Every Friday during Lent, the gymnasium at All Saints Catholic Church transforms into the largest restaurant in the city, serving upwards of 1,400 people between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

While standing in the long line to give your order at the weekly Knights of Columbus fish fry, be sure to grab a cold one, too.

Knights of Columbus volunteers cook up the fish fry at All Saints Catholic Church. (Dyana Bagby)

“You can get beer and wine for $2 for the best happy hour in town,” Stephen Nelson said with a laugh as he grabbed cans and bottles from a tub of ice to serve thirsty patrons.

This year the Knights of Columbus are celebrating two decades of serving fish during the Fridays of Lent, the Christian season of prayer and self-denial that precedes Easter. The next fish fry is set for March 31 and the last one of the year is scheduled for April 7.

All Saints’ patrons can get plates with French fries, green beans, potatoes and, of course, the fish – fried fish, fried shrimp, broiled fish, salmon and even clam chowder.

“We serve about one plate every seven seconds,” said BJ Van Gundy. “It’s a lot of fun and we raise a lot of money. It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year and we usually bring in about $25,000 to $26,000.”

All the money raised is donated to various charities the church supports, he said.

In the sweltering kitchen, more than a dozen men are planted in front of various stations in front of fryers or in front of a buffet where they read off and then plate the hundreds of orders.

Volunteer Bruce Barker works the cooking line in the kitchen. (Dyana Bagby)

How do they stay so cool in such heat?

“Water or beer,” Douglas Newlands said as he carefully watched his fish fryer.

The gymnasium seats 400 people at dozens of tables that are set up throughout. At one table, women of the church rapidly wrap plastic ware in napkins to ensure everyone has a fork and knife to eat their hot meal.

E.J. Couvillion is the emcee for the evening as he announces the names of every family’s order and looks for raised, waving hands in the crowd to point the server to deliver dinner.

Katy Cowan of Sandy Springs was attending a recent Friday fish fry with her mom, her mom’s husband, and her two daughters, Madelyn, 11, and Molly, 8.

From left are Lut Panlilio, Lynn Panlilio, Molly Cowan, Katy Cowan and Madelyn Cowan. The family regularly eats at the All Saints fish fry. (Dyana Bagby)

“This is the best fish fry around,” Molly said.

“Their clam chowder is awesome,” added Katy Cowan.

Molly and Madelyn attend St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs and the family always comes to All Saints when their church is not having a fish fry, said Katy Cowan.

“This is a really good fish fry … and the service is really good,” Madelyn said.

Pilar Diller, a longtime member of All Saints, is always the first person in line, getting to the church and in her spot at 4:15 p.m., before the rush.

She also has another reason for her early arrival – to see what members of the women’s guilds are serving for dessert as part of the bake sale and discovering which offerings are homemade and which ones aren’t.

Pilar Miller, left, who is usually the first in line for the fish fry, joins BJ Van Gundy at a table. (Dyana Bagby)

“I like to be here first so I can see which ones are homemade and which ones come from Costco,” she said with a smile as she finished up her fish supper.

She shows off a box of homemade cake and pie and said she is taking the desserts home to eat with a glass of milk.

Supporting the fish fry, though, is important because the money raised is given back to the community, Diller said.

“This is a good thing for the community,” she said. “God is happy and my stomach is happy.”

All Saints Catholic Church Fish Fry
Address: 2443 Mount Vernon Road, Dunwoody.
Dates: March 24, 31 and April 7
Time: 5 to 8 p.m.
Info: allsaints.us/KnightsofColumbusFish-Fry or 770-393-3255.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.