Kim Dobbins serves Kevin Kirschner, Menominee, (right) and his son Greg Kirschner, Green Bay, smelt and walleye Friday at the Marine House Tavern in Marinette. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Kim Dobbins serves Kevin Kirschner, Menominee, (right) and his son Greg Kirschner, Green Bay, smelt and walleye Friday at the Marine House Tavern in Marinette. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MENOMINEE - Friday night fish fry's are as much a part of the culture in northeast Wisconsin and Upper Michigan as deer hunting and church bazaars. The Lenten season only serves to intensify the demand for the seafood staple.

Just about every restaurant around has some sort of fish item on the menu, including fast-food establishments. Sit-down venues often pride themselves on secret family recipes or having the freshest product available.

But why fish on Friday during Lent? The Rev. Mark McQuesten, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Menominee, sheds a little light on the long-time practice.

"Christ died on Friday and he died as the 'Lamb of God'. A way of entering into the sacrifice was to not eat meat," he said.

So, is it a sin for Catholics to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on Fridays during Lent? It depends, said McQuesten.

"If you say, 'I'm going to blow it off,' what you're really doing is taking an attitude of disobedience to church discipline," he said. "If it's like, 'oh, I just forgot,' well then there's no sin at all."

Marine House Tavern

The real sin may be to not try all the different venues in town serving Lenten fish and seafood specials. One of the cornerstones of the Friday night fish fry is the Marine House Tavern. It's been a part of the Menekaunee landscape for the past 145 years.

Owner Sandra Saunier has been reeling in satisfied customers for 39 of those years. Her secret? It's all homemade.

"I bake the beans, we do the cole slaw, I make the tartars, I make the shrimp sauce, sweet/sour dressing, my creamy dressing is all made right here," she said. "I always make dessert, it's an in-house treat. I usually have cake or brownies; last week we had bread pudding."

As for different types of fish on the menu, you'll find perch, walleye, blue gill, smelt (in season), whitefish, shrimp, cod and scallops. The most popular fish dinner is perch.

Saunier breaded 30 pounds of fish Thursday and another 30 pounds Friday. Dinners cost $10 for a regular and $13 for a double and both come with a choice of potato, regular or German potato salad, creamy or sweet & sour cole slaw and wheat bread.

A normal Friday night rush starts around 4 or 4:30 p.m. Once the dining area clears another rush follows. In-between, the staff is making factory deliveries.

What impact does Lent have on sales?

"More people, more fish," Saunier said matter-of-factly. "We try not to take reservations because it's hard to hold a big table for people and then have them not show up or be late, because we need the tables."

The Marine House is open daily from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Schooner Pub & Grill

Across the river in Menominee, Amber Silkworth, the manager at the Schooner Pub & Grill, knows the competition for the restaurant dollar is tough. She's confident, however, about the quality and selection on her menu, including hand-breaded smelt for $7.95.

"The smelt we try to get it local if we can, from Ruleau; obviously there's nothing running now but when it is, we try to get it locally," she said. "If we can get fresh smelt after Lent, we might still continue it Wednesdays and Fridays."

One of the big problems with smelt is the availability. At one time, the river and just about every creek in the county was filled with delectable dorsal delight. Now, the smelt are pretty tough to get.

"When we have fresh smelt, we put it up on the board and try to advertise (it)," said Silkworth. "Right now, it's frozen. Last year during Lent, we had all we could do to get fresh smelt."

The Schooner also serves up a fresh lake perch dinner for $8.95, all-you-can- eat Alaskan walleye for $8.95 along with assorted fish combos, grilled applewood salmon and a shrimp po boy basket. Fish dinners include homemade cole slaw, baked beans, choice of potato and rye bread.

The Schooner serves fish specials Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. The kitchen is open daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.