When I ask Ron Faiola if he’s planning on going out to eat this Friday, he laughs. “I don’t go out during Lent, because it’s just so crazy,” he says.

I called Faiola, a documentary filmmaker, to talk about the fish fry tradition. Across Wisconsin, churches, community centers, and charitable organizations fling open their doors on Fridays during Lent—when Catholics abstain from eating meat—to sling plates of fried fish, along with potato pancakes, coleslaw, bread, and drinks.

Faiola has made a name for himself with his books and documentaries about Wisconsin’s foodways. He has produced and directed not one, but two documentaries about fish frys in Milwaukee and greater Wisconsin (yes, it’s spelled “frys,” not “fries,” in Wisconsin, he notes). For decades, groups throughout the state have used fish frys during Lent as a fundraiser, keeping costs down by recruiting volunteers.

Faiola points out that, in Wisconsin, it’s not just religious or charitable groups hosting fish frys anymore. Restaurants have also gotten in on the action. “There’ll be places that normally have tacos, and then during Lent, they’re serving a fish fry,” he says. “I used to joke, actually, that even the ATM serves fish fry around here.”

Mike Miano dishes up cod at St. Gabriel Church in St. Louis.
Mike Miano dishes up cod at St. Gabriel Church in St. Louis. Bill Greenblatt/Alamy

But these fried-fish festivities aren’t limited to Wisconsin. Across the country, different regions have their own versions of these communal meals. To Faiola’s point, many restaurants serve fish specials on Lent Fridays, but people have a soft spot for the churches and community halls where they grew up eating fish fry.

Even though swapping fish for meat during Lent is traditionally meant to be a sacrifice of earthly pleasures, fish frys are now beloved culinary events. Many people will only eat at their favorite church or venue, but others like to mix it up and try new places.

So how do you know if there’s a fish fry near you? Word-of-mouth is one way, but many communities publish online maps pinpointing where they’re being held, along with information about hours, menus, and contact information. Sometimes these maps are put together by local news organizations, but others are compiled by local archdioceses, showing which churches are hosting these events.

Below is a small sampler of fish-fry maps across the States. Your local fish fry may feature local specialties, and it could be served at a restaurant or in a church basement. Prices are up everywhere, notes Faiola, but that doesn’t seem to dissuade people from going. “It’s community-building,” he says. “Come and see your neighbors and your fellow parishioners. And it’s open to everybody, whether they actually attend the church or not.”


Cleveland Magazine has a detailed map of local fish fry locations, color-coded to indicate whether the venue is a restaurant or a parish. According to the magazine, Cleveland fish dinners often feature macaroni and cheese, pierogies, and sides of green beans. Lake Erie perch is sometimes available, and the area’s Eastern European tradition manifests itself with haluski, or cabbage and noodles.

Hush puppies are a common side dish at St. Louis fish fry events.
Hush puppies are a common side dish at St. Louis fish fry events. Bill Greenblatt/Alamy

St. Louis

The Fox 2 Fish Fry Finder focuses only on events held by churches, charitable organizations, and other community groups. No restaurants here! Notably, hush puppies are a common side at St. Louis’s events. The region also has a few interesting fish fry concepts, such as a Mexican-style fish fry and an “Unfish Fry” for vegetarians.


Hollen Barmer, strategic communications manager for the SEI Emerging Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon, has been compiling the Pittsburgh Lenten Fish Fry Map since 2012. She’s teamed up with Code for Pittsburgh, the local contingent of the Code for America Brigade, to build this map of fish fry venues. Fish sandwiches are especially popular in the region.


This Fish Fry Guide offers incredibly detailed search options for those seeking certain types of fish, breading, and sides for their Milwaukee fish fry experience. Faiola notes that the fish is usually cod or perch, and it’s accompanied by potato pancakes or french fries, coleslaw, and bread. In Milwaukee proper, he says, the bread is typically marble rye, while farther west you usually get a dinner roll.

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