The “gold standard” for Lenten fish dinners is St. Albert the Great, at least in my humble, yet correct, opinion. True, sentiment might play a role. I ate my first Lenten fish dinner at St. Albert’s, lo some five years ago when my sister- and brother-in-law invited us to tag along, and every year during the short season of Lent, Jan and I always return “home” at least once. Tonight was our most recent visit, and we were not disappointed.
Traditionally, it’s the Mac and Cheese that’s the big attraction here but tonight both the deep-fried and the baked fish nudged into center stage. The baked fish was moist and tender and though I couldn’t identify the seasoning (Jan theorizes it’s thyme and paprika among others), it was particularly tasty. The fried fish was a solid rendition, flavorful but with that satisfying crunch. Even the french fries tasted especially good tonight.
As sides, there were green beans and tossed salad, both of which I avoid on general principle, as well as coffee and the nearly-magenta-colored concoction Jan and I call “church punch” to drink. There was also pop and bottled water for an extra fee. The “good” desserts were gone by the time I finished filling up on fish (three plates! YUM) so I got a store-bought cupcake instead of the home-made carrot cake I would have sworn I saw at the table earlier.
The only off-note to the meal was the lack of crowds. In the past, there have been so many folks cycling through that there was frequently a line. I was a little disoriented when I was able to pay for my meal and then set right up to the counter to be served. I’m protective of this particular spot, and I hope the lack of patrons is only a mid-Lent dip in attendance and not an indicator of declining numbers in general.
I grew up not far from here. Like we experienced in Dexter last week, these people feel like my neighbors, my friends, though I don’t know anyone here personally, other than the ones we bring along. During a previous visit, the jovial priest of the parish walked up and down between the tables and greeted folks, telling jokes and making everyone feel comfortable, even us mis-believing protestants. I’m sure we would have come to disagreement pretty quickly if we let our brains start talking. But as long as our hearts – and perhaps our bellies – were in charge, we got along fantastically. If you get a chance to attend a Lenten fish dinner in your area, or any community sponsored meal, I really hope you can experience this sense of belonging, the sense of place at the table.
Short addendum for Jan: In a way, it seems a little off-base to indulge in a veritable feast during Lent, which is usually thought of as a season of sacrifice and preparation. Maybe instead of food or treats, what we might sacrifice, or let go of, or loosen is our isolation, or shyness, or hesitation– whatever it is that holds us back from seeing our neighborhood as a larger space and our neighbors as an even larger group of people. Another thing to consider, perhaps, is that the six-week long season is the perfect time to take up a practice and make it a habit. This could be a habit of reaching out, of being friendlier, doing something new, or investing time in relationships.