I’ve never really understood Lent. It wasn’t a religious practice we observed back at Flint Hill. In fact, I don’t think I ever heard the word Lent until I went off to college.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” people would say.
“Who’s Lent and why am I giving up anything for him,” I would think to myself, afraid to exhibit my ignorance out loud.
According to Wikipedia, Lent is a six-week religious observance that begins with putting ash on your forehead, continues with Friday fish fries, climaxes with people waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” one service (I try to skip that service) and ends with Easter egg hunts (OK, that’s not word-for-word Wikipedia’s definition). Somehow all this is supposed to give us greater appreciation of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Like I said, I’ve never really understood Lent. I mean, I give up soda for six weeks and that’s supposed to impress Jesus? Here’s a guy who was nailed to two pieces of wood, hung up for all to see as he slowly bled out and died. And I’m showing solidarity to that by giving up chocolate for a month?
Anyway, one of the more popular Lent traditions in St. Louis is the Friday Fish Fry. Pretty much every Catholic parish and various other organizations serve up fish dinners for a price. Some places offer other options like shrimp or cheese pizza or frog legs (I don’t understand the latter either). At the beginning of Lent you can count on every St. Louis media outlet to run an article on where all the fish fries are and who has what and who’s best and etc. It’s tradition.
Now, my son loves fried fish. Maybe more than any other food. So you’d think we’d have been taking advantage of the Friday fish fry for years. And yet we never had. But then about four weeks ago it was a Friday night and I was dreading the thought of making dinner so I thought now was the time to do one of those Tours of Lenten Fish Fries that are so popular.
There are three Catholic parishes in St. Charles, so I figured I’d just stick close to home. These things usually wrap up at 7 p.m. and The Wife doesn’t get home until close to 7, so we would have to go the take-out route. Which was fine with me. I’m sure sitting in the church cafeteria and eating with your friends is a large part of what makes this a fun tradition, but we wouldn’t know anyone so best to just eat at home.
Week One: St. Charles Borromeo. $10 for 2 pieces of catfish or cod, white bread, baked potato or fries, coleslaw, hush puppies, applesauce and dessert.
The Son and I arrived at Borromeo and as soon as we opened the car doors we were immediately hit by the smell (some would say stench) of fried fish. Walked around the building until we found a door that led into the dining area. Stood in line for a while until I concluded we were in the wrong line (The first time there’s always a learning curve). Moved to the take-out line where there was no line. Nice.
Got home and enjoyed our bounty. Andrew ate his two pieces of fish, one of mine and one of Laurie’s. In retaliation I ate his hush puppies. Laurie got all the applesauce and coleslaw. I think there are still small containers of coleslaw in our refrigerator.
Week Two: St. Cletus. $9 for 2 pieces of catfish or cod, cornbread, baked potato or fries, coleslaw, green beans, hushpuppies, applesauce and dessert.
First of all: St. Cletus? Cletus? What is he the patron saint of? Hillbillies?
Second: What’s with the applesauce? I understand that coleslaw is an unfortunate staple of fish dinners — but applesauce? I really doubt applesauce was on the menu at the last supper. But then, hush puppies probably weren’t either and I love hush puppies so I’ll let the applesauce slide.Oh, and note: cornbread always trumps white bread.
If you’re doing the math, you will notice that St. Cletus provides more food and for less price. If you’re hungry and on a budget, St. Cletus is the place to go. The food was just as good as at the other places. I will never make fun of St. Cletus again.
Week Three: Company came to visit for the weekend and my sister was not interested in taking part in my Fish Fry adventure. We ate at the Chinese buffet instead. In solidarity I mostly ate shrimp and sushi. There was no applesauce.
Week Four: St. Peters. $10 for a whole catfish or 2 pieces of cod, bread, baked potato or fries, coleslaw, hushpuppies, cornbread.
St. Peters! Now there’s a saint I’ve heard of. Unfortunately, the church is in downtown St. Charles which makes parking a challenge. I was lucky enough to get the last spot in parking lot B or C as a family were leaving.
There was actually a line for take-out at St. Peters, but the wait wasn’t too bad. You may notice the food servings were not as bountiful as the other places, and while I didn’t miss the applesauce I did miss the dessert. I think if you ate there they had ice cream but there were no dessert options for the take-out crowd.
But the biggest “Wha?” moment came when we got home and discovered that instead of your standard catfish fillets that other places were dishing out, St. Peters gave you a whole catfish, tail and all (well, thankfully, the head was missing).
Now you may be saying, “Wow, whole catfish. Impressive.” Well, not until you consider that whole catfish also includes its skeleton. Small, little bones that can get caught in your throat or between your teeth or pinch your tongue. Even back in Cane Hill, where we eat fish on an almost daily basis during fishing season, we stopped eating fish with bones in them once Pa discovered the filet knife.
I can’t trust my 25-year-old autistic son with fish bones. So I tear the fish to pieces tying to remove every last bone. It was a mess when I finished. He devoured it anyway. Along with my piece (I got Laura the cod, which she and I shared). I did catch him spitting out a couple of small bones and looking at me like, “what are you trying to do – kill me?” At least he figured out that they weren’t edible.
So ended the great Lenten Fish Fry Adventure. I guess some places keep going for one more week but I’ve pretty much had my fill of fish for the time being. It wouldn’t be very Christian of me to get all judgmental and rank the various places, so I won’t. But you can read between the lines.
And if you’d like some coleslaw — come on over.