By Robin Garr
It’s fish fry season in Louisville again! We’re back in that season of Lent when you don’t have to be Catholic to go gaga over Friday fish fries at dozens of local parishes … and a couple of Episcopal churches, too.
Now, for the record, all year is fish-fry season in this river city. Perhaps owing to a substantial rush of German, Irish, Italian, and Lebanese Catholic immigrants during the 19th century, when the L&N railroad would rush fish and oysters up from the Gulf in ice-filled boxcars, Louisville is crazy for seafood all year ‘round.
But that fishy history doesn’t deter us from piling on another layer of culinary excitement when those Friday Lenten fries return. If you’d like to track down a favorite church fish fry, or discover what’s available near you, here are a few handy sources:
• The Archdiocese of Louisville’s calendar of Lenten Fish Fries lists events at nearly 50 Catholic churches throughout the region, at https://bit.ly/YummyFries2023.
• Louisville Public Media’s 2023 Fish “Frynder” assembles similar information on a clickable map that makes it easy to filter results by date, time of day, and special activities: https://bit.ly/FishFrynder2023
• Two Louisville Episcopal churches also offer worthy fish fries through Lent: St. Luke’s in Anchorage (1206 Maple Lane, stlukesanchorage.org), and St. Mark’s in Crescent Hill (2822 Frankfort Ave., stmlky.org).
Eateries that specialize in the golden-brown specialty
Now, all that’s fine, but I’d just as soon get my fried fish at a restaurant, and I don’t have to wait for Lent. Even with the sad closing of Sal’s Pizza Pub in Lyndon and the loss of Moby Dick in St. Matthews, the city still boasts a score or more of eateries that specialize in the golden-brown specialty.
And that’s not counting many more general-service restaurants where fried cod, scrod, haddock, or other favorites have a place of pride on the menu.
This year, in search of fishy pleasures I hadn’t sampled before, we headed out on Fat Tuesday to check out the Irish-style fried cod at The Raven. This popular spot, which evolved early in the pandemic from its former status as an easterly outpost of Molly Malone’s in the Highlands, has emerged as a prime destination in the busy block of bars and eateries in St. Matthew’s roaring nightlife zone.
The Raven’s Irish pub feel
Dark and cozy, The Raven boasts an Irish pub feel surely attributable to the ownership of native-born Irishman Brendan McCartan and his Louisville-raised wife, Renee. Billed as “an authentic Irish cultural experience.” It also claims status as the city’s premier rugby pub, along with proper obeisance to soccer including hometown team Lou City FC.
I couldn’t help noticing that The Raven’s drinks list offers even more choices than its food menu. It’s an interesting list, too, with nearly 60 bourbons and almost 30 Irish whiskeys, along with a fascinating selection of Irish whiskey-based cocktails, a couple of dozen beer and cider taps, and a short wine list.
The booze-to-food ratio does not signal a lack of deliciousness on the food side, though. The menu offers a mix of Irish-style and American dishes and includes some vegetarian options.
Three soups, three salads, and a half-dozen starters are priced from $8 (for some of the soups) to $15 (for an Irish cobb salad). Eight sandwiches go for $12 (for chicken salad or a curried chicken wrap) to $17 (for a thinly sliced steak sandwich).
A dozen main courses range in price from $12 (for Guinness beef stew) to $28 (for a grilled 12-ounce New York strip steak). Most of the mains are $18 or less, though. Five tempting house-made desserts are all $8.
Leek and potato soup ($8) made an outstanding starter on a chilly afternoon. A deep white bowl held a generous portion of thick, hearty potato soup with a delicious aroma and flavor from leeks and scallions – members of the lily family, after all – and chunks of tender potato.
Scotch eggs are a standard treat that extends from Scotland to Wales and Ireland too. Hearty and filling, they are a natural with a pint of Guinness. We couldn’t resist checking out The Raven’s vegetarian version ($10), which seemed indistinguishable from the pork-based original. A tender hard-boiled egg was wrapped in finely chopped sausage, then coated with panko breading and deep-fried until the exterior is shattering crisp. One egg was served whole and the other sliced in quarters, drizzled with piquant orange sun-dried tomato aioli.
Time for the fish
And then it was time for the fish. You can get a fish-and-chips sandwich on a potato bun for $14, but four bucks more will get you even more fish. What’s more, our friendly server was happy to substitute onion rings for the standard chips (french fries).
This platter brings two medium-size pieces of heavily crumb-breaded, crisply fried cod. The kitchen shows real skill at breading, coating and frying; both the fish and the rings were perfectly done.
The two pieces of fish were randomly different in size, which caused a small problem: Fried together, the larger piece was perfect, flaky and steaming, but the smaller piece came out overcooked, crossing the line from flaky to bordering on mushy. This is a minor complaint. It was still enjoyable. But this is a thing to watch for in the kitchen.
Four or five fried onion rings were huge and fat, coated with a thick but light and airy beer batter. They were excellent, and next time I’d willingly pay $4 for a full order. The plate also came with good, creamy tartar sauce and a tiny cup of crisp, fresh slaw.
A hearty pre-Lenten lunch for two was $38.07, plus a $10 tip.
Noise Level: We went for lunch and had the room almost to ourselves at midday. Silence prevailed. It would be another story, of course, during busy evening hours.
Accessibility: The restaurant appears accessible to wheelchair users.