I did not grow up in a particularly religious household. We were Catholic in a very loosey goosey kind of way. My mother was the product of parochial schools and my father was a convert. The conversion happened years before I was born so in the sixteen years we had together the only Catholic experience I remember sharing with him was his funeral and he wasn’t really there so I’m not entirely sure that counts. Probably not.
Growing up the only times we went to church (my mother and I and sometimes my Swedish Lutheran grandmother, don’t ask) were the usual big deal holidays, Easter, Christmas, sometimes Palm Sunday. There were a couple of times in my life where I was a little more into it. After my father died I guilt-tripped my mother into going every Sunday for a while. My wanting to go regularly had absolutely nothing to do with the holy spirit and absolutely everything to do with a boy I went to high school with who had the kind of parents who MADE him go to weekly Mass. My goals were simple, sit close enough so when given the slightest chance we could shake hands during the “peace be with you” and “also with you” moment and no one would be the wiser and think that I planned it that way, no not at all. Teenagers think they are so smart. Problem was the parish was pretty large and finding space within the acceptable peace giving and receiving range was not that easy. I gave up eventually and went back to sleeping in on Sundays.
So while we did not go to confession or attend Mass regularly, the one thing we religiously did do was follow Lent rules. You had to give up something that mattered and there was no meat or poultry on Fridays, ever. Anyone who grew up in a Catholic home, even a not very religious one, probably did the same and can remember the dinners that came along with it. Friday meals often meant some sort of hotdish (casseroles for the non-Minnesota speakers). Tuna hotdish was a staple and the bane of my Lenten existence. My mother made it like all the other suburban ladies of her generation with cream of mushroom soup, quite possibly the vilest creation Campbell’s ever foisted onto the culinary world, and I use that term loosely.
I cannot stand onions or mushrooms. She eventually caved in on the onions but the soup was non-negotiable. Heaven forbid anyone made a bechamel from scratch in those days. I did not care that the actual pieces of mushroom in the soup were the size of an atom, it was gross and disgusting and I much preferred the Fridays when she made salmon loaf or we had breakfast for dinner. The very best Friday night Lent dinners though were without a doubt going to a fish fry. Church fish frys are the best, VFWs and American Legions have their charm but nothing beats a church basement without proper restaurant-quality ventilation. It can quite literally take your breath away and stink up your clothes for days but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Since many churches cater to a certain nationality based upon the ethnic background of their parishioners you can take a virtual culinary trip around the world for cheap (generally about ten bucks) and not even have to bag your liquids or be body searched. If you like pierogies hit up a Polish church, if you like hummus find a Lebanese one, there are lots of options out there and Lent is too dang short to not try at least a couple while you’re at it.
For a classic fish fry experience there are two in Minneapolis not to miss. St. Albert the Great is about the closest thing to fish fry heaven there is on Earth. St. Albert’s is a city church with a diverse parish. If I was ever going to be a regular church-going person this one could be it and not just because they have homemade grandma desserts of which I could eat each and every one. Spaghetti, soft white rolls that stick to the roof of your mouth like Wonder bread and a priest straight out of central casting who walks around the basement with a microphone in hand like he owns the place. Father Gillespie talks to everyone, tells bad jokes and cajoles people into buying raffle tickets or playing bingo, whether they want to or not.
The other big kahuna fish fry happens only once a season and it is so damn popular there is even a drive-thru option for those not wanting to face the sometimes Disney-esque lines. Our Lady of Grace calls themselves the Lollapalooza of fish frys which seems kinda appropriate if the alt-fest was held smack dab in the middle of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The fish comes from local eatery Tin Fish (they cook it outside to cut down on the odor situation) and the pasta courtesy of D’Amico. It’s not in a basement but a gymnasium and the desserts are from Costco but don’t hold that against them because the food is pretty stellar. Throw in Wally the Beerman and a good time is pretty much guaranteed to be had by all.