It's Lent. That, in and of itself, brings with it many traditions depending on one's nationality and faith. Being Polish and Catholic, Lent brings, among many other things, many food traditions. From eating paczki on "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Ash Wednesday), to going meatless on Lenten Fridays.
A tradition that started a few years ago at my former job was periodic lunch runs to an old Polish parish on Detroit's westside: St. Francis D'Assissi. The church is located at the corner of Wesson and Buchanan in the Michigan/Livernois area. A beautiful old church that's more than a century old, they put on one of the best fish frys in town. (Pictured left: St. Francis pop pourer extraordinaire John sets Craig up with a cup of Vernors)
Every Friday during Lent, from 11am to 6pm, a crew of faithful parishioners lovingly serve up meals that are not only delicious, but take one back to a time when sharing the fellowship of such a meal really meant something. You don't have to be Catholic or even Christian to enjoy this fish fry (it would help if you liked fish!), because the idea of sharing a meal and breaking bread with others universally a good one, I think. (Pictured left: Here's my plate - it's speaks for itself. The portions are not skimpy at St. Francis!)
On the lunch yesterday were my work buddies Katie, Craig and Kevin, who stopped and picked up a very special luncheon guest, his lovely mother Peggy! What a delight to have her at the table with us! We had fun talking about some of the old Detroit parishes we knew. I can think of few better ways to meet a new friend then at a table filled with good things to eat. I think for those people who were around when neighborhood parish events like this one were commonplace in Detroit, coming to St. Francis for fish fry is a special treat. I know my dad and some of his friends make it down almost every Friday, too. (Pictured left: Peggy and Kevin, ready to dig in, stop an smile for the camera.)
Here's how it works at St. Francis. You walk into to the old school building and go down the stairs. At the end of the hall a couple of ladies work as cashiers and you pay your $8 and they give you a ticket. Then you go into the dining room and find a table. They are all long tables with six chairs at each, so pick out a spot and sit down. In no time, another lady will collect your meal ticket and they will start arriving with the sides - cole slaw (it's yummy), a fruit cup (count on pears, peaches or a little of each), a slice of bread (rye) and a piece of cake. Then the guys come around for the drinks. You can have pop or coffee - all you like. It doesn't take long and out comes the main attraction - the fish and fries! The plate is heaped with food and sometimes it's hard to know where to begin, but it's best to get your fork, plan your strategy and get down to business. (Pictured left: Katie is all smiles when her plate arrives. This was her first time at St. Francis and she loved it. It sure is fun to share this experience with others - so go!)
As someone who does a lot of food-fundraising for a church (St. Josaphat), I appreciate that this is also a fundraiser for the parish. There is something about knowing that when you eat at a fish fry like this, you're helping to support something very special: a community. All the people who work tirelessly at the fish fry, most of them seniors, try to keep their parish community vital and so they labor for something bigger than just themselves. It's a beautiful thing, and in the end, it has a lot to do with what this season is all about.