Friday, April 03, 2009

A Wish for Fish

Fridays in Lent can mean only one thing in St. Louis. Fish! Church fish fry, to be exact. While I'm still waiting for a Japanese-Catholic (?) church to have a Lenten sushi dinner, there are plenty of other options to explore. Each church seems to have a specialty, so each Friday we seek out a new experience. This year, here's where we've had fabulous fish so far:

Right in our neighborhood sits St. Andrews Catholic Church. When we moved here, it had its own school, but cutbacks left the playground empty. The parish is still going strong, though, and their fish fry is always a tasty, good bet. You can get squares or tails (cod or catfish) baked cod, and usually jack salmon (whiting). What sets St. Andrews apart is the mac and cheese. Very cheddary, thick but still creamy, and baked with a golden-brown crusty top. Sometimes it's so good, you have to get it for both your sides. Also, dessert is included and someone there makes a super-moist red velvet cake with cream cheese icing. Better get there early if you want some.

Not much farther down the road is Seven Holy Founders CC. You got your squares, but catfish nuggets step in for the tails here and don't pass them up. Pieces are big, breaded lightly, and not over-cooked like so many nuggets are. Even better are the shrimp. Big shrimp, a little more coating, not cooked to rubber, and lots of very horseradishy cocktail sauce. SHF special side is au gratin potatoes. Yes, they come from a mix, but they are a cheesy change of pace. Dessert here is extra, but you may not have room for it, especially after a couple of beers.

Much in the media this year, next up is St. Cecilia's (you're breakin' my heart) Mexican Fish Fry. Squares, tails, shrimp... all good, but the draw is the Mexican entrees and sides. All hand made, all amazing. The chili rellenos were roasted peppers filled with queso, lightly battered and fried to firm but gooey goodness. Potato flautas were crisp outside, moist inside, and served with a roasted tomatillo sauce. They also had tostadas and quesadillas, which we did not try, but looked yummy. Dessert is included and if you hit it right, you just might find a slice of flan on the table hiding in between the gooey butter, bundt and angel food cakes. Expect a long wait, but as the line snakes around the school's gymnasium, you can buy home made pico de gallo & chips and Corona and enjoy entertainment like traditional Mexican dancers or a maricahi trio.

Right across the street from my church is St. Joan of Arc. The squares are, well, squares, but the tails, the baked (lemon pepper, yum!) and the shrimp are always a cut above. Slaw here is vinegar & oil, a welcome change to the creamy standard fare. For the die hard St. Louis bar fan, you can grab up some cheese toasted ravioli or fried mozzarella sticks with meatless marinara dipping sauce. What really makes the day here is the Irish potatoes. New red potatoes, not over-boiled, tossed with butter and parsley and just a tiny bit of salt. Fresh baked bread was there the Friday I stopped by, too. Simple perfection. Desserts here are extra, but hey, it's for a good cause, so fork it over and fix that sweet tooth with some extra chocolaty brownies.

Last but not least, is St. James The Greater serving both "The Hill" and "Dogtown" neighborhoods. While the parish's roots tend more toward the Irish side, the sides say "Italy". Squares, tails and baked are there, the fried shrimp have a bit of garlic in the breading, but don't miss the pasta sides. The white sauce is creamy, full of garlic and comfort food at its best. The red sauce is a chunky marinara, plenty of garlic and spices with just the proper hint of sweetness to balance it out. Get there early for the surprise treat, home made clam chowder. Big, juicy clams, potatoes and aromatics suspended in a light, creamy base, fully flavored by the clam liquor and a host of secret spices. You have to pay extra, but it is worth it. I'd like to buy a vat of it, myself. Dessert is also included here, and there were some really different choices, like a pumpkin mousse pie with a gooey butter cake top, sprinkled with pecans. Amazing. I'm very tempted to make a repeat trip on Good Friday. The ladies made sure to remind me that they would be open.

If none of these are in your part of the greater St. Louis area, but you still want to give it a go on Good Friday, hit the "Fish Fry Finder" page that KTVI Fox2 has up. There are churches, VFW's, American Legions and many other clubs and organizations getting in on the Fish Fry Frenzy. Many even happen when Lent is nowhere to be found. Help your neighbors, fill your tummy and have some fun. See you out there.

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