By Rob Sisson
Rob Sisson is a long-time supporter of the Great Lakes. He served Sturgis, MI, in several capacities, including two terms as Mayor. Most recently, he represented the United States as an appointed member of the International Joint Commission. Follow Rob on Twitter at @Rob_Sisson or on LinkedIn.
If I admit a fondness for Long John Silver’s cod dinner or Culver’s Fried Walleye dinner, will you think less of me?
Growing up and spending most of my adult life in Michigan, fish boils, fish fries, and fish bakes were part and parcel of West Michigan culture. For the past four years, I’ve served as a Commissioner on the International Joint Commission, and the health of our Great Lakes, inland lakes, rivers, and streams has been the focus of my work. I enjoy a good drink of water now and then; but I love to eat fried fish caught in our fresh waters more.
Two fish fry venues make my mouth water and bring back such fond memories that I can get choked up talking about them. On the first Thursday of every November, the Sturgis (MI) Elks Lodge hosts a Feather Party fundraiser and the menu is all the fish you can eat. The chef is my old high school football teammate and local business owner, Jim Brown. The Elks hook you with fresh fish lightly battered in a secret sauce of Jim’s creation and fried just right. Too low of a temperature and the fish tastes greasy. Too high and it gets burned and dried out. For nearly five decades, it’s been a father and son tradition for me to attend the fry with my dad.
During Lent—the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter—Catholics adhere to meatless Fridays. At one time, the practice was so well known, most restaurants and school cafeterias served fish on Fridays for their Catholic diners. In Michigan, you can’t cast a lure without hitting a Knights of Columbus or Parish Fish Fry. Folks sit at communal tables and talk about the church community, their kids, the Tigers’ prospects, and what you plan to plant in your garden this summer. For me, that place is the basement of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Sturgis. While we gather around platters of fried fish, it is the rekindling of community, that basic building block of our society that makes it a great meal. The Knights sling fish as fast as you can eat it, but it’s John Feyes’ homemade macaroni and cheese that complements the fish perfectly.
To be a Michigander is to be a fish fry aficionado.