CINCINNATI - Lenten fish fries provide a place where everyone can find common ground at the same plastic tablecloth.
Dating back to as early as the Middle Ages, Christians have commemorated the death of Jesus, which happened on a Friday, by going meatless on this day. Fish was substituted as protein, since at the time, cold-blooded creatures weren't regarded as animals. Cod became the fish-of-choice for practical reasons; it tasted better and had a longer shelf life. Eventually, the practice of eating fish on Fridays became more lenient in the 1960s, but is still observed during Lent in areas with a large Catholic population, like Cincinnati.
- MORE: About fish fries and other religious meals "Sharing the table: A tradition with spiritual power"
Several years ago, a group of friends and I began gathering every Friday during Lent to check out some of Greater Cincinnati's most outstanding fish fries.
While only a few of us are Catholic, the majority get together to try something new and explore different parts of the city. During our hunt for the Tri-State's greatest filet, we noticed few details were provided by the hosting parish or organization.
To remedy this, our group created Friday Fish Fry passports to take notes on the meal and rank the quality on a scale of one to five. We also include pictures of the food and collect signatures from pastors like a "passport stamp" as a memento of our travels (See below).
With hundreds of fish fries throughout the region, how does one choose the select few to visit each year?
You can start by consulting the fish fry directory in The Catholic Telegraph , the official newsletter of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. You can find a master list of both church and neighborhood-based fish fries.
- Check back with WCPO.com on Friday for our comprehensive fish fry directory
In addition to the newsletter, some organizations also share details on social media. Saint William Church in Price Hill posted its event on Facebook to attract new visitors, serve as a reminder to current parishioners, and make its fish fry easier to find on search engines such as Google.
In considering which venues to visit, I 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?
One of the deciding factors is simple: Can we get there on time? With many fish fries beginning as early as 4:00 p.m., those coming straight from work find it challenging to battle rush hour traffic to a fish fry that ends after an hour or runs out of food. To avoid this, we select fish fries that are inside the I-275 loop with hours that extend to 7:30 p.m. or later.
Of course, word-of-mouth may be the most influential decision-maker. If a fish fry comes with a glowing recommendation from a friend or colleague, it's likely we'll check it out. (Photo: Paige Malott fills out her fish fry passport).
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 Cincinnati fish fry?