go back there and it would have been sweet to revisit memories. We’ll do that next time. 

Just for yucks, we passed Mary Queen of Peace on the way home. The line wasn't as long, and there was something really appealing about this one. 

The menu was simple: Catfish or shrimp with two sides, or the “Extravaganza.” When I tried to order the last one I was told they were out of it. I was disappointed until I saw it come to a table. Then I was determined to come back and get it. The darn thing was $17 and included fish and shrimp, plus a crab cake and onion rings and fries. And the crab cake looked as good as a lot of them in restaurants.

And it was such a value that the price included a drink and dessert. This was the most organized, orderly, friendly, and delicious Fish Fry I have ever encountered, in three generations. I look forward to returning to have the "Extravaganza.” It looked that good.

We got the Adult plate, which was offered with a baked fish option. We could choose from mac’n’cheese, green beans, fries or salad. We chose the baked fish, green beans, and mac’n’cheese.

The fish was really nicely seasoned. It was impressive. The green beans had a lot of garlic and Parmesan on them. The fries were ordinary crinkle cut, but they were cooked very well, crispy and golden brown. And the salad was equally appealing, but we passed on that one.

The fried seafood was fried in cornmeal and was crispy greaseless, and golden brown. The mac’n’cheese was cheesy and a little dry, but otherwise fine, This came with a roll and butter.

A large drink came with all this. The offerings were tea or lemonade, or a combination of both. There was a table for self-service Community Coffee, complete with fixins.

The dessert table was daunting. There were slices of several different kinds of cakes, muffins, and cookies. And they all looked great.

I got Tom a slice of almond cake, which he raved about,  I would have tried it but he dove into it with such enthusiasm I didn’t have the heart to stop him.

We stayed long past finishing the plate of seafood. It was wonderful to revisit those great times. The Scouts were everywhere, as were the Knights of Columbus. And wives and grandmothers manned the dessert table

On a table by the window were floats made of shoeboxes and decorated with beads. A generations-old tradition that warmed my heart, even though I didn’t know any of the artists.

The plate of fish was great all by itself. The nostalgia was a heart-warming bonus. We will be back for more of all this.