Every year on the Fridays after Ash Wednesday, friends, family and community members gather around with crispy pieces of gold in hand and smiles on their faces.
Of course, we’re talking about Lent, a time when Cleveland comes alive with dozens of local fish fries — often locally sourced from our own Lake Erie.
For members of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church, gathering for their fried and baked cod or fresh pierogi dinners ($12-$15) marks decades of tradition — one that takes a militia of kitchen hands to feed the small army of hungry mouths.
“We usually do anywhere from 300 to 350 meals a week,” says church member Christopher Bej. “There’s between 30 to 40 people that work between the Thursday night prep session, and then the Friday day of.”
Keeping the fish fry alive has proven challenging since the beginning of the pandemic. First, with derailed in-person events, and now, with rising food costs and supply shortages despite the ever-present demand.
This year, one of the church's suppliers ran out of tartar sauce, says Bej, and virtually every fish fry across Cleveland Magazine’s database went up in price by more than $1-$2.
That good work continues as locals become voracious for crispy cod, perch, walleye and even the occasional Alaskan pollock.
In its first year of business, Heart of Gold chef Adam Bauer recalls a flood of excitement as the establishment took its first jab at the tradition, offering a sandwich and platter of perch ($17-$24).
“Oh my god, [the line was] out the door,” he recalls. “I've worked in suburbs where they've been extremely popular. And … I've worked in Downtown where, you know, I didn't know if a lot of certain places thought it was their demographic, but we were extremely successful with it last year. We're looking forward to doing it this year.”
Heading into Lent don’t miss out on our 2023 Cleveland Fish Fry Guide with roughly 100-plus events, all there to assist your deep-fried journey.
Check out Larder chef Jeremy Umansky's tips and tricks for the perfect home fish fry.