Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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Food Dude

Fish fry season


Lent inspires restaurants to experiment with temporary offerings, showing regular customers that they understand their dietary restrictions while testing new items at minimum risk. Few people will be angered when Lenten specials are discontinued.

Culver’s Walleye Lenten special.

Culver’s Walleye Lenten special.

Church fish fries are the best-known Lenten food deals. They offer the community mingling, which brands Iowa in caucus years. They also provide an alternative for people who like fried fish without redundant french fries, the only side dish most casual restaurants offer. Church kitchens are more apt to have mashed potatoes, green beans, rice, baked beans or mac and cheese.

I visited a fish fry at St. John’s Basilica recently. It offered baked pollock, fried catfish, a choice of eight breads and rolls, marvelous brownies, beer and wine along with the usual cafeteria line suspects. Young workers wore Knights of Columbus aprons so oversized they tripped over them. The fish itself suffered from an inevitable cafeteria line fate — overcooking.

That prompted some fried fish fans to suggest a startling possibility, at least to this food snob: “The fast food industry is uniquely equipped to deliver superior fried fish and seafood.” Their theory is based on the fact that fried foods are at their best hot out of the fryer and begin deteriorating immediately afterward. That is less likely to happen at high-volume chains. I suspect that’s why most top seafood restaurants (e.g. Splash) prefer half a dozen other methods above frying.

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Not all Lenten specials are temporary. McDonald’s “Filet-O-Fish” was invented by a Cincinnati franchisee in 1962. It was so popular that it is now on all McDonald’s menus year-round. Arby’s, hardly known for fish, introduced its Lenten fish special three years ago but only began promoting it nationally last month. Their advertising stresses things not usually associated with franchise restaurants — sustainability (wild Alaskan pollock) and the phrase “once frozen,” which is honest but not as sexy as “fresh.” Unfortunately, my “King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe” ($4) was dry and boring. Its advertised “fluffy Hawaiian bun” was indistinguishable from the bun on a cheaper fish sandwich I ordered. Royal Mile’s fish finger sandwich still has no serious challenger.

Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen has been advertising a Lenten special that includes a quarter-pound of shrimp (not popcorn but medium-sized), a superior biscuit, a side (I buy their red beans and rice by the quart) and a beverage for less than $6 with tax. When I requested shrimp “hot from the fryer,” I was promised “You got it.” I did, and they were way above their pay grade.

The best fried fish I found, by far, was at Culver’s, which grabbed my attention promoting “Wisconsin supper club-style.” That’s a wonderful but vanishing restaurant species. Two thick filets of walleye were perfectly cooked, hot and juicy. Sides included coleslaw, mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans. At $11 this was a sensational deal.

Side Dishes: Christopher’s is advertising Lenten specials on Tuesdays and Saturdays. That’s an alternative to others that are all on Fridays only… Area churches offering fish fries during Lent include Basilica of St. John from 4:45 – 6:45 p.m., $8 adults, $3 children; Christ the King 5-7 p.m. $8 adults, $4 children; St. Ambrose Cathedral from noon to 1:15 p.m., $5; St. Augustin from 5-7:30 p.m., $10 adults, $5 children; St. Joseph from 5-7 p.m., $8 adults, $6 children, $35 family; St. Mary of Nazareth from 4:30-7 p.m., $9 adults, $8 seniors, $5 children; Urbandale St. Pius from 5-7 p.m., $8 adults, $5 children, $30 family; West Des Moines Sacred Heart from 5:30-7 p.m., $8 adults, $5 children, $35 family; West Des Moines St. Francis from 5:30-7:15 p.m., $8 adults, $5 children, $30 family; Altoona SS John and Paul from 4:30-7 p.m., $9 adults, $5 children; Elkhart St. Mary-Holy Cross from 5-7 p.m., free-will donation; Granger Assumption from 5:30-7:30 p.m., free-will offering; Indianola St. Thomas Aquinas from 5:30-7 p.m., $8 adults, $3children; Norwalk St. John from 5:30-7 p.m. $8 adults, $5/seniors, $3 children. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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