Selling out of fish in mere hours. Hundreds of meals in one night.
The demand for fish this time of year in Pittsburgh isn’t unusual.
But map the fish fry locations for the Sweet Sixteen of the Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry, and there are several clusters of fish strongholds — Pittsburgh, eastern boroughs, and Carnegie and neighboring Scott Township, the only towns to have more than one fish fry advance out of the first round of our bracket.
In Carnegie, Ancient Order of the Hibernians Division 32 Sean MacBride advanced among Fire Halls and Social Clubs, and Riley’s Pour House moved on in Eateries. In Scott Township, Saints Simon and Jude and Our Lady of Grace are facing off in the Churches West category.
So what is it about this area that makes fish frys so popular? The answers are ones you’ll hear across the region: Camaraderie. Tradition. Good food.
“It’s a good community atmosphere — everyone craves that,” said Erin King, volunteer coordinator for Our Lady of Grace, which serves 800 meals on a Lenten Friday. The customers and volunteers give it that atmosphere, she said, adding that so does the church’s pastor, Father Richard Infante, who shares small glasses of wine with people as they eat.
At Saints Simon and Jude Parish, Peggy Sembrat, who organizes the fish fry, said it’s really special to see multiple generations doing their part to make the fish fry happen. Parishioners and community members who come together to eat week after week.
It’s the camaraderie that bring people to the AOH fish fry at the Ukrainian American Citizens’ Club of Carnegie, agreed Tim Regan, the AOH chapter’s president. “People like to get together.” The fish fry gives them an opportunity to enjoy a night out with family and see old friends, he said.
A few blocks away, at Riley’s Pour House, owner Jim Riley said the restaurant has regular customers on different days. But on Friday, they all come in at once for fish. “Everybody loves the fish on Fridays”
A long-standing, tasty tradition
Fish frys are a Pittsburgh phenomenon, Regan said. “Especially in south Pittsburgh, fish frys have always been big.”
The AOH fish fry is known for its fresh, hand-breaded haddock, which is thinner and less fishy tasting, in Regan’s opinion. He’s the chef behind the added offering of baked fish. Sometimes, he said, the fish runs out in less than three hours.
“It’s been a tradition that we’ve had for so long,” King said, adding that Our Lady of Grace volunteers work like a well-oiled machine to cook and serve the hand-breaded fish and sides.
Saints Simon and Jude had nearly 400 order last Friday, Sembrat said, adding that people come for the quality food and the variety from fried and baked fish to shrimp to crab cakes. Last year, mint milkshakes were added for St. Patrick’s day, and they were so popular, they’ve been added to the menu. So far this year, the choices are chocolate or vanilla, but Sembrat said mint will be added as St. Patrick’s day gets closer.
And at Riley’s, the nominators stressed the portions, one calling it the “BIGGEST BEST FISH.” Riley said the cod comes baked, fried or batter-dipped. While always on the menu, orders for fish triple on fish Fridays, whether people are eating in or doing takeout.
“People are obsessed with fish. They want it any way you can get it,” Riley said.
Taste test and vote
Voting for the Sweet Sixteen ends at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 26. Vote here. This map shows the locations of the remaining contenders with details below. Hours listed are for Friday only.
Allegheny Elks #339
400 Cedar Ave. (Deutschtown)
5:30 to 8 p.m.
Ancient Order of Hibernians Division #32
302 Mansfield Blvd. (Carnegie)
4 to 7 p.m.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
45 N. Sprague Ave. (Bellevue)
4 to 7 p.m.
803 Market St. (McKeesport)
10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
408 Baldwin Road (Hays)
11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Keith Heinritz Katering
209 Brinton Ave (Trafford)
10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
2240 Babcock Blvd (Ross)
11 a.m. to midnight
North Braddock VFD
1318 Wolfe Ave. (North Braddock)
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Our Lady of Grace
310 Kane Blvd. (Scott)
4:30 to 7 p.m. (3:30 to 7 p.m. March 30)
Riley’s Pour House
215 East Main St. (Carnegie)
11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
St. Joan of Arc
6470 Liberty Road (South Park)
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saints Simon and Jude
1607 Greentree Road (Scott)
4 to 7 p.m.
St. Mary of the Mount
131 Bigham St. (Mount Washington)
4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
2001 Ardmore Blvd. (Forest Hills)
3 to 7 p.m.
7400 Irvine St. (Swissvale)
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
1711 Penn Ave. (Strip District)
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.