Every Friday night during the Lenten season, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter, dozens of St. Louis area churches serve up fried fish and all the fixings to anyone willing to wait in line - and pay the price - for the meal. Recently, Jewish Light staffers checked out a handful of these fish fries and found they attracted a cross-section of the interfaith community wanting to procure tasty fish to eat there or carry out.
We rated each fish fry on a scale from 1 to 4 fish not only for food and value but also atmosphere and parking. Here's what we found at five local parishes (see below and page
St. John Bosco
Where: 12934 Marine Avenue, Maryland Heights
Hours: 4-7 p.m. (through April 15)
More info: 314-434-1312 or www.stjohnboscostl.com
There are two ways to enter the property but neither one is very clearly marked. The good news is that once you find the church, there are several areas to park and lots of spaces. A complimentary shuttle, or rather a golf cart that circles the parking areas, will take you from your car to the fish fry.
Although the menu is limited, the cod, which was hand-breaded and freshly fried, came to us crispy and hot, and perfectly cooked. Shrimp is offered two ways -- either butterflied and breaded fried or cold boiled. The cold boiled, already peeled, were nicely seasoned and not over-cooked, resting comfortably in an ice bath. The fried shrimp were crunchy and also perfectly cooked.
Side include spaghetti with tasty homemade sauce, French fries, sweet and tangy vinegar coleslaw and a basic applesauce. Homemade desserts are abundant and delicious.
A cod plate, with three pieces, is $9; five pieces for $11. Shrimp, either five or seven pieces, go for $10 or $12, respectively. A combo plate - two pieces of fish and two shrimp (either fried or boiled or both) is $10. Water or lemonade as well as dessert and three sides are included in the meal price, making it an excellent value. Soda is $1 a can, beer by the plastic cup $2.50 and wine (white zinfandel, pinot grigio or shiraz) $3.50. Children's plates are offered for $6.
We arrived a minute or two before 6 p.m. and joined what seemed to be a very disorganized jumble of people standing around. After a minute or so, it became clear that this was actually a line and we quickly figured out how it worked. By 6:35 we had winded our way to the pay station, and then through the two- sided serving line and were happily munching our hot, crispy hand battered fish at a large round table in the middle of a room filled with about 30 other large round tables. There was lots of talking going on and the crowd was very family friendly.
Our Lady of the Pillar
Where: 403 S. Lindbergh, Creve Coeur
Hours: 4:30-7:30 p.m.
More info: 314- 993-5280 or www.olpillar.com
The church is very easy to find, with giant signs posted at both entrances on Lindbergh Boulevard, just south of Ladue Road. There is plenty of close parking with two parking lots, upper and lower, but they fill up quickly. By 6 p.m., the place is typically packed and parking can be very difficult, if impossible.
The fried cod was excellent, fresh and not greasy. Baked cod, baked salmon and fried shrimp were also available, along with an assortment of excellent side dishes, including homemade mac and cheese, tater tots, spaghetti, steamed brown rice and green beans. Wine and beer is served, as is cans of soda. Desserts are a true highlight.
The portions are large so you have plenty to eat for a very reasonable price ($8-$10), with two sides, dessert and coffee included. A children's menu of fish nuggets is available for $4.
We arrived on the early side, so the wait in line was only 15 minutes, though we were told an additional, second line is formed for when it gets really busy. The atmosphere is comfortable, with ample seating at many large round tables with linen tablecloths and a flower as a centerpiece. All the volunteers were very friendly.
St. Richard Catholic Parish
Where: 11223 Schuetz Road, Creve Coeur
Hours: 4:30-7:30 p.m. (through April 22)
More info: 314-432-6224 or http://www.strichardstl.org/calendar/index.htm
Located just west of the Millstone Campus on Schuetz Road, the church offers plenty of parking, though spots fill up fast, especially as the night wears on.
The cod comes your choice of baked or fried, and either way, it's tender and juicy. The baked was one of the best we ever had, flaky with just enough butter sauce to make it melt in your mouth. Other selections include fried catfish, fried shrimp, salmon, and the weekly special, which was tilapia the night we went and mahi mahi the next week.
Plates run $8 with the opportunity to add appetizers (crab rangoon or cheese sticks) for an additional $3. All dinners consist of two pieces of fish (the shrimp being a total of six) with all you can eat sides and a choice of coffee, tea, or lemonade as well as dessert. Wine and beer can be purchased for $2 and excellent peel-and-eat shrimp is available at the rate of three for $1. Soda is also available for $1. A children's menu offers spaghetti, pizza or cheese sticks for $5.
We arrived at 5:45 and were seated in about a half-hour. The crowd was lively and there was piped in music. Seating consisted of both long and round tables, which contributed to the friendly atmosphere since groups could claim a large round table and relax and chat.
Where: 906 Eichelberger Street, St. Louis,
Hours: 4:30-8 p.m. (through April 22)
More info: 314-353-2455 or www.stceciliaparishstl.org
The parking lot of this church deep in south St. Louis fills up early, but surrounding streets have plenty of free curbside spots for those unafraid of parallel parking. Large signs make the entrance easy to find.
This fish fry distinguishes itself with its Mexican dishes - especially the chiles relleno (poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, then dipped in egg batter and fried). A bean tostada and a deep-fried cheese quesadilla round out the Mexican entrées.
Standard fish fry fare is also offered, with fried shrimp, jack salmon and cod. However, the deep-fried cod may leave diners underwhelmed, as the breaded squares (though a hearty portion, served piping hot) seem like filets you might find in the frozen foods section of the grocery. Sides include macaroni and cheese, fries, coleslaw and Mexican rice and beans.
Diners select two entrees and two sides for $10, which comes with either water or lemonade. Soda, beer and desserts are available for an additional cost. Additional entrees and sides are available à la carte, for $4 and $1.50, respectively. No children's menu.
Children dressed in Mexican folk costumes entertain diners as they wait in line, and a mariachi wanders through the dining areas. The line may be intimidating, as it winds through three walls of the gymnasium, but it moves quickly - and beer and chips/pico de gallo sellers along the way give diners the opportunity to drink and nosh during the wait. After ordering, diners are given a number and then left to find seats at cafeteria tables set up in three rooms. After a short wait, food is brought to your table. An incredible number of volunteers make the experience quite smooth despite the large crowds.
St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church
Where: 2618 South Brentwood Boulevard, Brentwood
Hours: 4:30-7:30 p.m. (through April 22)
More info: 314-961-8400 or www.stmmlab.com
The church is well marked and the fish fry is easy enough to find. It took about five minutes to find a parking spot at peak time - 5:45 p.m.
Food -3 fish
The menu includes "God's Cod," salmon, fried shrimp, fish tacos and cheese pizza, along with sides such as pasta with red sauce, green beans amandine, seasoned parmesan potato chips, sweet and sour slaw, and spiced apple sauce. A wide variety of desserts are also available. Salmon was good, buttery and served with dill. The breaded cod also was good; not oily or greasy at all. The Parmesan potato chips were outstanding. Good beer and wine are available for purchase. A children's menu offers pasta with red sauce or cheese pizza, both with applesauce and dessert for $4.
Plates come with two sides, dessert and water or coffee. Our plates (ranging in price from $5 to $11) weren't overflowing but enough to walk away full.
The church gym was set up like a cafeteria. Background music was drowned out by the murmur of people talking. All this was fine, but at 5:45, the line was very long. The first line was to place the order, pay and collect our tickets. The second line was where the tickets were turned in for food. The former took 17 minutes, the latter 40 minutes. We made some fun conversation with the people around us, but it definitely could have been better organized.