The Friday night fish fry is a cherished tradition this time of year.
With roots dating all the way back to the 1800s that are indelibly linked to Catholic heritage and custom, a first-rate fish fry before, during or after Lent, is an affordable, delicious way to spend a winter evening.
These lively events, typically held at churches, schools and halls all over the region, tend to offer all-you can eat food and — if you’re in luck — all you can drink beer. In addition to dinner, many fish fries aim to entertain guests and raise funds for non-profits with Monte Carlo style gambling, silent auctions and raffles.
For as many things that go into a well-done fish fry, at the end of the day it’s the food and company that is the ultimate draw. The best fish fries in town feature homemade cooking by talented chefs putting their spin on things in the back of the house and the opportunity to break bread with friends and neighbors in rare moments of true communal dining.
Chef David Glynn, executive chef at the Dayton Country Club, has been helping with the Dayton Area Rugby Club Fish Fry since its inception more than 20 years ago.
“We use only Day Boat Cod from Iceland, which I buy from Tom Patterson at Foremost Seafood. It is a wonderful product, and it costs more, but is well worth it,” said Glynn. “The fish is caught and processed that same day right on the ship, which results in a very sweet and mild flavor. I personally soak the fish in egg batter after dredging it in flour and then bread with Panko crumbs. It comes out crisp and pretty tasty.”
In addition to the 400 pounds of fish Glynn and his team will cook up this year, there are the other traditional sides and items that can often be found at fish fries around the country — Italian sausages, French fries, cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad and bread.
This fish fry, like so many others in town, is a gem with great cooks behind the scenes creating a very special meal for hundreds upon hundreds of their closest friends.
Ken Kreitzer, co-chair of the Our Lady of the Rosary fish fry crew, has been involved in his church’s fish fry for the last 18 years. The time and passion that goes into the event, now in its 53rd year, comes out in the food that anywhere from 50-70 volunteers work tirelessly to prepare.
“Friday is a long day that begins at 8 a.m. with fish prep crew breading the fish, then on to cooking sausage, baking, cutting and plating the deserts, making the homemade cole slaw, prepping the beans, and making a pasta dish, either mac and cheese or our famous cabbage and noodles,” said Kreitzer. “All of the food is great, but we are known for our large portions of fish — other crowd favorites are the hot bacon dressing covered salads, the homemade cole slaw, the amazing cabbage and noodles, and Chef Joe Palmer’s famous fresh baked deserts.”
In addition to fish, standouts include two kinds of sausage — Waldorf and hot polish, both made fresh — homemade coleslaw and the fresh baked deserts including chocolate cake and apple crisp. At their Oktoberfest fish fry, fresh homemade pumpkin pies with hand-rolled pie crust are worth admission alone.
Fish fries across the region showcase wonderful varieties of seafood that may include perch, walleye and cod. On rare occasions, salmon or bluegill can be found. All of these are offered up with varied preparations including deep fried, broiled, baked and seasoned. Everything right down to the breading of the fish and the setting it’s served in makes attending each fish fry a new adventure.
Glynn and Kreitzer both agree that great fried fish begins with quality ingredients.
It’s a seemingly simple recipe that can go terribly wrong without a watchful eye. Fresh uniform pieces of breaded fish and good oil that is kept at a constant 365 degrees to ensure consistency and to keep the fish from becoming greasy are key. Breading that is flavorful but not loose so it doesn’t flake off and burn in the oil also is critical. The end goal is to serve up hot tasty heaps of fish to the hundreds of people anxiously waiting in line.
Shayla Cothran, 26, of Dayton who works at Wright State University as the International Student Coordinator will be running the Dayton Area Rugby Club Fish Fry this year for the first time, leading around 125 volunteers doing everything from cooking to ticket sales to cleanup.
She is part of the next generation embracing these community fundraising events that rely on feeding others Friday comfort food.
Like so many fish fries around town, the story of how this one came to be and continues to be is often as interesting as the dishes served and the stories shared at the tables by those enjoying them.
Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and food adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.