BY PAT ANDREWS
It is that time of the year and the faithful anticipating 40 days of Lent are already penciling in specific dates on a calendar. Yes, the Sacred Heart Knights of Columbus Lenten fish dinners are about to begin and the teams of volunteers recruited by Council No. 13475 are fine tuning this seasonal pop-up restaurant that not only wins praise from the public, but statewide awards as well.
It is anticipated, according to Gregg Zuccker, a past grand knight of the council, that when the doors open at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 in the church gymnasium, some 500 diners will be dropping by.
“Fish fry events are a popular of way of raising extra monies for parishes,” explained Zuccker. “But over the years we have been able to create something unique.”
That accomplishment includes a different décor for all seven Fridays, theme nights, live music, a variety of beers, wine and other alcohol products: and walls adorned with original pieces offered for sale by area artists. The musicians are paid a small stipend, waiving normal fees, and have become a popular part of the event ambience.
George Honer is a longtime islander and council member with a penchant for the culinary world. A retired schoolteacher, former City of Woodhaven councilman and mayor, and a small business owner, he has followed his passion by taking courses, working in such prestigious places as the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn and earning a Serve Safe certification allowing him to operate a full kitchen. And operate he does. The menus his crew will be creating and serving include fried or broiled cod, fried lake perch and shrimp and a new favorite, broiled grouper. Those entrees are served with either a baked potato or French fries.
Honer’s large binder of recipes contains homemade condiments, special dill sauces, a slaw with ingredients known only to him, mini crab cakes, made from scratch fresh salads, pierogi, and even macaroni and cheese. The younger diners will take delight in his fresh-baked cheese pizza.
Five to six soups — all homemade — will be offered each evening. The favorite by far is lobster bisque. One of the mainstays of the organizing group, Terry Eifert, has a summer home in Maine. He is allowed to trap lobster and when he does, it is frozen and then sent to Michigan to be an integral part of the soup. Other soups may include New England Claw Chowder, Tomato Basil, Mushroom, French Onion and Potato Leek.
All the foods are served on heated china plates with real silverware. Honer stressed that they totally recycle everything possible. The temperature of the food is also monitored. That takes a team of order takers who keep running data to the kitchen.
“Nothing sits. It is all fresh,” said Honer.
And, if that list of items is not quite enough to satisfy the hungriest of eaters, there is a complete dessert section and by all accounts the top request is for the Sanders-like cream puff hot fudge.
As a group, the council makes every effort to buy locally. Rolls come from an island bakery, fruit and vegetables from the Kroger store, and beverages from area distributors.
“We know we make an impact on other restaurants in the area during this period, but I think everyone knows what our charity does and can do to make a difference,” Zuccker said.
It takes a good 100 or more volunteers to make this meal run smoothly and they range in age from youngsters enrolled in the primary level classes at Sacred Heart to high schoolers who are fulfilling religious education requirements. Others are from the parish and of every age. Many of them begin a few days early to assist Honer in the prepping and the actual kickoff is a Mass offered at noon by the pastor, Father Mike Molnar.
Father Molnar, who came to the island in 2008, believes the fish fry events are wonderful gatherings bringing together the island community and those from across the river. The monies received by the parish enables many projects and programs to continue.
Zuccker, who has kept a count for a number of years, said it is no surprise that many of the “regulars” are known to drive in from Ohio and the Ann Arbor and Bloomfield areas.
Over the years, the proceeds from the dinners have made an impact not only on Sacred Heart, but the outer community. Zuccker said last month 27 new tables were purchased for the Parish Hall. Past purchases have included the furnishing and refurbishing of the kitchen. Proceeds also go to the food pantry operated by the church, and to other churches and agencies like St. Leo’s in Detroit and the Downriver ChristNet. The Knights, he said, are committed to providing assistance to the mentally impaired. This council is also assisting with the formation of a new group in Dearborn and recruiting members from the Hispanic community. Additional funds go to Special Olympics, scholarships and scouting programs, to name a few.
Though the intent of this fundraising is not to win awards, Zuccker and the council were delighted last May to win a first-place award at a state convention. Some 400 councils were in contention.
Sacred Heart Parish Hall is located at 21599 Parke Lane (south of Church Road). Dinners are served from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Friday from Feb. 16 through March 30. Takeout orders are welcome and a special team is available to handle orders. Menu items are sold individually and tax is included. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted.