By Stefanie Frazier | For The Beacon-News
Nov 4, 2011 10:51AM
MAPLE PARK — John Glenn is a U.S. Navy and World War II veteran. And when it’s the third Friday of the month, he takes Eileen, his wife of 61 years, to the American Legion Post 312 in Maple Park.
The Batavians dine regularly at the legion’s all-you-can-manage-to-eat-buffet chicken and fish fry.
“It’s good food at a reasonable price,” Glenn said of the $8 cost for senior citizens. “You don’t have to tip the waiter, either.”
“I don’t have to cook,” Eileen said with a laugh.
However, the traditional dinners that have brought senior citizens and others to the Legion Post at 201 Main St. could end if the legion does not generate more customers.
According to Bob Neisendorf, commander of American Legion Post 312, more income needs to be generated. That’s because money raised at the dinners goes back into the community for things like Maple Park Fun Fest, Maple Park youth baseball and the Lions Club.
“I think it’s the economy that’s affecting a lot, especially the adults,” Neisendorf said. “You have so much discretionary income and I guess they’re not using it to spend at a fish fry or dinner out — although it’s a heck of a deal.”
He pointed out that 80 percent of the customers are senior citizens.
“Seniors grew up with — especially the Catholics — there was no meat on Friday,” Neisendorf said. “Fish fries were very prevalent and a lot more common. And I think there’s more of a habit or a dwindling of fish fries that the next generation or two generations down, they just don’t show up as much.”
Batavia VFW Post 1197 only hosts fish frys during Lent. What started as a Friday tradition at the post dwindled to a wintertime-only fry about seven years ago, and now the post only fries up fish in the weeks leading up to Easter.
“It’s been like that for quite a few years,” VFW manager Marcia Maytum said.
The bottom line was crowds just weren’t consistent to warrant the weekly fry.
“There wasn’t enough interest. One week we’d have 100-and-some people and the next week 30 people,” she said. “It just got really tough.”
Although the fish frys were run by volunteers, Maytum said it was still hard to turn a profit.
During the Lenten season, Maytum said the Batavia Post hosts 250 to 300 patrons.
“If it was like that every week, we’d do it every week,” she said.
Norris “Doc” Erickson, commander of Aurora American Legion Post 84, said the post hasn’t hosted a fish fry in 20 or more years.
But some VFW and American Legion fish frys are still doing business every Friday.
At Yorkville American Legion Post 489, interest in its weekly fish fry actually is picking up again. The Yorkville Post hosts a fry from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Friday.
“But sometimes the summer is kind of slow,” said Cathy Regan at the post.
Oswego American Legion Post 675 also has resumed its weekly fish fry — a fried perch basket costs $7.45 from 5 to 8 p.m. every Friday.
According to the Sugar Grove Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion Post 1271 hosts a fish fry every other Friday, including this Friday and Nov. 18 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Meals and friends
At last month’s Third Friday meal at the Maple Park Legion, the aroma of fried fish and chicken filled the air.
Down in the basement, Campton Hills resident Tom Dowd, legion finance officer and volunteer chef, wore a blue apron. He stirred up chicken from a bubbling fryer filled with soy oil.
He revealed the secret to his fried chicken from Wisconsin.
“It’s honey-dipped, it’s breaded and it’s precooked,” Dowd said. “So, we put it in the deep fryer and bring it up to temperature and then we serve it.”
Charlie Thalman Jr., a Maple Park resident, fried up the shrimp.
His secret is simple: “Don’t overcook it.”
Both chefs whipped up crunchy fish and chicken. The menu included fried chicken strips, baked tilapia, fried perch, cod and smelt, German potato salad and cinnamon apple sauce.
Lois and Richard Wood of Plato Center sat around a square table with friends Clifford Russell and Marge Buchholz.
They all had plates piled with fried chicken and shrimp, baked beans and coleslaw.
“The food is very, very good,” Lois Wood said between bites.
Staff writer Stephanie Lulay contributed to this report.
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