Drive by or takeout: Fish Fries go on

The global pandemic won’t stop most of the local fish fries from serving up your favorites this year. From crispy fried fish sandwiches to savory fish tacos, churches and local organizations have found a way to pivot—getting you your favorite Lenten meatless options, while keeping everyone at a COVID-friendly distance. 

That means: Masks, staying six feet apart, takeout and, in some cases, not even leaving your car. 

“We’re taking all of these precautions to make sure everyone is safe,” said Darlene Vietmeier, coordinator of the fish fry at St. Paul of the Cross Parish, held at St. Winifred Church. In a normal year at St. Winifred, you would place your order, grab a seat and have your food delivered to you at your selected table while you socialized with friends and family, said Vietmeier, who has volunteered for the fish fries for nearly 20 years with her husband, Paul. This year, with safety precautions in mind, you must either phone in your order or come inside Benedict Hall, place your order, pick out your dessert and head straight back to your car. “There won’t be standing around or waiting at tables this year.” 

At Christ United Methodist Church, you won’t even have to leave your car. There are plenty of volunteers ready to bring their fan-favorite fish sandwiches to you, said Jenn Morgan, communications director.

Keeping the tradition alive—with new protocols

Last year, most churches and organizations only got in a couple of fish fries before being forced to shut down due to COVID-19. “It was heartbreaking,” Morgan said.

This year, the Allegheny County Health Department has strict guidelines in place, which includes obtaining a temporary permit to operate for those just looking to be open during Lent. The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has adopted the slogan: “Come and get it—and take it with you,” meaning all parishes will hold takeout or delivery only fish fries this year.

The fried shrimp dinner at St. Paul’s Episcopal in 2019

While serving up delicious fish is an important part of a fish fry, the tradition is about a lot more than that. Money made from the fish fries helps support the churches or programs, like the Round Table Ministry at Christ United Methodist. “This year, it’s really important for us to do something to remind people that we’re still here and we’re still doing ministry,” Morgan said.

At the St. Paul of the Cross Parish fish fry, hosted at St. Anne’s, in a typical year, there would be more than 230 people sitting inside the school gymnasium—and “sometimes you had to wait to get a seat,” said Rudy Richtar, fish fry chairman. St. Anne’s fish fry was always booming. They would serve as many as 800 meals in a three-hour time slot. In one year, that often equaled serving 250 pounds of fried fish, 110 pounds of baked fish, 40 pounds each of shrimp and crab cakes, 280 pounds of French fries, 150 pounds of baked potatoes and 100 pounds of coleslaw.

This year, with takeout only, they don’t know what to expect. “I’m just shooting from the hip at this point,” Richtar said. Last year, they only got in three nights of fish fries before being forced to shut down. “That was a financial blow to the parish,” Richtar said. But it’s about more than that: fish fries are a way to bring everyone together.

Volunteers are excited and ready to help—with masks, gloves and plexiglass. It’s a way they can give back to their church or organization each year. At St. Anne’s there was a decline in volunteers this year, because many are older and waiting on the vaccine before they interact with others. “It’s a totally different ball game this year,” Richtar said.

Coming together from 6 feet apart

At St. Michael the Archangel, this year is different for a lot of reasons, not just the pandemic. In the past, fish fries were held at both St. Bernard and Our Lady of Grace. But as the two merged to become one parish family, the fish fries are merging, too.

A fish sandwich and crab cakes at the Our Lady of Grace fish fry in 2019

“At St. Michael’s, this is really one of the first times for us to say: ‘Here we are. We are better together as one,'” said Molly Jesso, director of development and stewardship. “We are one parish and what makes this so great is that we’ve taken the best items from both fish fries and combined.”

Yes, you can still get Our Lady of Grace’s famous hand-breaded fish and St. Bernard’s tasty fish tacos. It’s all on the menu at the new St. Michael the Archangel fish fry. “It’s a win-win,” Jesso said. And, to make sure everything is COVID-compliant, parish kids will run the food to your car.

At the first volunteer meeting for St. Michael, volunteers from both Our Lady of Grace and St. Bernard came together. Jesso recalls longtime volunteers from both parishes chatting about funnel cakes and swapping recipes. “It’s all about connections, and with this pandemic, that’s something we really need even more right now,” she said.

So, where can you get some of this delicious fix? We break down some of the local fish fries for you. Know of a fundraiser fry that you don’t see here? Add it in the comments!

Local Fish Fries

  • St. Paul of the Cross Parish will host fish fries each Friday in Lent, excluding Good Friday.
    Time: 4-7 p.m.
    Location: St. Anne School gymnasium, 4040 Willow Drive. Takeout only. Call 412-561-7720 and St. Winifred Church Benedict Hall, 550 Sleepy Hollow Road. Takeout only. Call 412-563-1415.
    Click here for details! 
  • Saint Michael the Archangel Parish fish fries will be held every Friday during Lent, excluding Good Friday.
    Time: 4-7 p.m.
    Location: Takeout only. Our Lady of Grace—Conroy Hall, 1734 Bower Hill Road. Call 412-200-2694.
    Click here for details!
  • St. Louise de Marillac School Fish Fry will be held every Friday during Lent, except Good Friday.
    Time: 4:30-7 p.m.
    Click here for details! 
  • Christ United Methodist Church will host a fish fry on Fridays from February 19-March 26.
    Time: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch and 4-7 p.m. for dinner.
    Click here for details! 
  • Resurrection Parish will host fish fries at both St. Thomas More Church and St. John Capistran.
    For times, locations and details, click here! 
  • St. Raphael the Archangel will host fish fries at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Margaret and SS. Simon and Jude.
    For times, location and details, click here! 
  • American Legion Post 760 will host fish fries every Friday during lent, through April 2.

Details: The upstairs will be take-out only and the downstairs will be for members only. Call 412-835-9690 to order.

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