Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Best Fish Fry winner is ...

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Heaven help us, we hope this doesn't cause a schism between Catholic and Protestant fish cooks.

        Everyone agrees Lenten fish fry dinners are a wonderful Catholic tradition in the Tristate, dating to the time when the Church forbade its members from eating meat on Fridays.

        Since then, other organizations — fire departments, VFW Posts, fraternal clubs and at least one Protestant church — have started hosting fish fries on the Fridays leading up to Easter.

  1. Hartzell United Methodist Church, Blue Ash.
  2. St. Joseph Academy, Walton.
  3. Crescent Springs Fire Department, Crescent Springs.
  4. St. Lawrence School PTO, Price Hill.
  5. Newport Elks Club, Cold Springs.
  • Eaters' guide to our fish fry leaders
  • Best fish: Hartzell United Methodist and St. Joseph Academy (tie).
  • Best mac & cheese: Hartzell United Methodist.
  • Best coleslaw: Newport Elks Club.
  • Best fried shrimp: St. Lawrence School PTO.
  • Best fried sides: Crescent Springs Fire Dept.
  • Best service: Hartzell United Methodist.
        And it's that Protestant church — Hartzell United Methodist in Blue Ash — that we think serves the best Lenten fish dinners in the Tristate.

        Now, before anyone gets upset, hear how we reached this decision. Beginning last month , we asked readers to vote for their favorite not-for-profit fish fry.

        After counting more than 500 votes for two dozen-plus organizations, we narrowed the list of finalists to five. Equipped with directions and 24 ounces of sparkling water, we stormed out March 16 to sample the food and service of all the fish fry finalists.

        In less than four hours, we drove 80 miles — south to Walton and north to Blue Ash — to nibble on fried cod, shrimp, French fries, mac & cheese and coleslaw.

        In the end, it was the overall quality of Hartzell's food and service that won us over. (The church finished fourth in our fish fry ratings in 1999, when we last judged the not-for-profit Lenten dinners.) Hartzell United Methodist began hosting the dinners four years ago, says fish fry chairman Bob Schwarber, as a way to raise money for its youth group.

        “We serve the community, not just our church,” says Mr. Schwarber, who estimates about 80 percent of his “customers” are Catholic. “We are offering the hospitality of Christ.”

        On a typical Friday, Mr. Schwarber and his volunteers serve more than 500 people. And if nothing else, he agrees that means Protestants can fry fish just as well as Catholics.

        But he's not bragging.

Hartzell United Methodist's Mac & Cheese

        1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
        1 tablespoon salt
        3 cups elbow macaroni
        3 tablespoons margarine or butter
        1 1/2 tablespoons flour
        2 1/2 cups whole milk
        2 cups processed American cheese, cubed
        1/2 tablespoon salt
        1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
        1 tablespoon minced onion (fresh or dehydrated)
        1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

        Bring 4 quarts of water to boil. Add vegetable oil, salt and macaroni. Return to boil and cook until tender. Drain and set aside.

        Melt margarine over medium heat. Add flour and cook 4 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Heat milk and 1 cup of cubed cheese in microwave until cheese melts. Add remaining cheese and microwave until all is melted.

        Stir in salt, pepper, onion and Worcestershire sauce. Mix with cooked, drained macaroni and place in greased 4-quart casserole. Sprinkle with paprika and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees, until brown on top.

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