Fish-For-all: You don’t have to be a fan of the Catholic Church to enjoy a fish fry

By March 11, 2020 No Comments
pittsburgh fish fry

Fish sandwiches from the Rennerdale Volunteer Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Fish Fry)

By Bethany Ruhe
Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher

If you enjoy a tasty fish sandwich but are conflicted about attending a fish fry at a Catholic Church because of the church’s history of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and the subsequent coverups, you’re not alone. 

The Lenten season and the fish fry-craze are often associated with the Catholic Church, but it doesn’t have to be. People from all religious and belief backgrounds look forward to what Pittsburghers call ‘fish fry Season’. There are brackets, maps, review websites and Facebook groups dedicated to the period of time from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. 

Scot Fleming of Crafton, who runs Pittsburgh Fish Fry, a Facebook group dedicated to reviewing local efforts, with his girlfriend, Michelle Maust, has seen a lot in his years of attending and eating at frys across the area. Although Fleming points out he doesn’t agree with boycotting Catholic Church Frys. 

The fish frys are at the polar opposite of any scandals. The money that goes into collection plates (tithing) have mandatory percentages that go to the diocese and eventually back to Rome,” Fleming says. “But the fish frys are about the closest to on-the-ground fundraising that exists in a community parish. They are primarily run by parishioners, usually for associated school needs or physical repairs that the parish cannot afford.”

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, you can’t swing a haluski noodle without hitting a VFW, volunteer fire department, or other community club that doesn’t offer your fish-fry basics. Some get fancy. Some have beer. All have fish. And, in this list, none involve the Catholic Church.

Before getting into the list, let’s discuss another debate that rolls through the fish-fry community: Do restaurants or commercial cafeterias count as fish frys? Fleming says it’s a resounding no. “For it to be a proper fish fry, it should be a bit of an effort. Places that maybe have cafeterias, but not a full-on commercial kitchen. It can’t just be a grocery store or Arby’s that just throws a fried fish sandwich on their menu or one that already serves fish. It needs to be out of place – another reason it can’t be a restaurant.”

He goes on to add it should be communal by nature and, for the Pittsburgh Fish Fry review criteria, they also give points for overly-brightly lit spaces that are tacky yet charming, no frozen fish, and, of course, they have to have Heinz ketchup. 

I posted a query on my Facebook page to poll my friends about their favorite non-church fish fry and included the results here (I took a page out of Fleming’s book and did not include restaurants). There are still five more chances to go out and get your fix of a giant plank of fried fish on a too-small bun. If you aren’t sure that last year’s favorite fish fry is happening again, try a quick online search or call. In the cut-throat world of pop-up Lenten dinners, it is, as Fleming says, “A fish-eat-fish world.”

Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department
370 Commercial Street, Bridgeville, PA, 15017
March 27th, April 10th ONLY.
Of note: Do they also have cabbage and noodles? Haluski yes, the do. 

Elliot West End Athletic Association Candy Stand

Herschel Field, Herschel and Hassler Streets, Pittsburgh
Every Friday during Lent, 4 – 7 pm

Of Note: This is the only fish fry that I have come across that is located in a Concession Stand. Or, as they call it, a candy stand. 

Elks Lodge #339

400 Cedar Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15212

Every Friday during Lent

Of note: The Elks serve over 400 fish dishes during every Friday in Lent, sometimes resulting in an over 2 hour wait. The people there do not care. North Sider will straight up fight you if you try to say there is a better fish fry in Pittsburgh, possibly the world. 

Italian Independent Club

283 Muse Road, Canonsburg, 15317

Every Friday during Lent, 11 am – 7 pm

Of Note: They also have a chicken nugget dinner option, so if you have a child who’s a picky eater or ‘that’ friend who refuses to eat anything that appeals to actual adults, this could be a good pick for you! 

Monroeville Volunteer Fire Department #3

26013rd Street, Monroeville, PA, 15146

Of Note: Information available online was scant, but a photo posted to their Facebook page revealed they use shell pasta for their Mac and Cheese, which is the superior pasta for this dish. 

Swissvale Fire Department

7400 Irvine Street, Swissvale, 

Every Friday during Lent, 11 am – 7 pm


Skyview Volunteer Fire Company 

660 Noble Drive, West Mifflin, PA, 15122

Every Friday during Lent, 11 am – 7 pm

Of Note: They have Deviled Crab and also deliver for order of $20 or more! 

Wilkins Township Volunteer Fire Department No. 3

109 Powell Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15112

Every Friday during Lent, 4 to 7 pm, Good Friday, noon – 7 pm

Of Note: They have two standout menu items; tomato bisque and hushpuppies.

Editorial Disclosure: Scot Fleming serves on the Pittsburgh Current volunteer advisory board.

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