With Lent beginning on Wednesday, Catholics have begun their season of fasting, including no meat on Fridays. For that reason, fish fries have become a widely popular and, in some cases, deeply rooted tradition in Owensboro and Daviess County.
For Father Pat Bittel of Saint Martin Parish, the three fish fries his church hosts are more about the camaraderie than the food — although, he says the food is top-notch.
“Our men’s club is a group of guys that just likes to cook,” Bittel said. “They get together and have a good time.”
Saint Martin’s has been serving customers fried catfish for the last six or so years, making them relatively new to the fish fry fanbase. Their fresh catfish is caught the day before from Lake Barkley — almost 120 pounds to be exact, which will feed nearly 200 fish fry fans.
“We had a complete sell out two weeks ago,” Bittel said. “It was all gone.”
Along with fried catfish, Bittel said customers enjoy spicy fries, homemade hushpuppies and white beans.
During the last fish fry, he made 15 gallons of white beans, something Bittel said makes Saint Martin’s fish fry unique.
While Saint Martin’s may be new to fish fry fandom, Owensboro and Daviess County Knights of Columbus councils have been frying fish for decades.
Council 817 is the third oldest council in the state and is lead by 79-year-old Grand Knight Frank Hardesty. He estimates his council has been in the fried catfish business for at least 20 years. And for Hardesty, it’s a family tradition. He currently serves alongside four brothers and has two late brothers who were knights as well.
“This is a big fundraiser for us,” Hardesty said. “But it’s also a chance for knights to come in and work together. That’s the part I like.”
Council 817 will hold six fish fries throughout Lent — every Friday except Good Friday. They serve catfish fiddlers and filets, fried cornbread, baked beans and hushpuppies.
“The fiddlers are our calling card,” Hardesty said. “They cost twice as much, but people like them.”
Hardesty said their special breading is also a council secret and gives their fish a great taste. The community must agree because attendance has been as high as 200 people before.
According to Hardesty, University of Kentucky basketball can affect turnout and unpredictable March weather.
“Our clientele comes from the people that have tried us before,” Hardesty said.
Fish fry dates from the Owensboro Diocese can be found on their website. Fish fries hosted by Knights of Columbus councils can be found on Facebook.