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Karen Wielinski: Buffalo fish fry just can’t be beat

I am proud to say that I am a Buffalonian. Where else can you click on the local news website and find a “Pothole Map” and a “Fish Fry Map”? Both are part of Buffalo life. You can dodge those potholes and eliminate wasting any time getting to those fish fries.

I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s on the East Side of Buffalo. On the rare occasion when our family went out for dinner, we would usually head to a local establishment on Broadway run by the Gillousters. The family entrance would be reached by heading down a narrow alley. Our meal would be washed down with birch beer. Their coleslaw was the best – German-style made with vinegar and a bit of sugar.

My sister and I rented an apartment in the late ’70s in Hamburg, and discovered a treasure trove of establishments that offered this traditional dish. My favorite was the Cloverbank Hotel. It was almost a given that you would have to wait at the bar for at least a half hour before you could secure a table. The wait was worth it when, catch secured, your dinner was set before you.

My craving for fish fries continued after I was married. One Good Friday, after working on our house in Eden, we visited the Armor Inn in Hamburg. Observing the Catholic rule of fast and abstinence on that day, a fish fry would tease our minds all day, as we ignored the growl of our empty stomachs until dinner.

Sipping a beer, I wondered if the church allowed drinking alcohol on Good Friday; but the words fish fry are usually accompanied by the word beer. Besides, the Buffalo breweries provided a livelihood for many of my ancestors.

We said goodbye to the fish fry when we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnatians commit an act of blasphemy when uttering “fish fry.” Catfish does not belong on a fish fry plate. We were never able to find a true haddock fish fry.

We experienced fish fry withdrawal that could only be relieved by visiting Buffalo. My dad was a lifelong member of the VFW Leonard Post Jr. Post, and he would always treat us to a dinner. He understood the deprivation we endured. We were thankful for the much-needed antidote.

When our family moved to Clarence Center, we were happy to learn that the Volunteer Fire Department always had its fundraiser fish fry on Good Friday. Tickets were sold in advance and went quickly. If you waited until the actual day of the event, you could be turned away at the door. Fish fry rejection is very sad.

Here are my pet peeves regarding the fish fry:

• The worst way to ruin a fish fry is to chomp on bones. You tentatively poke through fish to avoid another encounter.

• I do not appreciate dissecting my meal looking for the macaroni salad and coleslaw; nor do I enjoy trying to retrieve food items about to fall off my plate onto a paper place mat or a questionable oil cloth. Please provide bigger plates and give each food item space to breathe.

• I do not want to consume a piece of fish the size of an oval plate; offer a half-fish alternative. Leftover fish never tastes good, plus my cats do not get table food.

You will have to excuse me now. I need to check out that “Fish Fry Map.” Suddenly I am very hungry.