Christ United Methodist
Cash, credit cards, and checks are accepted
Fish fry aficionados—those who mark Ash Wednesday on the calendar, even if they haven’t set foot in a church for years—might not initially see the special charms of the Lenten Fish Fry at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park. Chances are you have driven past the church a thousand times. (It’s right across the street from the Village Square Kohl’s and Olive Garden.) You might even be aware that the church has a thriving campus, with both adult and child daycare, a range of ministries, and outreach to the local community and beyond. But the question at hand on late winter and early spring Fridays is: how’s the fish fry?
It’s well run and efficient: volunteers write down orders as customers come in. Then you take your order slip and drop it off by the kitchen. You’re given a number, which you display at your table, and your food is brought to you moments later. The menu is somewhat small, but well chosen: fish fried or baked, with or without bun; chicken fingers, fried shrimp, and side dishes including fresh-cut fries, mac and cheese, coleslaw and a couple of surprises, in the form of haluski and boom-boom shrimp tacos.
I had heard raves about the boom-boom shrimp before I visited. What is it? Several generous-sized shrimp (no mushy mini-shrimp), lightly fried and tossed in a sweet and spicy, garlicky sauce. You can get an order by itself, or wrapped up in two small nondescript flour tortillas, with a little iceberg lettuce thrown in. A pleasant change from breaded and fried.
The haluski was very good too, buttery and orange-y with paprika. The fried fish fillet was nicely seasoned, not too thick and crispy at the edges. Complimentary coffee and water are offered to dine-in guests; bottled water and Coke products are available too. The night we visited, dessert was homemade lemon pound cake, which looked delicious.
As we finished our meal, we talked with the Rev. Chris Morgan, both pastor and chef at Christ United’s fish fries, who was cheerfully making the rounds of the dining room. He’s given a lot of thought to his fish fry, and he was happy to share his secrets.
The mac and cheese, for instance: it’s not homemade, unlike almost everything else. After trial and error, it was decided that a good quality boil in bag product worked better than homemade, which can get gluey and stiff. It was creamy and perfectly adequate.
The cod fillets are frozen once, right after they’re caught and cleaned, instead of frozen, thawed and re-frozen, making for a fresher taste, the pastor notes. The fish is battered, breaded, and fried at the church. Fries are sliced in-house, and the haluski starts with 25 pounds of freshly-shredded cabbage.
The last fish fry for 2019 is this Friday, April 12. (Pastor Chris’ Good Friday duties take precedence over frying fish.)
They’ve been doing fish fries at Christ United for 17 years; Pastor Chris has been there for about 10 years, and he’s clearly proud of his well-planned Lenten meals. However, he says, it’s a means to an end: the success of the weekly meals “has allowed us to help do a lot more things for our ministry.”