Well, actually, a Jewish girl, her Jewish husband and son, and her Lutheran friend and two children walk into a Catholic church for a Friday night fish fry, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Semantics aside, this was a first for me, a Member of the Tribe who has always lived in towns with substantial Catholic populations but had never been to one of the Friday Lenten meals myself. Why would I? Friday night is the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, which meant I was usually home with my parents and sisters, eating chicken and then putting up a strong case for why we needed to skip synagogue services in favor of ABC’s TGIF line-up of sitcoms (“Family Matters,” anyone?). And besides having the Jewish-mandated affection for tuna and lox, I wasn’t much of a fish fan anyway, so I figured I wasn’t missing much. But my adult tastebuds have matured to enjoy many kinds of fish, and being a Upper Midwesterner, I love all things deep-fried, so now the question was, “Why wouldn’t I try a fish fry?”
Thanks to Foodie File blogger Stephanie March’s intrepid reporting, I even knew which fish fry to hit — Most Holy Trinity Church in St. Louis Park, which Stephanie labeled “a contender for [her] crispiest award” and is five minutes from my house. So the six of us arrived on a recent Friday night shortly before 6 in the evening (most fish fries start on the early side of the dinner hour — Most Holy Trinity’s runs from 5 to 7pm) ready to feast on battered fish and get the authentic fish-fry experience.
We bought our tickets ($9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for children ages 5-12, and free for the younger set) and grabbed the first available seats we could find. Though our group brought the average age in the room down by at least 30 years, there were still several families and groups of young adults in various stages of their meals. After shedding our coats, my husband and friend went to get our food while I waited at the table with my 2-year-old, thinking it would be maybe 10 minutes, at most, before the all-you-can-eat fish frenzy began. But 10 minutes passed, then 20, then 30. I was desperately trying to keep my getting-hungrier-by-the-minute kid from annoying our tablemates and struck up a conversation with the priest to my right.
“Do you know what kind of fish it is?” I asked.
“I think it’s cod. But you know, it’s deep-fried, so it doesn’t really matter because it’s so good. How often do we get to eat this kind of food?” he laughed. I was about to ask him if he’s even been to the deep-fried gorge fest known as the Minnesota State Fair, but then my husband came along to say he finally got our food and found us a less crowded table in the back room.
Finally, it was fish time! Almost — my plate had two pieces of cod, a pile of tater tots (you could also choose from a baked potato or potato wedges), and a dinner roll, but the heaping bowls of cole slaw, tartar sauce, lemon wedges, and fruit cocktail were resting on a table on the side of the room. Then we had to get drinks ($1 for a can of soda, $2-3 for a glass of wine or beer), and only then did we get to have the first bite.
The coating was just as crispy as promised, but without the lingering oiliness that has marred other fried-fish baskets I’ve eaten in the metro area (Ahem, Yum …). Inside the fish was light, flaky, and tender, and needed no squirt of lemon to bring out its freshness. I didn’t even feel guilty consuming it, though I’m sure the calorie count was as high as other Phish lovers may be at a reunion concert. It was, simply, the best fried fish I’d ever eaten. The tater tots tasted like they came from my elementary-school cafeteria, the dinner roll was straight from a plastic bag, and the cole slaw was pretty standard, but that fish — oh my goodness. It made me sad that my springtime fish course usually comes in the form of jarred gefilte during a Passover Seder instead of this fried wonder.
This being an all-you-can-eat kind of deal, I was looking forward to seconds, but with the line as long as ever, we decided against it. We Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years. We did our share of waiting. We don’t like to wait for food. Instead, we grabbed some treats off the dessert table — a big thank you to whichever church parishioner made those killer brownies– and took off for home, with the scent of the deep fryer lightly clinging to our clothes and hair.
Thanks for welcoming us, Most Holy Trinity. Your fish was delish, and your hospitality was greatly appreciated. I hope you raised enough money in the raffle to buy that new fish-fry tent so that next year I’ll have time for second helpings.