By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
You know it’s time for a fish fry when you walk into the Eagles Club and see Diane Leeper and Angie Greiner wearing headbands decorated with orange and white clownfish.
It’s just one of the ways the mother-daughter duo keeps diners happy on Fridays at the social club on County Road 220; the other is serving up generous portions of crispy Alaskan pollock.
“We have fun with it,” said Leeper, who is known as “Mama” to regulars.
“We put fish things on our head, and we’ve got an apron that says ‘The cook smells fishy,'” she laughed.
And it doesn’t hurt that the star of the show is the all-you-can-eat dinners that start with four large pieces of fried fish, a mound of fries, cole slaw and a roll. The $7.99 meal, served from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday through the end of April, is open to the public and carry-out is available.
Friday fish fries have long been a staple in the Findlay community. Chuck Sear, financial secretary of Leo Council 957, said those at the Knights of Columbus date back to the 1960s or 1970s.
“They used to have one or two a year, mainly sponsored by the Boy Scouts,” he said.
The fundraiser also featured gambling games.
In the late 1970s or early 1980s, the council began offering a few fish fries during Lent, during which Roman Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.
Sear said council members and the ladies auxiliary group, known as the Councilettes, now sponsor five fish fries during Lent with the exception of Good Friday. He noted that the fish fry on April 11 will be operated by St. Michael Boy Scout Troop 319, which is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
“It’s tradition,” he said. “It’s kind of the assumption that the K of C is going to sponsor the fish fries.”
Served at the council hall at 701 W. Main Cross St., the fish fries attract an average of 210 diners a week who gobble up about 200 pounds of Alaskan pollock, both baked and fried, said Sear.
The all-you-can-eat menu also includes macaroni and cheese, potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, cole slaw or applesauce, rolls, beverages and desserts made by the Councilettes. The cost is $9 for adults and $4 for children 10 and younger. Serving begins at 5:30 p.m. and continues until 7 p.m., or until the fish runs out.
The event is open to the community.
“We haven’t run out this year, yet,” said Sear. “When you get closer to 6:30 or so, you ought to be there because you take a chance. The baked fish, we usually run out of first.”
Any leftovers are taken to the City Mission.
Sear said it takes 40-45 volunteers to put on the event each week.
“Everyone has a job,” he said.
Preparations begin several days earlier when the fish is purchased and thawed. On Friday morning, eight to 10 members soak the fish pieces in a milk bath, then coat it with an all-purpose breading.
“The breading is very light. It’s not caked at all,” Sear said. “And then when you fry it, you know it’s fried but it’s not greasy at all. That’s the reason people like it.”
About 20 percent of the fish prepared each week is baked for those who don’t like fried fish or can’t eat it. This fish is coated with ranch dressing and dill, he said.
Offerings like macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches are included for younger children who may not like fish.
“We get four big loaves of sandwich bread, and they usually go through all four loaves,” said Sear.
At the Eagles, Leeper mans the fryers. She prepared about 50 fish dinners on a recent Friday.
“We have entertainment on Friday night so they’ll come in before the entertainment starts and eat,” said trustee Steve Hamilton.
Diners at the Eagles also tend to like a thinner breading, said Leeper, who used to own the Stable bar and grill in Arcadia. That’s where she perfected her breading recipe.
“We’d go to get fish and it was always that thick batter,” she said. “So we just kept messing with it and messing with it.”
“We have a lot of older people and they don’t like that crunchy kind (of batter),” she said. “They want to taste the fish.”
Greiner, who is the club manager, said substitutions can be made for people who don’t like cole slaw or want a different type of potato.
“Some people don’t like the cole slaw so we give them macaroni or potato salad,” she said. “Then, if they don’t want the fries, they can get Tater Tots or waffle fries.”
This isn’t the first time the two women have found themselves working side by side. Through the years they’ve also had jobs together at the Dark Horse, the Stable and Consolidated Biscuit.
“It’s like every place we’ve ever been we always worked together,” said Greiner. “She’s my best friend, so we just work everywhere together.”
Hamilton said the crowd starts coming in about 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. Although the end of the fish fry is 8 p.m., Leeper was still cooking last Friday at 11 p.m. because they had fish left and people kept asking for it.
“We were just slamming it,” she said. “I cook it, she (Greiner) slams it. She serves it.”
People like the tradition of a fish fry, added Greiner.
“My grandma and grandpa always went to the L&K and they had fish every Friday all year long.” she said. “People still like that Friday night fish fry.”
Sear said the Knights of Columbus has many regulars who return every week for dinner. He takes the money so he gets to talk with them as they come in and as they leave.
“I greet them when they come in, and I talk to them when they go out. I want to make sure everything was all right. … Most everybody will say it was really good, and ‘I’ll be back,'” he said.
Sear said the fish fries have evolved into a family-friendly social event.
“People come, they stay, they talk,” he said. “It’s not just about eating.”
Proceeds benefit the Councilettes, the scholarship fund and local charities.
“I think there’s obviously a need for it, a desire to do it, so I can see it going on for the foreseeable future,” said Sear. “I don’t know why you’d stop something that benefits the people that go.”
“If you can make somebody happy and they think they got a great meal for the price, we’ve done our job,” he said.
Several other clubs also host Friday fish fries throughout the year. American Legion Post 3 at 120 W. Front St. offers a fish fry on the second Friday of every month. Serving begins at 5:30 p.m. and includes Alaskan pollock, fries, cole slaw and a roll for $7. AMVETS Post 21 at 423 W. Trenton Ave. also holds a fish fry every Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The meal includes all-you-can-eat Alaska pollock, a potato and side for $7.50.
Meals at both the veterans clubs are open to the public.
Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf
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