Ultimate Fish Fry Bracket Sweet Sixteen: Churches dominate, two fire halls face off in the East

Which fire hall fish is king? Hand-dipped and beer-battered — or hand-breaded.

bracket sweet 16
jayna wallace / the incline
MJ Slaby

Update, April 5: Introducing the Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry champions

Update, March 29: Vote for the winner of the Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry bracket

Update, March 22: Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry bracket Final Four: Fish = funds

Update, March 15: Elite Eight: St. Patrick’s Day corned beef is no competition for fish

Update, 10 a.m. March 13: Voting has ended for this round.

Swissvale has beer-battered fish. North Braddock breads its fish by hand. But which fire hall do Pittsburghers like better? We’re about to find out.

Otherwise, you’ve made it clear: If you want a Pittsburgh fish fry, go to church.

Following the first round of the Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry bracket, 14 churches advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, while Swissvale and North Braddock volunteer fire departments in the East rounded out the winners.

Good fun and bragging rights

“It would be fun to see the two fire departments against each other,” said Dave Nickel, president of the Swissvale Volunteer Fire Department, adding that it’s all in good fun — and for bragging rights.

Well, Dave. You got your wish.

Only two fire departments advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and this week, Swissvale and North Braddock face each other.

Both Nickel and Paul Catania, president of the North Braddock Volunteer Fire Department, said the fish fry meals are their departments’ main fundraiser for the year. The money goes to everything from utilities to repairs on the trucks. Plus it prevents volunteers from having to fundraise more often, Nickel said.

“It allows our firefighters to be firefighters,” he said.

Both Nickel and Catania agreed that there’s something unique about fish fry Fridays in this area.

“Oh, yeah. It’s a big Pittsburgh thing,” Catania said. North Braddock’s fish fry is so popular that local teachers and workers at the Allegheny County 911 Dispatch Center both call in orders for delivery, he said. The customers coming to the fire department are regulars, too.

“They can’t wait. They were lined up,” Catania said.

Pittsburghers are so specific about their favorite fish fry options that some have perfected it to ordering the fish from one place, and sides like haluski from another, Nickel said. When Swissvale moved into its current location about five years ago, the popularity “exploded” because the department was more visible and more accessible for regulars, Nickel said.

The reason for the followings? The fish, of course, the VFD leaders said.

At Swissvale, Nickel said people come for the the hand-dipped, beer-battered fish, but they also like the haluski and the pierogies. (Swissvale also has a beer-battered grilled cheese, if you’re brave.)

At North Braddock, Catania said, people come for the hand-breaded cod. The trick, he said, is to order one sandwich and two buns (to share) because the fish is so large.

Tell us: Who should make the Elite Eight?

Most races were tight in the first round. Only one fish fry — the North’s St. Teresa of Avila — earned more than 70 percent of the vote. The closest race went down in the Southwest, where Our Lady of Grace School edged out Skyview VFD Station 296 by just about 40 votes (aka your vote matters!).

Meanwhile, not only did the East have the most votes in its races, it had the most voted on race: Keith Heinritz Katering vs. St. Irenaeus Church. The latter won with 54.5 percent of the votes.

Cast your vote in each race, and tell your friends to vote, too. You have until 10 a.m. Monday, March 13 to weigh in on this round, narrowing the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight.