It's Fish Fry Seasonnnnn!

Monday, March 11, 2019

I had never been to or even really heard of Lenten fish fries until I moved to Cleveland in 2015. I grew up with plenty of Catholic friends, & I know how Lent works, generally - that they put a hold on bad habits, that they don't eat meat on Friday, that it leads up to Easter, etc. In fact, as a teenager, so many of my friends observed Lent that I typically "gave something up for Lent," too, because it was the most supportive time of year to try to ditch bad habits.

In Cleveland, which has a large Eastern European Catholic population, the best thing about Lent is all the freaking fish fries. They're everywhere, a true Cleveland tradition even for those of us who don't observe Lent. Last year, I wrote about my first fish fry experience - & this year, I'm stepping it up.

I had the honor, this year, of writing four small blurbs for Cleveland Magazine's 2019 Fish Fry Guide. I wrote about the Latin-flavored fish fry at El Carnicero in Lakewood, the one-woman fish fry at Marta's in Euclid, the brewery-adjacent fish fry at Hansa in Ohio City, & the year-round fish fry at Union House in Parma.

That last one - a fish fry held every Friday throughout the year - that got me really excited. So before Lent even began, Mike & our friends Darren & Lilly & I hit up Union House for a little bit of pre-fish fry fish fry- & what a delicious decision it was.

If you've never been to a fish fry, the gist is this: Restaurants & church basements offer platters of fried fish, usually hand-battered. The fish itself is often a variety you'll find in Lake Erie, like perch, though cod, pollack, haddock, & walleye are popular, too. (Learn more in this piece from the magazine.) Some places offer grilled fish (like the branzino at Hansa), or a seafood option, like shrimp, & a few spots offer less-traditional fish formats (like the tacos at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church).

These platters always come with sides. Big sides. Lots of sides. Think coleslaw, french fries, hush puppies, potato pancakes, cabbage noodles... and pierogis. This is Cleveland, after all. Even the Greek church serves Polish pierogis at its fish fry!

We loved the fish fry at Union House, which came with coleslaw & french fries, & we ordered lots of pierogis to go with it. Mike went with classic potato & cheddar, but I found myself enamored of the ricotta-filled "sweet cheese" pierogis, which I'd never had anyplace else. They're like a dessert pierogi!

It was just so quintessentially Cleveland, to head out to this dive restaurant & bar in Parma (which is a super-Polish suburb), where we ate this big, old-Eastern-European-style meal, washed down with pints of Yuengling & Bud Light. I introduced myself to the owner, Michelle, who I'd interviewed for my piece on Union House, & she was so friendly & welcoming - yet another very Clevelandy element of the evening.

To cap off the night, we headed to Murphy's Law, an Old Brooklyn bar best known for its appearances in The Drew Carey Show (though it was then known as The Warsaw). Again, we drank Bud Lights & talked to locals & even met a regular who's close friends with Drew Carey's brother. The bar doesn't serve food but did have a large platter of eggrolls out on the bar for... I'm not sure. For anyone? For everyone? They seemed to be there for the snacking.

Again: So Cleveland.

It was one of those nights that made me remember, all over again, how much I love this city & its traditions & all the people & places within it.

If you observe Lent, may it be a meaningful season for you - & whether or not you observe Lent, may you find yourself a delicious fish fry to enjoy during the most delicious of seasons.

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