Fish On My List: An Orbit Guide to Fish Fry Guides

Handmade wooden sign reading "Fried Fish Specials"

If the oil’s a-roilin’, we’ll be a-loiterin’

For some, it is leafing through seed catalogs. It may be freezing outside, but the simple act of dog-earing full-color pages of enticing heirloom vegetables and glorious full-bloom flowers invokes a not-too-distant future digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, and planting tight rows of zebra-striped tomatoes and black Hungarian peppers. They’ll even take the opportunity to cast lettuce seed directly in the snow–a holdover until the St. Patrick’s Day peas are sewn in the inevitable bone-chilling soil. Anything for a breath of life.

For others, it is the sound of horsehide slapping cowhide as pudgy catchers receive wayward fastballs and woe-be-gone change-ups from out-of-practice Skoal-spitting pitchers. [At least we sure hope they’re still allowed to chew tobacco before the real season begins.] Images of sun-soaked Kissimmee, Bradenton, and Jupiter transport those in bleached, bare-treed northern climes. You can almost smell the luxurious perfect green blanket.

But if you insist on knowing my bliss, I’ll tell you this. Here at The Orbit, our first gentle gust of spring blows in with the arrival of Lent and its barrage of church fund-raising Lenten dinners. These fried fish feasts are so numerous they require a comprehensive guide. As it turns out, you even need a guide just to make sense of all of the fish guides out there. That is why we’re here.

fish dinner in former St. John Vianney church, Pittsburgh, PA

Fish dinner, St. John Vianney (R.I.P.), Allentown (2011)

Available in both HTML and handy, printable PDF formats, Pittsburgh Catholic‘s list is definitely the big fish in this particular roiling grease-filled pond. The guide has the no-nonsense pre-Internet feel of kind parishioners who dutifully volunteer their time to type out, update, and double-check their facts each February, all in the name of the Lord. It was likely the first fish fry guide (?) and for this blogger, it’s still the best.

It was the Pittsburgh Catholic guide that led us to the late, great St. John Vianney in Allentown (the church was just closed by the diocese a month ago). St. John was not only open for Friday lunches (a rarity) but offered a spectacular dessert table where the kinds of confections you thought had been banished from this earth (Jello surprise! Pineapple upside-down cake! Dirt!) were generously spooned out by the congregants for sums in the twenty-five to fifty cent range. Maybe if they’d asked a more reasonable price, St. John would still be running Sunday services and The Orbit could be dining there this Friday. Sigh.

Window sign advertising Lenten fish fry at St. Maria Goretti Parish, Pittsburgh, PA

St. Maria Goretti Parish fish fry, Lent 2015

Each of the local “Big 3” TV news affiliates has their own guide. KDKA‘s is your basic nuts-and-bolts alphabetized (by church name) list, including the bare essential name, address, hours, and menu items. It’s the best of the lot. WPXI is pledging to go live with fish fry coverage every Friday at Noon during Lent. That’s great, but the web site is certainly lacking. They’ve opted to spare their data entry folks the indignity of copy-pasting information, choosing to simply add “Full menu on website” on their simple report. Avoid this one–it’s a waste of time.

WTAE takes the interesting approach of both more technology (an interactive Google Map of locations) and less information (name, address, and phone number is all you get). So…here’s where they are: you do all the work. You can safely skip this one too. Sadly, neither local public television station WQED nor Fox affiliate WPGH appear to offer their own fish fry guides.

The Post-Gazette has a by-no-means comprehensive guide that focuses mainly on which churches are offering something different this year and/or from one another. By winnowing the giant list down to just the exceptions, it’s actually quite useful. Ex: “During its ‘Fish fry with a Polish flair,’ SS. John and Paul, Franklin Park, will offer authentic Polish food from S&D Polish Deli in the Strip District.” or “St. Maximilian Kolbe, West Homestead, has tuna noodle casserole.” The Tribune-Review and City Paper seem to have decided to sit this one out.

screen capture of 2016 Lenten Fish Fry Map

2016 Lenten Fish Fry Map

The Google Maps-based 2016 Fish Fry Map is useful if your first concern is where the fish is. Zeroing in on a particular location and selecting its pinned point gives the same basic information you get from Pittsburgh Catholic and KDKA (name, address, brief menu description). A good resource for the time- and distance-restricted and definitely preferable to the TV station listings.

Fish fry guides have gone totally Lent 2.0 with their own social media presence on the Pittsburgh Lenten Fish Fry Map FaceBook page and Twitter account @pghfishfry. As one may expect, these are less comprehensive guides and more in-realtime breaking fish-related news. The latter seems to be a little more active than the former, but we’re only one week in so far, so we’ll keep tuned to see how this thing plays out.

Lastly, we wouldn’t be reporting if we didn’t mention that there’s even a mobile phone app called PGH FF & FF. But it gets such pathetic reviews, we’ll not dignify it with a hyperlink.

hand-painted sign reading "Fish Fry Today"

3 thoughts on “Fish On My List: An Orbit Guide to Fish Fry Guides

  1. Hipstre says:

    There was a guy way out the West End somewhere who used to sell fish sandwiches every year. It was one of those deals where people would say, “They’re the best!” and they were just ordinary fish sandwiches and the people who said, “They’re the best!” were just… idiots. Anyway, he had a sign, it was hand-painted on a car fender and it read, “Fish Sand Witches. $5. Special: 2 for $10.” It was nailed to a tree in his front yard. You were supposed to go and knock on his front door, and he would emerge (I imagine in a bathrobe) from his house and go to the side yard where he had a fryer underneath a pickup truck cap supported by four pieces of plywood. His fryer was electrically powered by a 100 foot extension cord that ran into his house.

    The fish sandwich thing always amused me endlessly. I’ve known a lot of Catholics (I guess I am technically “Catholic” as well) and it always amused me how eating a disgusting deep-fried piece of fish on a bun makes (some of) them think that they are somehow good people. Steal ten thousand dollars worth of copper pipe from your jobsite, pop pain pills all week long, beat your kids, cheat on your wife, but once a week you eat a fish sandwich and you’re magically a decent human being.

    Like

    • Will says:

      Orbiteers: Let it be known that the opinions expressed by fellow readers do not represent Pittsburgh Orbit. We’re pretty sure that not all Catholics/fish fry diners are pain pill-popping, copper-stealing, child-abusing, nanny cheaters. We do, however, know that eating fish sandwiches will make you into a magically superior human being.

      Like

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