Catfish fried, shrimp po-boy, filé gumbo… it’s Lenten season on dah bay-you 

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The fried catfish platter from Barrow’s Catfish. New Orleans’ second-oldest Black-owned business, Barrow’s has been frying catfish for 78 years. (Kristine Froeba).

In New Orleans, Lent marks a culinary tradition as well as a spiritual and liturgical season. Much like the way we eat red beans on Monday, we eat seafood, usually fried catfish, on Lenten Fridays. We search and compare fish fry menus with the same fervor and passion reserved for king cakes only a few days earlier. 

New Orleanians mark the beginning of Lent at the stroke of midnight as Mardi Gras ends. Before the embers of Ash Wednesday are wiped from our foreheads, we’ve already started planning the Easter crawfish boils.

While Lent marks a time of reflection and penance for practicing Catholics, locals of all religions, or no religion at all, partake in the tradition. We cannot wait to search the city’s menus for seafood platters and scan parish bulletins for Friday night fish fries. 

The Catholic drive-thru fish fry

Days on the West End peeling shrimp at Fitzgerald’s over the waves of Lake Pontchartrain are long gone; however, in the spring, we can still head to the neighborhood schoolyard for a plate of fried catfish and potato salad.

Friday night Lenten fish fries at the nearest Catholic school cafeteria remain part of the city’s culture, although the list is shorter this year because of the pandemic. They’re a traditional fundraising platform for the different parishes. 

COVID-19 may prevent us from having a cold beer with the parish priest, but the glorious new oddity of a drive-thru fish fry is still here.

St. Rita’s Elementary School and Mater Dolorosa are holding their drive-thru fish fry at 65 Fontainebleau Drive today and on the next two Fridays. See here for information, 

Holy Name of Jesus Parish and School have also organized two Friday fish fry drive-thrus on March 5 and 19.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans offers a list of church fish fries here

Uptown restaurants offering fish fry plates

In a world that is increasing upside down, Bucktown favorite Deanie’s Seafood, which opened by the lake in 1962, now has a location Uptown in Deanie’s Sea Food Kitchen’s guise. The restaurant is on Magazine Street and Jackson Avenue, where the Irish Channel joins the Garden District. Deanie’s is one of those restaurants where the child’s plate is fried shrimp and French fries. On Friday nights, New Orleans children are coloring the menu and eating shrimp in their booster seats. It has outdoor balcony seating.

Much like Uptown’s old neighborhood restaurant, Franky & Johnny’s, Deanie’s serves a multitude of seafood dishes, including the traditional fried seafood platters of heaped fried shrimp, catfish and oysters with fries and coleslaw. Parran’s Po-boys, Uptown, also serves seafood platters and po-boys, but no hushpuppies (more’s the pity). For those seeking outdoor seating, Franky & Johnny’s has added a porch dining area.

Uptown restaurants offering fish fry plates who are participating in the more gourmand Hospitality Cares fundraiser include: Picnic Provisions & Whiskey, Le Petit Grocery, Red Gravy Café, The Ruby Slipper, Saba, Lula Distillery and Dat Dog.

Guy’s Po-boys ever-present Friday special is still the fried shrimp and catfish plate with two sides for $13. Yes, one of the sides is potato salad. For the strictly sandwich-loving crowd, Domilise’s and Mahony’s serve all manner of seafood po-boys. Domilise’s, Guy’s and Mahony’s now offer sidewalk seating.

Freret, Hollygrove and Mid-City fish fry plates

High Hat Café on the Freret Street corridor serves a daily farmed fried catfish plate with one side – such as hushpuppies or potato salad. They also serve a BBQ shrimp plate. On Fridays, the special is a shrimp Creole. 

Even further away from the river is Dunbar’s Creole Cuisine on Earhart near Hollygrove; it serves up more soulful versions of the traditional seafood platter and seafood po-boys. They also have hushpuppies. I always consider this a plus.

Barrow’s Catfish, frying catfish since 1943, is also on Earhart Boulevard. They are touted as the second oldest Black-owned business in New Orleans and have a shiny new location in a strip mall near Helm Paint. The servings are large, and you only need one plate to feed two people if you add an extra side. Barrow’s charges more, but they give you more. They’ve recently added chargrilled oysters to their menu.

Chef Greg Sonnier’s fried catfish plate comes with housemade tartar sauce, two sides and a cookie. (Gabrielle Sonnier).

Mid-City’s gourmet version of the Friday fish fry can be had at Gabrielle Restaurant via a take-out window or in the dining room; reservations are required due to limited pandemic spacing. Chef Greg Sonnier is serving his version of upscale, down-home fried catfish, house tartar sauce, potato salad, spicy vegetarian (no shrimp) mirliton dressing a chocolate chip cookie for $15. 

Crawfish and Popeyes’s Louisiana Kitchen

Big Fisherman and Boil Seafood House are both currently selling boiled crawfish on Magazine Street. Boil Seafood is dine-in and take-out by the plate with sauces; Big Fisherman is traditional and by the pound. 

This is only a smattering of choices to join in the New Orleans spring pilgrimage to find your Friday night fish fry plate. If all else fails and the above are sold out, you can always head to Popeyes for a new spicy fried fish sandwich. 

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