While in Nebraska, we attended a Lenten Fish Fry.
Although I am a big fan of shellfish like crabs, shrimp, scallops, etc. (I AM a native Marylander!) , I do not enjoy fish (as in fillets), regardless of how you cook them. (I like to paraphrase George Bush, Sr.’s quote about broccoli, “I was forced to eat it as a child and I refuse to do it as an adult!”)
Well, there’s an exception to every rule. I was not looking forward to a fish dinner but tolerated it as everyone else in the family eagerly wanted to attend. Apparently, they never miss one! Oh, and The Big Guy LOVES fish!!! I used the theory that if you bread something and then deep fry it, it can’t be too offensive. I also used a lot - did I say A LOT - of cocktail sauce! (Just between us - it actually wasn’t too bad!)
I’ve never been to an event like this one! Churches here at home hold an occasional fish fry during Lent but those churches in Omaha do it every Friday during the Lenten season and they are huge events.
My brother-in-law insisted we had to be there when they started serving or “the line would be too long and there would be no seats available“. Dinners were served from 4:30 until 8 p.m. We arrived at about 4:20 and there were at least 150 people ahead of us in the line. We situated my mother-in-law at a table with her walker and let her save our seats. The line was already stretching into the hallway. (I understand it actually stretches through a tunnel and into the basement of the next building later in the evening. Some folks then wait as long as 2-2 ½ hours!!) They actually set up beer and wine stations at various points along the hallway so those waiting in line can enjoy a beverage! (Apparently beer is available at just about every event these churches hold! One-day liquor licenses are much more difficult to come by here and churches could not obtain one for such a dinner.)
The line did move quickly and we were soon enjoying our all-you-can-eat $8 meal. They featured fried and baked Pollack, mac’n’cheese, French fries, hush puppies, cole slaw and bread. (There is an easy access separate line for “seconds”.) There is also a huge bake sale table with a tremendous assortment of homemade desserts available only by the single serving for $1.
They hold continual drawings for various prizes including “the big prize” of a package of 4 Omaha steaks, a bottle of wine and a loaf of good bread, separate loaves of bread, desserts and gift certificates for local businesses and restaurants. They sell a limited number of tickets featuring two numbers about every 15 minutes. They then use those numbers for about 6 drawings. Then, the next set of numbers is sold and the drawings are repeated (same selection of prizes for each set of drawings). Losing tickets can be signed and dropped in a bin for a drawing at the end of the evening for a catered Easter dinner.
***I was stunned to learn they anticipated selling their 12,000th fish dinner for the 2009 season that evening!!
I was also a bit shocked to see they also feature a drive-thru for those who can’t take the time to come in for dinner! They had “staff” outside taking the orders at the entrance to the driveway and other folks delivering the meals in take-out containers a little further down. In the meantime, the Girl Scouts had a table set up along the curb selling Girl Scout cookies! Others walked the line with a selection of the bake sale desserts to sell. What an operation!!
By the time we left, about an hour later, the line did stretch as far down the hall as I could see. People were cheerfully drinking beer and chatting while they waited. All the seats in the dining hall (school gym) were taken and a number of people had simply planted themselves on the floor along the walls and hallway to eat their meals and socialize. Parking was now at a premium and the street parking around the church for several blocks was completely full. The drive thru line stretched at least two blocks. I have to admit, I’m glad I went and saw this for myself. It was like no church dinner I could ever imagine!!
Our family tells us this is not the largest in town (there are many held at the same time). At least two of the other larger churches also have live bands playing for the crowd’s entertainment. They say the young adults treat it as their Friday night out and party the evening away at the Fish Fry (just like a pub!)
Just the thoguht of staging such a production for one night stymies my mind!
I have to wonder just how many pieces of fish they cook in a given evening? The standard first serving was 4 pieces of fried or 2 baked fillets. Some folks took both and many went back for seconds and thirds!! Our family says they've never heard of them selling out early in the evening. Also, can you imagine how many volunteers are needed to pull this off?
If I get a chance tomorrow, I'll share my recipe for fried fish.