ESCANABA - AHHH, the essence of Northtown on a Lenten Friday night!
Karen Wils photo
Pass the tartar sauce. It’s fish-fry time again.
And the smell of strong coffee with maybe a wee bit of homemade Croatian wine mixed in are the aromas that I grew up with.
My childhood memories for the month of March are intermingled with the church season of Lent where Christians fast, abstain or do small sacrifices in preparation for Easter.
Catholics eat fish on the Fridays in Lent. (years ago, all Fridays were meatless days) This, plus the fact that Little Bay de Noc was right out our front door, created the perfect atmosphere for the perfect fish fry.
When visiting friends and family that have moved away and come back, they want to know who has the best fish fry in town? "Let's go out for a fish fry," they say.
Fresh perch or walleye golden brown, a stack of hot home-grown French fries, baked beans, crisp cole slaw and a hearty hunk of homemade bread are what make up the traditional U.P. fish fry.
After a hard work week at the mill, the factory, the railroad or the office, it was a meal that was tasty and filling.
Fish frys meant great business to Northtown through the years. Skradski's side door opened and the big old Ford's and Chevy's of the 1950s and 60s, filled the parking spaces.
On the next block, cigarette smoke and laughter flowed out of Spar's Restaurant and Bar.
The Corner Bar's back-room was a busy place on Friday nights as was the Michigan Bar on the west end.
Naturally, some of the best fish fries I ever had were fixed and served right at home. My family fished. My dad, uncles and brothers loved to fish. So if there wasn't fresh fish caught through the ice, there was almost always trout or at least smelt in the freezer.
Mom was a great cook. Back in her younger days, she worked at Spar's and at the Highland Golf Club. She knew how much heat and hard work Friday night fish frys could be, but that never stopped her from preparing some awesome ones at home (even though fish was not her favorite food).
When the snow got wet and slushy and the daylight lingered some after school and the paper route, I remember some mighty fine fish fries at my Uncle Bob's house.
I love a good meal of fish or seafood, so it's not much of a sacrifice for me. It is interesting to note that fish used to be a "poor mans meal." Not so, anymore.
Catholics do not "have" to eat fish on Friday. They are suppose to "not" eat meat of warm-blooded animals. I guess eating vegetarian or maybe being satisfied with a little nip of plain cheese would be much more of a sacrifice for me.
Fish fries are not just about the food. They are about the good company that they're shared with. They are about being thankful for the ability to complete another work week and relax with family and friends.
Oh yes, my husband can do up a fine fish fry, too. If someone cooks fish for you, enjoy and then offer to do the dishes.
Karen Wils is a lifelong resident of Escanaba. Her folksy columns appear each Friday in Lifestyles.