Organizations around Allegheny County offer more than fried fish during Lent
People seeking alternatives to the breaded, fried fish sandwich that has become a menu staple during Lent are finding more to choose from at local fish fries.
Many churches and community organizations will kick off the season of lunch and dinner events next week on Ash Wednesday, or on the following Friday. Besides fried fish and shrimp, more are adding crab cakes and healthier items such as baked fish and seafood salads into their menus.
“It's a wonderful trend. There is more variety at fish fries,” said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC.
Bonci said fried fish is fine — in moderation.
“You may want to have it without fries or tartar sauce,” Bonci said. “One indulgence won't hurt. It's when you have it all the time that it becomes problematic.”
Fish, cheese, cole slaw and fries served on a bun is a solid seller at St. Columbkille Church in Imperial, fish fry organizer Michael Barnes said.
At St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Penn Hills, the Big Bart giant fish dinner can be ordered baked or fried, said Annette Babilon, who organizes the event.
“Some people come six straight weeks,” Babilon said. “Even if they enjoy fried food, they may not want it all the time.”
Baked fish Florentine has become a popular seller among patrons who watch what they eat at the annual fish fry at St. Anne Catholic Church in Castle Shannon, longtime organizer Rudy Richtar said.
“They like the spinach” in the dish, Richtar said.
Kitchen manager Marlene Kislock said diners with dietary restrictions crumble baked fish and baked potatoes on salads at St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church in Rochester, Beaver County.
Kislock said salads with french fries sell well, too.
Etna Fire Chief Greg Porter said the fire company has for the last five years offered baked fish that is soaked in egg batter with a butter spray, but estimates fried items dominate sales by about 10 to 1. “It's a pretty good mix of people who eat baked fish — young and old,” he said.
A vegetarian chef salad served in a tortilla bowl with or without shrimp will be sold at St. Catherine of Sweden Church in Hampton, organizer Joanne Giovannini said. Orders called in to the Roman Catholic Church can be picked up at a drive-through on the church grounds.
At St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon, fish fry organizer Quintin Kittle, who grew up in Mississippi, provided the recipe for the homemade gumbo that is served at Lenten events.
Fish tacos, pastas and homemade crab cakes also are sold at the parish.
“We call it the gourmet fish fry,” Kittle said.
Fish and broccoli can be added to pasta prepared in oil and garlic at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Beaver, said organizer Dawna Miocic.
Despite the rising popularity of alternate seafood dishes, though, baked items account for less than half of overall sales at fish fry events, organizers say.
“There would be a riot of biblical proportions if we cut out fried food,” Kittle said.
Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.