Ultimate Fish Fry Bracket Elite Eight: St. Patrick’s Day corned beef is no competition for fish

Tell us who should make the Final Four by 10 a.m. Monday, March 20.

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, 10 a.m. March 20: Voting in this round has closed.

For the seven churches and lone fire hall that advanced to the Elite Eight in our Ultimate Pittsburgh Fish Fry Bracket, there’s the possibility this round could be complicated by shamrocks and green beer.

But loyal fish fry followers won’t let that happen, organizers said.

Pittsburgh may have celebrated this weekend, but St. Patrick’s Day is Friday, and Bishop David A. Zubik said in a letter to members of the diocese that they don’t have to follow the usual Lenten rule of not eating meat this week.

“After much consideration I have chosen to dispense Catholics in the Diocese of Pittsburgh from the obligation to abstain from meat on Friday, March 17. However I do appeal to those who choose to eat meat that day to do another act of self-sacrifice in the spirit of the Season of Lent with the mind and heart of Saint Patrick.”

But that isn’t going to dampen fish fry plans.

‘A loyal following’

Cindy Depretis, who organizes the fish fry at Holy Angels Parish in Hays with her family, said she isn’t worried.

“I know that the bishop said people can eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day, but we have a loyal following,” she said of what she called a “simple fish fry” with popular hand-breaded pollock.

Jennifer Beck, the volunteer coordinator for the fish fry at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, agreed. The Bellevue church is known for its fish sandwich, but also for its table service, making it easier for large multi-generational families to attend, she said.

“If there are folks who are strong Irish men or Irish women, they might have to have their corned beef and hash,” Beck said, adding that for most Catholics, it’s still Friday during Lent — and that means fish.

Peggy Sembrat, an organizer for the fish fry at Saints Simon and Jude Parish in Scott Township, said the bishop’s exception probably won’t keep people away this Friday, but the holiday might. And that will make it difficult to judge how much food to make this week. (The church is known for its homemade food: mac’n’cheese, pierogis, haluski and potato soup.)

Mona Musser, organizer of the fish fry at St. Joan of Arc in South Park, agreed that the crowd will still be there.

“I don’t think it’ll hurt too much,” she said. St. Joan of Arc is known for its variety — from salmon to crab cakes, including weekly specials, Musser said. Most of the recipes are Musser’s, and the special this week will be potato soup. Maybe there will even be bacon bits, she said.

It’s not only the food that brings people to the fish fry meals, the organizers said, adding that its a fundraiser and a time for all ages to be together and help out with everything from meal prep to cooking and setting up and cleaning tables.

“The nice thing is everyone is having a good time,” Sembrat said.

Father Nick Vaskov, executive director of communications for the diocese, also said the fish fry meals are about food and fundraising, but are even more about socializing. And even though Catholics can eat meat this Friday, that doesn’t mean they have to, he said.

“These are such community events (and) are supported by Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” Vaskov said.

Tell us: Who should make the Final Four?

The races this round were tight. Half of the match-ups were decided by fewer than 100 votes though thousands of people voted — and two of those matches, by fewer than 35 votes.

The tightest races were Sacred Heart Elementary School vs.St. Raphael Parish and St. Joan of Arc Church vs. St. Bernard’s Gourmet Fish Fry. Sacred Heart won by 34 votes, and St. Joan of Arc, by 32.

In the most clear-cut race, St. Alphonsus topped St. Mary of the Assumption Parish with nearly 76 percent of votes, the highest in any face-off.

Races in the East once again had the most votes. The most popular contest was between the Swissvale and North Braddock volunteer fire departments. The fire departments’ friendly rivalry was also featured on WTAE. But in the end, only one fire department could prevail and Swissvale was victorious, taking 56 percent of the vote.

Time to decide the best fish fry in the North, East, Southwest and City. Cast your vote, and tell your friends to vote, too. You have until 10 a.m. Monday, March 20 to weigh in and narrow the Elite Eight to the Final Four. Results will be announced March 22. (You can also vote here.)