When it comes to Lenten fish dinners, Bill Schafer wants the American Legion to serve the best one possible

Schafer, the commander of Post 343, said it took six months to a year to perfect the breading used for the fried cod fish alone. That dedication has paid off as the Legion’s fish fry dinners, now in their second year, has grown by more than 30 percent from last year and serves about 300 dinners weekly

“We have had zero negative response. It’s all positive,” Schafer said. “The response is mind-boggling. The people enjoy it and we enjoy doing it.”

Schafer said one of the reasons the Legion started the fish fries was due to the Legion’s commitment to serve veterans and the community.

The Legion had spent two years doing full renovations to its kitchen, with Schafer calling it “state-of-the-art.”

He said the tables, cabinets and appliances are on wheels to allow them to be mobile to reorganize for a given event. There are also screens that allow volunteers to not only see the orders that are made, but see how many people are in line.

Schafer said Legion members traveled to different fish fries, with Schafer noting they were disappointed in the “deception” out there.

In most cases, fish fries don’t list what kind of fish are being served, meaning customers don’t know what quality of fish they are going to get.

Therefore, Schafer said the Legion confidently lists the fish served are cod from Reinhart Foodservice that is fresh and prepared with a secret recipe.

“We do a genuine cod fish meal with top-notch ingredients to serve the people a quality meal,” Schafer said.

Added Schafer: “We do safeguard our ingredients for the crust that we use. We wanted the breading to be top-notch, meaning in flavor and in quality.”

Schafer said the Legion wants to make sure if people come in a half-hour away for take-out, the fish and other side dishes will be just as fresh when they arrive home as when the meal was picked up.

The Legion offers both fried and baked cod, a cod fish sandwich, chicken tenders for those who don't like fish, and sides of coleslaw, dinner rolls, French fries, green beans, zucchini fries, macaroni and cheese, deep-fried mushrooms, onion rings and hush puppies. Dessert includes brownies and funnel cake fries.

Schafer said no area fish fry offers zucchini fries, while this year the hush puppies were incorporated.

“That took weeks for us to perfect the hush puppies to make sure they were crispy and flavorful,” Schafer said.

Schafer’s son and daughter — Nathan Schafer and Elizabeth Tyler-Schafer, who he describes as perfectionists, are in charge of preparing the food every week.

There are around 18 volunteers who help every week and are a mixture of veterans and civilians.

Schafer said the fish fries are for everyone, not just veterans.

The meals can be ordered ahead of time or on Fridays by calling (724) 658-3990 between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dine-in is from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Walk-in orders are also welcome.

Take-out is available, while the dining hall seats 500 to 600 people.

Schafer said the fish fries are another way the Legion serves the community, and brings veterans and the community together under one roof.

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