Nothing says Lent like a sharply dressed man.
That proved the case Friday night at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Lee’s Summit, where a team of black-tied maitre d’s seated diners at the first of the church’s Lenten fish fries.
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“Bonjour,” said Joe Liccar, who also wore a press-on mustache and flaunted an exaggerated French accent. “Tonight we are recommending the fish.”
The Knights of Columbus Council 13908 organized the more-formal-than-usual feed.
“There are fish fries all over,” added Chuck Klingsick, the council’s deputy grand knight. “We wanted to bring in a little pizzazz.”
Fish fry season started Friday.
Some enthusiasts believe the meatless meals are making a comeback. At minimum, members of almost 60 Catholic churches on both sides of the state line will be sitting down to them on Lenten Fridays, not including Good Friday, which is March 29.
If the discerning fish fry connoisseur can consider the St. Margaret of Scotland spread an especially uptown example, there are others.
St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood is offering an $11 salmon entree.
Meanwhile, at Guardian Angels parish, just west of Westport, patrons will find last year’s big hit: fish tacos.
At St. Elizabeth in south Kansas City, patrons again will find seasoned French fries.
“It’s a sweet and spicy barbecue rub we use,” said Matt Scanlon, grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 14163, which organizes the feeds at 75th and Main streets.
Scanlon believes the fish fry ritual is growing more popular.
“Several years ago you had to almost search for them on Fridays,” he said.
One possible reason for a renaissance could be growing membership in the Knights of Columbus, said John Roseburrough, Council 14163 treasurer. The Catholic fraternal organization, he said, has placed an emphasis on smaller councils at individual parishes in recent years.
Mike Reichmeier, shrimp boil chairman at St. Joseph’s in Shawnee, which has offered fish fries for more than 20 years, isn’t sure about that theory.
Members of other parishes have visited the Shawnee Knights of Columbus Hall, just east of St. Joseph’s, to soak up Reichmeier’s fish fry wisdom.
One tip: Reichmeier’s crew moves about 300 pounds of shrimp on an average Lenten Friday night. However, if the annual Big 12 men’s basketball tournament schedules either the Kansas Jayhawks or Kansas State Wildcats to an early Friday night tipoff, Reichmeier’s workers will sell only about 250 pounds.
“It will be less than that if both teams play each other,” he said.
Fish fries often serve a fundraising function. Revenue raised at Guardian Angels will fund the renovation of cafeteria restrooms in the adjacent Our Lady of the Angels school.
But money is never the only reason.
“The fish fry is a community builder,” said Margaret Lima, Guardian Angels pastoral administrator, who emphasized that her parish’s event is open to all those who live near the church, Catholic or otherwise.
The Rev. Robert Stewart, St. Margaret of Scotland’s pastor, seconded the sentiment.
“People come from all over the neighborhood,” he said.
Stewart also enjoys his church’s black-tie approach.
“People haven’t seen this before, being greeted by a maitre d’,” he said.
The St. Margaret fish fry, scheduled every Friday through March 22 at 777 N.E. Blackwell Road, also offers a private dining room that can be reserved for $200.
Stewart has no problem reconciling such perks with penitence.
“Lent is a time for serious prayer and reflection,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be 40 days of drudgery.”