Eat: A good old-fashioned fish fry!

Ah, fish fry season. Whether you are deeply religious or simply enjoy a nice beer batter, the tradition of the Friday Lenten fish fry is cherished throughout Pittsburgh. This is the time of year when churches, fire halls and neighborhood bars fill up the deep fryers and bring together folks from all walks of life to bond over a shared appreciation for crispy cod.

Though Lent started a couple weeks ago, there are still plenty of Fridays before Easter rolls around. Here are few tips for making the most of your fish fry experience:

Use the totally awesome Pittsburgh Lenten Fish Fry Map: What started as a little labor of love for Hollen Barmer has evolved into an amazing public resource for finding the best fried fish in Pittsburgh. Each year, with the help of submissions from folks throughout the community, Barmer creates a detailed Google Map of fish fries around the city. The map not only tells you the location of your local fish fry, it outlines an impressive amount of information about each event, including the type of venue, the times of the fry and often the full menu. Barmer reports that this year’s map is the most comprehensive one yet, with more than 250 spots represented.

Arrive early: I once arrived at the tail end of a fish fry only to find there was no fish. Though the shrimp I had instead was darn tasty, arrive early if you want the full selection.

Bring cash: Though mobile payment devices have made it a whole lot easier to accept credit cards anywhere, cash is still king. Don’t lose your place in line because you have to go search for an ATM.

Leave a tip: Fish fries are a major fundraiser for many churches, and tons of volunteers work hard to make sure they run smoothly. Tip accordingly. Besides, when 1o bucks or less gets you a heaping helping of hot food, you can afford to throw in a little extra.

Make friends: The communal nature of a fish fry sets it apart from a typical restaurant experience. All sorts of people come out for them, and they can be a great way to meet folks outside your usual circles. Share some halusky and strike up a conversation! 

Drink: Wild beer at Draai Laag

Draai Laag Brewing has quietly been cranking out some of Pittsburgh’s most interesting beer for more than five years. Though the Millvale-based brewery has been flying under the radar for a while (dry what?), 2015 was a year of unprecedented growth. Draai Laag built an outdoor beer garden, increased their distribution beyond Pittsburgh, gave their logos and labels a much-needed facelift, and expanded production to a new facility in Allison Park—all in the past year. And now, after closing for renovations for the month of January, Draai Laag boasts one of Pittsburgh’s coziest taprooms.

Though cement surrounds Draai Laag’s Millvale space, which sits just steps from a noisy highway, the completely redesigned interior evokes a barn in the Belgian countryside. Warm, rough-hewn woods dominate the decor, and touches like slate coasters and vintage rake heads (which double as glass racks) complete the rustic vibe. The renovations brought practical updates as well as aesthetic ones, including a brand new tap system with eight lines.

The beer that flows from those taps is as funky as ever. Draai Laag continues to brew Belgian-style beers that use wild yeast strains, and the complex flavors they create will surprise even seasoned beer drinkers. Draai Laag unveiled several new beers along with the taproom, including the Petite Ferme, or “Little Farm.” It certainly evokes a farm—the new beer was brewed with wheat straw (hay) and fermented with honeysuckle. Tasting notes include “barnyard” and “horse blanket” (admittedly a bit questionable), but the finished product is a grassy, floral and altogether unique rendition of a “wheat beer.”

Find Draai Laag’s hours and more information over at their website.

Do: The Pittsburgh Fermentation Festival

Whether you mean to or not, you probably ingest something fermented nearly every day. From yogurt to beer to bread, many of our most beloved foods and beverages are produced using fermentation, the process by which sugars break down into gases, acids or alcohol. Fermentation creates results that are both tasty and healthy, with many fermented foods chock full of gut-friendly probiotics. And fermentation has long been used for preservation, from German sauerkraut to traditional Korean kimchi.

Clearly, fermentation is worth celebrating. And this Sunday, you can head to the Pittsburgh Public Market to do just that. From 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on February 28th, Ferment Pittsburgh and Family Farm Creameries are teaming up to present the first Pittsburgh Fermentation Festival. The free event brings together “the fermentation community of local businesses, individual hobbyists, educational workshops, and art performances under one roof for a fun-filled day.”

A variety of fermented goodies will be available for sampling and purchasing, including sauerkraut from Prescription Foods, cider from A Few Bad Apples and kefir ice cream from Family Farm Creameries. All day activities include cheese-making demonstrations, food-centered plays and performance art, and a contest for home fermenters. And for a $10 donation, festival-goers can attend any or all of five fermentation workshops throughout the day, which will be led by local experts like Trevett Hooper of Legume.

Sunday is also the final day the Pittsburgh Public Market will be open for business. In addition to the usual vendors, seven local food trucks will be parked outside to give the Public Market a proper sendoff. Many of the PPM vendors have already found new spaces—read more about their plans here.

To learn more about the Pittsburgh Fermentation Festival, head to their website or check out the Facebook event page.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.