#292: A School of Fish

March 10th, 2014

The children ran and shrieked among, around, over and under the folding tables filling the gym.

“I’m over heeeeeere!” one screamed to a fellow tag player.

“Where’s my mommy?” a little blonde child wailed until two elderly Asian women comforted here.

Others played tag and impromptu ring around the rosie. A few danced to the oompah music the old men in Hawaiian shirts played over the loudspeaker. Some just hugged each other or did that thing where they wander around tugging awkwardly on their shirts.

The kids ran, played, jumped, wept and hollered as their parents stood in lines wrapping the St. Andrew’s gym waiting for the first fish fry of lent.

“It’s a dying breed of Americana,” Jenny Pfäfflin said as she, my fiancée and I sipped beer and dug into cod. “This would have been in every church in the city 20 years ago.”

Pfäfflin, 34, is the chair of the Chicago Lenten Fish Fry Club, an informal, somewhat joking club dedicated to “Seeking out Chicago’s best fish fries, seven Fridays every spring.” Church basements, restaurants, the Irish cultural center, suburban golf courses — wherever there’s a batter-dipped feast for the Catholics who can’t eat meat, JP is on the spot.

A certified Cicerone (think sommelier for beer), JP discovered fish fries while at the University of Wisconsin. The Sun-Times recently did a piece on her, so you can just read that instead of us doubling up on background.

Because I want to get to the fish.

At the end of that long, wrapping line of grown-ups clutching order sheets is a man with a cut-out cartoon shark sticking from the top of his Cubs hat.

“I had to look up ‘cartoon shark’ on the Internet,” he laughed. “There were instructions on how to draw them.”

The shark man took the order slips to see if you paid for fish or mac and cheese, then stood you at the appropriate part of the long row of folding tables separating the crowd from a group of men deep frying fish.

A basket of golden brown fish and french fries along with a plastic container of slaw later, you’re sitting with friends at one of the tables among BYOB bottles as children dart through the aisles between tables, sometimes just crawling right under where you’re sitting because they’re kids and they get to do that.

Music and cod and laughing children. Screaming and running and an oompah band in Hawaiian shirts. Friends and families chatting and eating and catching up as the kids just go bananas. This is Americana, JP says. This is the way she spends her Friday nights in spring.

Won’t you join?

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The 2014 Chicago Lenten Fish Fry Club schedule

Chicago Lenten Fish Fry Club on Facebook

@ChiFishFry on Twitter

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