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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Review: Lenten fish fry tradition continues in Stonington

    Fish, fries and chowder at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society’s Lenten Fish Fry in Stonington Borough (Ann Baldelli)
    Scallop and shrimp dinner (Ann Baldelli)
    Scallops and fish (Ann Baldelli)
    The Portuguese Holy Ghost Society in Stonington Borough (Ann Baldelli)
    The Portuguese Holy Ghost Society in Stonington Borough (Ann Baldelli)
    Fish for the fryer (Ann Baldelli)
    Cod prep (Ann Baldelli)
    Volunteers cook food for the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society’s Lenten Fish Fry. (Ann Baldelli)
    The Portuguese Holy Ghost Society bar (Ann Baldelli)

    Friday fish and chips at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society is a tradition in Stonington Borough that dates back more than three decades.

    Since 1992, volunteer members of the social club that has been housed at 26 Main St. for 95 years have been hosting fish fries on Fridays in the run-up to Lent as a way of raising funds for property upkeep and contributions to scholarships and charities.

    Prices have increased for the fish dinners and chowder, but not much else has changed since the tradition began more than 30 years ago. It is said the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society was founded in the borough about 1912 by immigrants from the Azores who arrived in Stonington and made their living as fishermen. In 1929, the members bought an old home on Main Street as their headquarters and have occupied it ever since.

    Now, the Lenten fish fries run from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on eight consecutive Fridays leading up to Good Friday, ending this year on March 29. There is a similar series in the fall that ends the Friday before Thanksgiving.

    The menu is simple, the prices affordable, the portions substantial, and the workforce, all volunteer.

    The fare is as local as it can be. A Stonington fish wholesaler delivers the fresh cod, the scallops are landed locally, the quahogs for the chowder are shucked by members, and the cabbage for the coleslaw is chopped and dressed by volunteers from the ladies’ auxiliary.

    Fish and chips costs $15, unless you are a senior citizen, and then you can get it for $13.

    The scallop dinner is $24; shrimp dinner, $20; a scallop and fish combo, $21, and a shrimp and fish combination, $18. For $22, you can get a plate piled with fried shrimp, fried scallops, and French fries. Every plate is served with a side of coleslaw, another of tartar sauce, sliced bread, and butter. The clam chowder is $6 and laden with potatoes, clams, and briny broth.

    A big part of the club’s business is take-out, and there are parking spots out front reserved for those stopping by to pick up orders. Much of the clientele on Friday afternoons is seniors, who come early to beat the crowds and avoid nighttime driving.

    But most Friday evenings, the place is jammed. There are volunteers at the door taking orders and collecting money, and other volunteers lead diners to tables and deliver their order slips to the kitchen.

    The tables are numbered so servers know which dinners go to which tables. It is community-style seating and everyone is chatty. Tablemates easily make introductions among themselves and boast about how many years they have been attending the club’s fish fry and which entrée is their favorite.

    The fish and chips are a big winner. Perfectly coated and deep-fried cod pieces are served on a stack of French fries. The sweet fish flakes when you cut it with a fork and it’s worth every calorie when you dredge it through the tartar sauce.

    The scallops are also popular. So is the chowder. After decades of perfecting their recipes and their system, the members of the Portuguese club know how to get customers coming back time and time again.

    In the kitchen, a crew of men man the deep fryers, while others plate orders or run the dishwasher. It is a bustle of activity as they fill one order after another before topping them with the bread and butter to hand off to volunteers who deliver them to diners at the tables.

    “This helps to keep a roof over our heads,” said club member Howard Taylor. “We have been doing it since the early 1990s and it’s good to be part of the community. It helps us with our building, and we contribute to worthy causes and charities. We help people who are in need, and we give scholarships.”

    “We try to put out the very freshest product that we can,” said member Jim Krodell. “We make the chowder the night before and we make the coleslaw. It is all grass roots; it is all home spun.

    “We do the fish and chips so we can keep our doors open,” he added.

    In 1995, a Lenten fish dinner at the club – two fried filets of cod, a mound of French fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce – was $5.50. For an extra 75 cents, they would add a pile of batter-dipped and fried whole belly clams. In those days, it was $2 for the clam chowder.

    That is all that has changed. The prices have gone up. But otherwise, the fish fry at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society is as good as it’s always been. It’s a Stonington tradition but the faithful come from near and far. It’s not unusual to see a line out the door.

    Locals know the streets are jammed on winter Fridays in the borough when they are frying seafood at the Portuguese Holy Ghost club. That’s OK, because many of them are there.

    Portuguese Holy Ghost Society Lenten Fish Fry

    26 Main St., Stonington

    (860) 535-3855

    holyghostclub.com

    Atmosphere: This is a clubhouse and members have occupied the space in a residential neighborhood on Main Street in the affluent Stonington Borough for almost a century, and the building’s age is apparent. There is a full bar at street level, and upstairs, a large room for dining and socializing, a kitchen, and another small bar. There is also a chapel.

    Cuisine: Fried seafood, French fries, and clam chowder

    Alcohol: Yes

    Hours: The Friday-only fish fry continues through March 29 from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Call-in orders are accepted up to 6 p.m.

    Prices: Reasonable

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessibility: Yes, at street level. There are steps to get upstairs.

    What else: The club welcomes new members. Check the website or see the bartender for membership details.

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