By April Lisante
There’s something fishy going on at the corner of Traymore and Willow Grove avenues over in Wyndmoor.
Locals are scrambling to put their orders in for their Lenten fish, lining up to grab it while its fresh, and Captain Andy Peszka is keeping up with the demand.
Last Friday marked the first Friday of fast and abstinence from meat for Lent, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Peszka, owner of Captain Andy’s Market, was handling the frenzy.
“Ash Wednesday was crazy busy and we are expecting every Friday to be the same,” Peszka said, pointing out a heap of orders hanging off the counter behind the fish case.
I met Peszka in December 2018 when he was opening the much-anticipated gourmet seafood market in downtown Wyndmoor. Since then, he’s become a go-to guy for really fresh fish. Some, he even catches himself. As a Coast Guard master officer, he doesn’t mess around.
This will be his second Lenten season, and, needless to say, he’s prepared. Most of his loyal customers pre-order their fish from him, and pick them up before Friday dinners.
“People really needed a reliable source for seafood for Lent,” Peszka said, noting he was slammed last year.
The European tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent dates back to the early Christian church. The wealthy, who typically raised game or hunted, were asked to make a sacrifice by not eating meat, though it was not required that they eat fish in its place. Fish eventually became the substitute for warm blooded animal meat because they came from the sea and were cold blooded.
Many Christians give up eating meat because of the sacrifices Jesus made, and because he died on a Friday. All seven Fridays this Lenten season from Feb. 28 through April 10 are observed as fasting days and no-meat Fridays.
With Lent beginning in late February this year, Peszka has been fielding orders and relying on his commercial fleet docks to deliver the goods. Some fish comes from Barnegat Light, New Jersey, some from Cape May. He depends on his Chesapeake Bay , Maryland, deliveries for the clams and oysters locals crave.
Locals tend to order salmon, shrimp, swordfish, grouper and striped bass, but the most popular Lent fish locally are by far the flounder and the cod, Peszka said. It could be said that for many customers, the mild flavors of these fish lend to easier preparation and enjoyment, especially for children.
Though the shad aren’t running yet locally in the Delaware until at least April, Peszka brings shad and shad roe in from the Southern United States for older customers who crave it during Lent.
What does it taste like, for those who’ve never had it? It’s extremely bony, and it has a fatty, fishy taste. Think of tilapia’s foil.
“It’s an acquired taste,” Peszka said, laughing..
And though the store gets swamped with customers picking up their goods, many want to share their Lenten fish recipes with him, or they want some cooking advice.
“They ask us how to prepare the fish – we get a lot of ‘How do I cook a crab cake properly?,” said Peszka, who sometimes needs to make two or three batches of the best sellers each day.
“I tell them we like crab cakes a little crispy, so we sautee them in butter.
“Or they ask: ‘What do I do with the grouper?’“ Peszka said. “I tell them you can do anything, really. Grill it, pan sear, fry it, broil it, sautee it.”,
Peszka’s quaint clapboard shop reminds me of the place my mother used to take me to get all of our Lent and Christmas fish in North Jersey. Only we’d have to wait in line for a few hours to pick up our orders, in a giant outdoor tent set up just for the holidays. This was serious business.
But Peszka says that though it does get a bit nuts for a few weeks, and he needs to use an extra truck for refrigeration, it all works out in the end.
The end being Easter, when everyone is eating rack of lamb, and Peszka can rest.
Captain Andy’s Market, 901 E. Willow Grove Ave., 215-233-2975.