Crowds come for the fish, fried to perfection until it’s golden brown, surrounded by a dollop of coleslaw and a cluster of French fries. They sit at long tables covered by thin paper cloths and talk with neighbors seated next to them, or may call to a friend they recognize across the aisle. Sure, they come for the food, but leave satisfied by the overall experience of attending a fish fry in west Oakland County.
In keeping with the Lenten tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays, fish fries are popular outings for families. Now that these fish fries are in full swing, hosted by parishes and not-for-profit organizations alike, they continue to serve a two-fold purpose — feeding the multitudes and generating some revenue.
Fish fries have become a staple event on Friday nights during Lent — the 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending at Easter, marking Jesus Christ’s resurrection — when abstinence from eating meat is required for many Christians.
Lent refers to the 40-day period when Jesus embarked on his pilgrimage into the wilderness fasting, meditating and reflecting before beginning his ministry. Lent is primarily observed in the West by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans, through prayer, repentance, giving of alms and self denial of vices.
Akin to the tradition of Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, fish fries are also considered a Lenten tradition. And like the Fat Tuesday tradition of eating Paczki, fried and filled Polish pastries similar to donuts, fish fries aren’t enjoyed just by Christians.
While it’s true that fish can be be found at many restaurants and eateries, the area’s fish fries provide a means for parishes and not-for-profit groups to raise funds for charities and various programs.
The following is a sampling of the fish fries in or around the lakes area.
ST. MARY, OUR LADY OF THE SNOWS PARISH, MILFORD
St. Mary’s Parish, at 1955 Commerce Road in Milford, began hosting its Lenten fish fry dinners Friday, Feb. 24 and will wrap up on March 30.
The St. Mary’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus has been hosting a Lenten fish fry for about 28 years. Knights of Columbus member Bob Sobczak has been coordinating the effort for the last three years.
“We (at the Knights of Columbus) set aside approximately $5,000 a year for church activities, mainly for the kids,” Sobczak said. “We have other charities we donate to, but give about $3,000 to the youth group for their Appalachia trip where they help build homes.”
The not-for-profit organization reserved $2,000 to purchase a fryer for the fish fries and the remaining $3,000 was allocated toward the youth Back-Pack Program.
Typically between 300 and 400 people attend the St. Mary’s fish fry each year.
The all-you-can-eat dinners are served at the church hall from 5 to 8 p.m. Dinners include baked or fried Alaskan cod; baked potato or French fries; macaroni and cheese; coleslaw; a dinner roll; and non-alcoholic beverages.
The fish fry costs $8 for adults, $7 for senior citizens, and $5 for children between 5- and 18-years-old. A family meal is $30, although certain restrictions apply. Children under 5-years-old eat for free. Carry out dinners are available.
The St. Mary’s youth group is selling desserts during the fish fry to raise money for its Appalachia trip. The group is among the 20-plus volunteers involved in the weekly fish fry event.
KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS FOR ST. DANIEL/OUR LADY OF THE LAKES
The Pope John Paul XXIII Council of the Knights of Columbus will hold a fish fry on Fridays from 5:30 to 8 p.m. until June, when it takes a three-month hiatus and reconvenes again in September.
The all-you-can-eat fish fry dinners consist of fried or baked wild Alaskan cod; macaroni and cheese made with three cheese varieties; vegetables; French fries; baked potato wedges; rolls; coffee; and dessert, when available.
Attendees can also order a specialty 21-piece shrimp dinner with all the sides, but there are no second servings.
Prices for both the fish fry and shrimp dinners are $9 for adults; $8 for seniors over 65-years-old; $4.50 for children 5- to 11-years-old; and free of charge for those 4-years-old and under.
New this year is a fish sandwich, French fries, and coleslaw plate for $6; and a kids meal comprised of a combination of chicken, fish, and chicken nuggets accompanied by French fries and coleslaw for $3.50.
Carry out service and a cash bar is available.
The Knights of Columbus Council consists of members of Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes and the St. Daniel parishes, and is located at 5660 Maybee Road in Clarkston.
The council has been holding annual fish fries for at least 19 years now, according to Merrill Charboneau.
“I’ve been a member for 19 years and for as long as I can remember we’ve been having fish fries,” he said.
Proceeds are channeled back into the Knights of Columbus’ general fund.
“It’s not a big revenue generator,” Charboneau said. “It’s to get the members and friends together and to keep the club going.”
To roll out each fish fry event, five different crews, comprised of four to six volunteers, rotate weekly.
On a typical Friday, the fish fry welcomes between 50 and 55 people, but attendance doubles during Lent.
“The number of people increases big time during Lent, when we push about a hundred a night,” Charboneau said.
OAKLAND COUNTY SPORTSMAN’S CLUB
The not-for-profit Oakland County Sportsman’s Club holds its fish fry on Fridays throughout the year, except for the Friday after Thanksgiving and during the month of December. The fish fry begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs until 8 p.m. at its main lodge at 4770 Waterford Road in Independence Township.
The fish fry includes baked or fried wild North Atlantic cod; fried chicken; French fries; coleslaw; a hot vegetable; corn bread; dinner rolls; and coffee. The club features a full-service bar for patrons wanting alcoholic beverages.
“We also have a 9-piece bucket of chicken for $8 — our chicken is excellent,” said General Manager Dan Stiff.
Pricing is $8 for adults; $7.50 for seniors 62-years-old and over; and $6 for children between 5- and 10-years-old. Children under 5-years-old eat free of charge.
Carry out is available.
On an average Friday night, about 250-plus come in for the fish fry, but more come in during Lent.
“It gets a little busier during the Lenten season for about five weeks, when we get between 350 and 400 for dinner,” Stiff said.
Typically the kitchen requires a staff of 13 to run a fish fry.
Proceeds generated through the event is channeled back into the club’s coffers.
“It’s a small to medium revenue generator and helps to keep us up and running,” Stiff said.
The club owns 245 acres and is known throughout the area as a shooting and archery club that sports two racetracks, including one for midget scale racing. Apart from the fish fry, it offers reasonable rates on meals throughout the week, such as on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when they feature fresh, homemade hamburgers, French fries, and pop for $5.
“We are the best kept secret in Oakland County,” Stiff said.
ST. PATRICK PARISH
The St. Patrick Knights of Columbus kicked off the Lenten season with a fish fry on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, and will continue to have fish fries on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. throughout Lent.
According to Chris Polaski, past Grand Knight of St. Patrick’s Knights of Columbus, the idea to have a fish fry as a fund-raiser originated with the offer of a special recipe from Denny Behen, the previous owner of the Bogie Lake Golf Course. Behen used to hold fish fries at the course before retiring.
“He came to us with his recipe and showed us how to cook it,” Polaski said. “This is how it all started. We were looking for a fund-raiser, and Denny came to us with the fish fry idea. And he had a huge following which came with him. Even some of our volunteers are people he worked with at the golf course. We never expected it to be this big.”
On average, they serve about between 900 and 1,100 people each Friday. The most they ever had were 1,200 people.
And the all-you-can-eat fried fish is a big reason for the draw.
“One of the best parts is that the fish is unlimited, and that it is the best fish I’ve ever had,” said Andrew Cloonan, who used to frequent the fish fry often with friends before going away to college.
The menu includes baked and fried North Atlantic Icelandic cod, as well as French fries, baked potatoes and coleslaw.
Prices range from $9 for adults, $8 for seniors over 62-years-old, and $5 for children 10-years-old and under. Macaroni and cheese is $5.
St. Patrick’s will also have a soup of the day, pizza, desserts and beverages available at the fish fry, including soda for $1, beer and wine for $3, and bottled wine for $10. A pitcher of beer is available for $10, as well.
While carry-out service is available, part of the fun of the fish fry is the chance to see friends and neighbors.
“I like seeing all my friends from the church,” said Pam Colbert, who volunteers at the fish fry.
“Part of the fish fry is to bring together folks, and getting money for charity,” said Mark Griffiths, the charity director of the Knights of Columbus. “It brings together the community — not just St. Pat’s and not just Catholics. We get Methodists, Protestants, and atheists. It’s bringing people and neighbors together. It’s not just a Catholic or Christian thing. It’s a community thing. And the funds go to a lot of different places.”
While some funds go to the parish and its youth ministry, most of the funds raised go to charities in the local community, including the Open Door Outreach Center, the Grace Center of Hope in Pontiac, St. Vincent de Paul, and Christian Services, among many others.
“We do okay. If we weren’t all volunteers, we would make no money though,” Polaski said.
Sixty to 70 volunteers on average run the fish fry every Friday during Lent. The volunteers are comprised of Knights of Columbus members, family, and friends.
“It’s fun for us,” Polaski said. “Even though we work, it’s social. And we have our wives and kids helping out, too.”
“When we’re done working, we are exhausted but we feel good,” Griffiths said. “I know that each dollar earned is donated. It’s going to go somewhere to help people. So spiritually I feel good at the end of the day.”
St. Patrick Church is located at 9086 Hutchins Road in White Lake Township.
MULTI-LAKES CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION
The Multi-Lakes Conservation Association holds its weekly Friday fish fry at the Multi-Lakes Club House. And while the fish fry is held year-round, there is an annual increase in attendance during the Lenten season, according to Barry Anderson, the club’s manager.
“Our fish fry is very popular, especially during Lent and during our classic car cruises held on Friday nights from May to September,” he said.
The only Fridays the fish fry is not held are on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The fish fry is open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. with prices ranging from $8 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $5.50 for children between 5- and 12-years-old.
Proceeds go to support Multi-Lakes.
The Multi-Lakes fish fry menu consists of fried or baked fish; broasted chicken; a baked potato; French fries; vegetables; and macaroni and cheese.
“It’s all-you-can-eat,” Anderson said. “The amount of food people can eat is unbelievable. Some nights we run out of chicken.”
The event is run by members of the club, which are split into five different crews that rotate every week.
“The best part is the atmosphere, the camaraderie,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of people who have come since it started, a lot of seniors. Where else can you go for $7.50 and get what you want to eat, all you can eat?”
The organization is located at 3860 Newton Road in Commerce Township.
ST. WILLIAM’S PARISH
The Dad’s Club at St. William’s Parish in Walled Lake puts on Oakland County’s largest “all-you-can-eat” fish fry every Friday from 4 to 8 p.m.
The fish fry will be held from now until Easter.
“It’s extremely popular,” said Tom Rudofski, the president of the Dad’s Club. “This last week we served over 1,100 dinners. We also had (Republican presidential candidate) Rick Santorum show up that night. On average, we serve 1,000 dinners every week.”
This will be the 24th year the parish has held the fish fry.
The menu includes both fried and baked cod, baked salmon, fried shrimp, and a salad bar.
For $8.75, you can eat all the fried fish that your heart desires.
Meanwhile, the cod and salmon are $9. Shrimp is $10.
Seniors pay $6.75 before 5 p.m. and $7.75 after 5 p.m.
Kids between 5- and 12-years-old cost $4 for a meal that includes cheese pizza, pasta, or fish. Kids under 5-years-old eat free.
Sodas are also sold individually for $1.50, while the salad bar costs $7 individually and $3 with a meal.
Carry-out is available, too.
For more information and a full menu, visit St. William’s website at www.saintwilliam.com.
The proceeds from the fish fry go toward the parish’s sports and education programs.
“The best part of the fish fry is to see the return business,” Rudofski said. “And, it’s all-you-can-eat, and our all-volunteer work force is great, too.”
St. William’s is located at 531 Common Street in Walled Lake.
WHITE LAKE VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS, NO. 4156
The White Lake Veterans of Foreign Wars, No. 4156, located at 321 Union Lake Road, also holds a weekly, all-you-can-eat fish fry every Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. throughout the year, except on holidays.
According to Jean Nagle, canteen manager, the fish fry has been around for many years.
“It’s very popular. It’s also very, very good,” she said.
An all-you-can-eat fish dinner is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors.
In addition to the fish, it includes two sides, such as baked potatoes, French fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and cottage cheese.
There is also a chicken basket and a shrimp basket available for $5.
Coffee, soda and alcoholic beverages are also served.
Proceeds go toward the VFW’s general fund to support its causes, ranging from the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital to the VFW National Home for Children.