The Cincinnati List: The Fish Fry
I have a confession to make. I am a West Sider and I grew up Catholic. I have never been to a fish fry. Sacrilege, right? You see, the parish I grew up in (St. Dominic, for you West Siders who are wondering) did a Monte Carlo night, not a fish fry. My parents weren’t big fish fry fans, so I never went. Atrocious! The Better Half, growing up Baptist, didn’t do fish fries either. Obviously, we had to hit one up once Lent came around. There are a ton to choose from– some better than others. I wanted a quality fish fry, so, of course, I turned to Twitter and Facebook. I got one interesting pitch from James Pilcher. He’s a former Enquirer reporter, and now he works with my company as a contractor. “Julie,” he said. “You HAVE to try my church’s fish fry. You have to try the Tommy Boy.” Personal endorsement? Sold.
Immaculate Heart of Mary in Burlington, Kentucky has a Men’s club that runs the fish fry, and they keep it pretty simple: fried fish, fried shrimp, baked fish (which they don’t sell a ton of) and french fries. Their fish and shrimp are hand breaded the night before, so everything is extremely fresh– not pre-prepared. They also take the fried fish and make the “Tommy Boy”, named after one of the members of the Men’s club that runs the fryers. It’s a fish filet in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich with horseradish. There’s a menu printed and taped to the gym wall for you to stare at in line.
And the line moves swiftly. The Better Half was shocked that beer is a choice– I explained that, for Catholics, particularly Catholics around here, drinking is just what we do, particularly beer (and particularly cheap beer– German frugality, I guess). He, on the other hand, grew up in a church that thought drinking was the road to damnation (and drinking on church property? Inconceivable!). You grab your order, pay at the end (cash or check only) and grab condiments and your beverage before you find a seat at lunch room tables. The crowd is varied– kids, parents, older folks– and everyone knows each other (except for us, of course). It’s a fun look at a particular church community.
And the fish is good! It’s nice and crispy on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside, as fish should be. They fry it all outside, but the smell of fish still permeates the building– in fact, if you get lost trying to find it, just follow the smell. You can make a sandwich with the provided bread (including German rye, a childhood favorite of mine; not-so-favorite of The Better Half’s) and homemade tartar sauce. The Tommy Boy is interesting– essentially a grilled cheese sandwich (on your choice of bread) with a fish filet in the middle. It’s a little much– kind of heavy and rich– but a fun, unique twist on the fish fry (and definitely get the horseradish– it cuts the heaviness). The fries are frozen but you’re there for the fish– just get more fish (though the portion is generous to begin with). They raise a ton of money for the church, and much of it goes to scholarship programs and bettering their school.
I noticed that their Knights of Columbus parked a donut truck in the parking lot– they go around to area church festivals during the summer and sell freshly fried donuts. Yes, you can bet I’ll be tracking those morsels during the summer. Meanwhile, I’d like to try at least one other– preferably West Side– fish fry before the end of Lent. Suggestions? I hear particularly good things about Holy Family and St. Lawrence, but I’m open to suggestions. I can’t do one every Friday (I think I’d explode) but one other during the next three weeks is totally doable.
IHM’s Fish Fry goes on through the remainder of Lent on Fridays, from 5-8. Liz has a best fish fry list that you might want to check out, too.