MIKE BRAUN Fish fry becomes favorite tradition
For many sportsmen in the Mahoning Valley, death and taxes are not the only sure things in life. There's also the Lowellville Rod & amp; Gun Club fish fry.
Among the most awaited events in the Valley for sportsmen, the fish fries have been an area staple since the late 1930s.
"They started as a fund-raiser and turned out to be the club's main fund-raiser," said John Chuey, who is now retired but served as treasurer for the club for 48 years and has been a member since 1950.
The first fry
Chuey said the first fries were held at Kings on 422 in Coitsville before moving back to the club at a later date, interrupted for a few years by a devastating fire that destroyed the club's headquarters.
While they are mainly used as a fund-raising tool, the club's fish fries also serve as gossip stop, font of knowledge, political candidate meet and greet, guys' night out (sometimes), reaquaintance chance and any number of other services.
With an assembly line that can rival the Lordstown GM Assembly Plant at times, members of the Lowellville club go through boxes of fish, bags of potatoes and gallons of cocktail sauce during the afternoon and evening feed.
One team selects, cuts, flours, egg washes and breads the lake perch fillets while another prepares the potatoes, a third team fries it all up and a fourth team packages the entire meal -- all while the line of customers snakes through the clubhouse amid the appetite-inducing aromas.
The fish fries are an actual institution among sportsmen and others in the valley.
These days the club uses ocean perch but that hasn't always been the case, Chuey said.
"The club first used blue pike from Lake Erie," he said. "When the pike were gone, the club went to Lake Erie perch."
However, when the cost of the popular Erie perch got to be prohibitive, Chuey said ocean perch was substituted and is the fish of choice to this day.
The tangy sauce that the club packs with each dinner is also a local production.
Chuey said that club member Marty Dupay came up with the ingredients 30 years ago. "We still make it here," he said.
John Spagnola, who rules the kitchen during the fries, said the sauce is made from chili sauce, sour cream and horseradish. "We mix it up in 5-gallon jugs and marinate it overnight," he explained.
Waiting until February
Years ago sportsmen had to wait for February to roll around to get their fish fry fix.
At first, it was just February," Chuey said. "That was the big one."
However, the fund-raising results were too good to leave to just once a year and the club began having fries in February, May and October.
The fry that was held last night is a special carryout fry that the club offers during the Lenten season.
The fish fries also started out as "Stag" events, with just area male sportsmen invited to attend. A few years ago club members realized that their counterparts were just as fish-fry needy as they were and the events became "co-educational."
The unisex fries are evident by the almost equal number of men and women who were standing in line.
Missy Amendola of Lowellville said she comes to the fries not because she's a angler but rather "because it's delicious. We see the sign and then we mark the calendar."
The club, located on the S-bend of Quarry Road just off U.S. Route 224 outside of Poland, is usually jampacked with diners during the fries. More often than not the line of those waiting to purchase fish and fries weaves through the clubhouse, down the building's hall and out the door.
Although the carryout event was last night, on Feb. 25 there will be a smaller carryout event available from 3 to 5:30 p.m., and then the more popular dining-in fry at 6:30 and lasting until 9 p.m. or so.