Tri-State Fish Fry Tour: How does Burlington's Immaculate Heart of Mary Tommy Boy stack up?

BURLINGTON, Ky. - Each week throughout Lent we join contributor Paige Malott as she and her friends track their adventures in their Fish Fry passports. Along the way Paige will rate the offerings on a scale of one to five.

Burlington church offers up a decadent deal

Week four of fish fry season found us venturing to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Burlington, Ky. Recommended by a friend who is a parishioner of the church, IHM had been on our must-try list for two years, and it was time to check it out.

Quite possibly the furthest we’ve ever traveled for a fish fry, it took around 40 minutes during Friday rush hour to reach Burlington from downtown after work. The church was easy to find: A straight shot down I-75 then turn right off Exit 181. A short distance later and we arrived in the huge parking lot.

You may be wondering, “Why travel so far for a fish fry?” Immaculate Heart of Mary is known for a signature dish that was well-worth the drive.

  • Do you tweet? Use the hashtag #FFFCincy to follow the Tri-State Fish Fry Tour! 

The Tommy Boy sandwich takes a few large pieces of fried cod and stuffs them inside a grilled cheese sandwich on rye, garnished with horseradish and tartar sauce. After several weeks of traditional Lenten fish, it’s a gooey indulgence that’s sure to liven up your meal plans.

The queue for food was reasonably short and organized. We joined a U-shaped serving line with our trays and selecting food a la carte.

After making the rounds, a cashier rung us up at the end. No more nervously filling out a paper meal ticket before you see the food that’s being offered.

Next, we headed to the condiment bar which offered Izzy's pickles, horseradish, cocktail sauce and more. The dining area was huge with plenty of long tables for large families. Our group of fourteen sat comfortably sat with no need to cram in extra chairs.

For my main course, I ordered The Tommy Boy with mac n’ cheese and coleslaw. Not for the faint of heart, the savory sandwich will fill you up fast!

Friends and I shared a sampling of fried shrimp and the crab cakes, which are new to the menu this year. The shrimp were large and crispy, and the portions were generous. The crab cakes made a lasting impression with a fresh-from-the-sea taste and large lumps of crab meat.

The star of the show was the "Scratch Mac n' Cheese," containing four different kinds of cheese, then topped with baked cheddar for a creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside taste.

Domestic beers were available with a choice of Budweiser or Bud Light. A dessert table hosted by IHM eighth graders offered three kinds of sugar cookies, brownies, donuts, and yellow cake. Half of these were store bought, not homemade, like some of the other fish fry bake sales we’ve visited. I did come across a diamond in the rough: A chocolate pecan brownie drizzled with sea salt caramel made for a decadent treat.

How did IHM get so good at feeding the masses?

We met the mysterious fish fry chef, who is known only as the Halibut Hero. By day, he works as a food supplier, which might be the secret ingredient to cooking up 900 portions of scrumptious fish every week for his church.

Of course, we had to inquire about how The Tommy Boy sandwich was named. We were introduced to Thomas “Tommy” Bartlett, who was coincidentally eating a Tommy Boy for dinner. He explained that he invented the epic sandwich years ago due to a lack of variety at fish fries.

IHM serves grilled cheese sandwiches as an option on the children’s menu, and one night Bartlett pondered, "I wondered what would happen if we put a fish filet inside that grilled cheese?" From there, a legend was born.

With creative and delicious menu items, bountiful seating, and Boone County’s favorite storied fish fry characters, we gave Immaculate Heart of Mary a 4 out of 5 in our Fish Fry Passport.

An added bonus: Friday is also Bingo night, and everyone stops by the rec hall for a game after their meal.

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary
  • 5876 Veterans Way, Burlington, Ky.
  • Tel. (859) 689-5010
  • 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. every Friday through Lent.
  • Cash only

With so many tasty options, check back every Thursday as I give the fin-side scoop on the seven Tri-State fish fries that got us hooked. What's your can't-miss Tri-State fish fry? 

In considering which venues to visit, the Fish Fry finders look for the following information from a church or organization:

  • Detailed menu with types of fish, list of side dishes and beverages
  • Specialty dishes or themes that make a venue unique
  • Dessert: are there multiple sweets to choose from, like at a bake sale, or is just one item offered?
  • Is beer or wine available?
  • Location
  • Hours

Connect with WCPO Contributor Paige E. Malott on Twitter: @Paigetastic01

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