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The Fries That Bind

The cooks at St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Cathedral consider it an average night when 500 people show up for Friday dinner (the record is 920). Their Lenten fish fry — one of the oldest in the area — is as much family tradition as it is annual fundraiser. It’s just one of the dozen we visited last year for this guide to where you should dig in this month.
Andy Netzel

Each snowflake feels like a pinprick. Over the past three days, the best the city has been able to do is turn a massive amount of snow into slush. Cars slip and slide.

And, because this is Cleveland, that’s not the worst of it. Dick Goddard is telling us to prepare for more.

A half-dozen folks are under the fluorescent lights at St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Cathedral on Warren Road. Some plop tartar sauce into containers. Others drag knives across blue pike, the signature fish that’s made this church a destination on Fridays during Lent.

“You hear about the snowstorm this weekend?” asks Judy Khoury.

“And freezing rain,” adds David Salanty.

“If it hits, we could be in trouble,” Judy says.

Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. A quick sigh.

“We’ll be all right,” Jean Dobrea says, dismissively, like a mother calming her children. She’s been through decades of this. St. Mary is among the largest and oldest fish fries in Northeast Ohio. She claims her church was one of the first to open its fry to the public, making it one of the biggest fundraisers of the year.

On a typical night, they serve 500 to 600 dinners. They’ve sold as many as 920.

This is the Thursday before the second weekend in Lent. Last week, they didn’t advertise, told no one it was starting. Five hundred people showed up, says George Dobrea, basking in the tradition that puts pride in his voice and fish scales on his cheek, shirt, hands and peppered on his jeans. As suppertime approaches, they call it a night. You can only do so much the day before.

Check back March 1 for the complete story and our interactive guide to Northeast Ohio fish fries.


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