My favorite part of Mardi Gras season is what comes after Mardi Gras. Everybody has been going on and on ad nauseam about the king cake. Me? I’ve been sitting back patiently waiting for the REAL good good: Lenten fish fry Fridays at St. James Major Church in Gentilly. Hands down best catfish in the city - nay, of your life!
I realize this is a bold claim. Some might even consider them fighting words. But there are times when hyperbole is warranted, like right now. I’m talking light fluffy catfish, filets thick as t-bone steaks, long as your forearm, encased in an exquisitely crisp, seasoned cornmeal crust. To. Die. For.
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The line down the block in front of St. James on Fridays during Lent speaks for itself. A heavy preponderance of Creoles and other melanin-enriched folks (always a good indication the joint’s food is flavorful); lotta who's-its: the parish assessor, city council members, state legislators alongside blue collar workers, high school students and your auntee. The line for food moves fast and everyone is in a good mood.
The fry is hosted by the church’s Knights of Columbus chapter. The organization began hosting their fish fry just prior to Hurricane Katrina in the church’s backyard, exclusively for the parishioners. But the event became so popular that the organization decided to move it to the front lawn and take it public. What began as a 200 plate a day event quickly morphed into 1,000-plus plates per day. The secret to their success according to Darren Isabella, fish fry production manager and longtime KoC member? “We get the best and biggest pieces we can afford and still make a profit. We don’t want it skimpy. We want people to say ‘Wow! That’s a lot of fish and for a great cost.’ ”
Not only are the portions tremendous, the flavor is incomparable. The quote on the event flier says it more plainly: “Fish so good that if you put it on your forehead, your tongue will beat your brains out trying to get it!” The recipe was developed by another KoC member who co-owns of one of the Deanie’s Restaurants, widely known for their spicy delicious seafood platters: the catfish filet’s are soaked in a combination of French’s mustard, Crystal hot sauce and water, dipped in a mixture of seasoned corn meal and corn flour and fried in peanut oil. Each order includes two huge pieces of fish, string beans, potato salad, and two pieces of white bread plus a soda for $10.
The fish fry happens every Friday until March 22nd (they don't fry on Good Friday) from 11am-5pm or until they run out of fish, which does happen occasionally. So Isabella warns his customers “Don’t wait till 4pm!”
Lenten Fish Fry Fridays 11-5pm or until they run out
St. James Major Church
3736 Gentilly Blvd.
$10 per plate