It’s at this point in our relationship that we may as well discuss religion, right? Like 99.9% of other native New Orleanians (give or take a few percentage points, I guess), I’m Catholic or at the very least, culturally Catholic. My family’s been down with the Church for roughly 500 years, and I’m certainly not going to veer off course. I mean, why should I? I love big pretty buildings, incense, weird statues, completely baseless superstition, and Lent.
Yes, that’s right, Lent! Lent is even more exciting to me than Mardi Gras, because I love self-denial. I have literally never broken Lent, not once in my 30-some odd years of giving up things that I love for 40 days, for no discernable reason. Since my favorite thing is eating, my Lenten abstinences almost always involve food. In the past, I’ve given up M&M’s (I was 5), refined sugar, caffeine, going out to restaurants, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, and fried foods. Fried foods was the stupidest choice because the best thing about Lent, besides the masochist thrill I get from telling myself no over and over again, is the Lenten Fish Fry. Every year, I try to hit up as many church fish fries as I can, in an eternal quest to find the perfect one. If you want a complete list of churches holding Friday fish fries, check out the Archdiocese of New Orleans Twitter account. Yes, the Archdiocese has a Twitter account, and it’s kind of awesome. It’s where I learned that just this year, the Pope has urged everyone not to “let meatless Fridays be a selfish, soulless, seafood splurge.” Which, let’s be real, is exactly what’s going to happen. Sorry, Pope Francis! As there are four Fridays in March, here’s a look at four different local fish fries.
St. Mary of the Angels (3501 N. Miro St.) St. Mary of the Angels is my personal yearly go-to for fish fries. I think I went four times last year. They’re the closest to my house, so it’s easy to get to, and they have solid fish fry offerings: Fish, baked macaroni and cheese, potato salad, green peas or green beans, a slice of bread, a bottled water, and a dessert (usually a slice of pound cake). They also operate every Friday during Lent, unlike some of the other churches. They aren’t fancy; they don’t have oysters or shrimp, the macaroni and cheese is of the Velveeta variety, and well, you get a slice of white Bunny bread. But it still stands as one of my favorites. The fish is always well-fried (crispy but not overly so), there’s just the right amount of salt, and they actually season the fish. And, as an added bonus, they have a bottle of Crystal hot sauce and sliced up lemons right by the register so you can season up before you leave, which is helpful if you’re running back to work, or simply not heading to a place where there’s going to be a bottle of Crystal at the ready. The potato salad is the mustardy type, which, let’s be honest, is the best type of potato salad there is. In addition to all this, the atmosphere is fun. They’re serving out of the parking lot of the Church and they have—hands down—the best music of any of the churches; it’s always Old School R&B and soul music. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Franciscan monk in a hooded robe frying fish while dancing to the Isley Brothers. The best! 9/10 Slices of Bunny Bread
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church (3366 Esplanade Ave.) When I talk to friends about local fish fries, this is the place most people have gone, which is so sad! I mean, Our Lady of the Rosary gets some play from me just because they tend to be open later than the other fish fry venues in the city proper, so if I’ve missed every other church’s closing time and I’m not feeling like driving out to the suburbs, Our Lady of the Rosary is there to satisfy my needs. And honestly, the convenience factor is one of the only selling points of Our Lady of the Rosary. They aren’t, however, open every Friday during Lent, so you have to check to make sure they’ll actually be there when you go. The offerings are probably the most basic: fish, french fries, green beans, and coleslaw. I always get disappointed when I see french fries at a fish fry; it’s straight up lazy and it’s just not what I want. The fish here is also inconsistent. I’ve had it come out both overly salty and not salty enough, and it’s always strangely bland. I’m assuming they just don’t bother with seasoning the fish fry batter, which again, just seems lazy. The cole slaw is lackluster and the green beans are dumped straight out the can, with nothing added. The setting is actually sort of fun if you went to Catholic school, or if you just want to pretend you did. You’re basically just in the cafeteria of an elementary school, and I felt myself flashing back immediately when I walked in there for the first time. Really, this isn’t the best fish fry. It’ll do, though, if you’re out of other options. 3/10 Lazy French Fries
All Saints (300 Ptolemy St., Algiers Point) All Saints is actually the closest fish fry option if you’re in the CBD or French Quarter, because it’s in Algiers, literally right next to the river, walking distance from the ferry. And, it’s so cute! They serve out of a little building behind the church. When I went there, I was really confused because there was no signage whatsoever, and the doors to everything were completely closed up. Luckily, a friendly gentleman with a mouth full of glittering gold teeth saw me wandering around the Church grounds, asked me if I was looking for the fish fry, and walked me to the right building! It’s like a little restaurant; there are tables with white tablecloths set up, and tartar sauce, hot sauces, and ketchup on each one. Unfortunately, the day I went, I had to get back to work, but it would have been really nice to sit and enjoy my fish with some friends, or just hang out with the very amiable older folks who were milling about. On to taste! The fish is perfect, the best I’ve had at a fish fry––expertly seasoned, not too salty but not under-salted either. The sides are standard: potato salad (again of the superior mustard variety); peas from the can, but dressed up with pearl onions (I think) and seasoning; baked macaroni and cheese with a nice brown crust on top; a slice of white bread; and a piece of homemade bundt cake! Great atmosphere and delicious food. I have no complaints, other than it was actually really hard to figure out where I was supposed to go. I told them they needed signage, so hopefully they take my advice. 10/10 Glittering Gold Teeth
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (8968 La. 23, Belle Chasse) No problems with signage at this one, as there’s a giant blinking billboard right off the highway proclaiming “LENTEN FISH FRY FRIDAYS” which, yes indeed. The offerings here are more diverse than usual; in addition to fish, there’s also shrimp, oysters, poboys, and combo plates (I had the fish and shrimp). Also, and this is important, you can either get a side of french fries or white beans. I got the white beans, of course, and what a great decision. I have no idea what they put in meatless white beans (other than copious amounts of butter) that would make them that delicious, but they were amazing. They were also, sadly, the best part of the meal. The fish servings were tiny and underseasoned. The shrimp was fine, in that way in which fried shrimp is always fine. However, the white beans were truly inspired, and I feel like that alone was worth the cost. They also have desserts for sale for $1 each. I had a really generous slice of (obviously homemade) lemon pound cake and chocolate-dipped strawberries. I normally do my seafood gorging alone, but for this one I brought a non- Catholic who’d never experienced the Lenten church fish fry experience, and she was thoroughly nonplussed. She didn’t understand why we wouldn’t just go to a regular restaurant, one which would be guaranteed to have a standard menu, some level of quality control, etc. And I’m so glad she brought that up, because it reminds me that perhaps I should explain why I love fish fries even though there’s certainly no dearth of good seafood restaurants in this town. There’s an inherent crapshoot aspect to it all, which is what makes a fish fry fun. There’s no telling what you’re going to get, who will be there, and what the food will actually be like. I’ve made a lot of jokes here, but let’s be totally serious for a moment: the food at these events is being cooked by volunteers, grandmas and grandpas, moms and dads, good old fashioned home cooks who are making these amazing spreads, and I appreciate every one of them. So no matter how snarky I may be coming off, please remember that I really do love a fish fry. I always have a good time, and I like that my money is supporting local charities, which could actually help real life members of my community. Fish fries rule. 7/10 White Beans