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Hollen Barmer Really Loves Pittsburgh Fish Frys

The creator of the Pittsburgh Lenten Fish Fry Map provides a guide to good eating throughout the Lenten season.




photo courtesy st. Teresa of avila fish fry

 

March 6 marks the beginning the Lenten season, a time for holy reflection for Christians. For me, it kicks off the 2019 blitz of visiting as many fish frys as I can stomach. To fully optimize my oversized-sandwich-eating experience, I rely on the Pittsburgh Lenten Fish Fry Map. Hollen Barmer, who works for Carnegie Mellon University’s Emerging Technology Center at the Software Engineering Institute, created the map in 2012. In 2016, Code for Pittsburgh got involved by coding the map and helped turn it into a Pittsburgh cultural zeitgeist; last year, the map had more than 26,000 visits and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh even acknowledged the map in its Lenten newsletter.

The interactive map lets users search for fish frys through the city and suburbs by name or location. Each location is tagged with its address and a few key facts that Barmer says are the most asked questions. Whether there are homemade pierogies is at the top of the list followed by questions about accessibility, the existence of lunch hours and takeout and, for those who want to do a bit of tippling, whether there is alcohol served.

The map started as a way for Barmer, a transplant from Memphis, to help herself and others find fish frys in a city that is sometimes confusing to navigate.

“I’d been to some fish frys and loved them, but I’m bad with directions,” says Barmer. She grew up Southern Baptist and the church basements and community made her nostalgic, so she found a listing for all the Pittsburgh fish frys in the Diocese newsletter and made a simple Google map marking each. Each year she makes a wish list of frys she wants to visit, even taking off Friday afternoons during the season to be able to fit in a lunch and a dinner slot.

“The fish fry isn’t just a one-dimensional experience. It’s a full-on adventure; social, geographic and food-wise,” says Barmer. “I’ve been to fish frys and the food has been mediocre, but then you find someone to talk to.”

Barmer has a few favorites that she tries to get back to. Corpus Christi in McKeesport has earned a spot for their homemade pierogies and haluski noodles that are made from the pierogi trimmings. She also likes Our Lady of Victory Maronite, which has plenty of vegetarian options and Lebanese side dishes. This year she intends to do a little fish fry reconnaissance at the Aliquippa Croatian Club and St. Alphonsus.

The map is run entirely by volunteers. Barmer, Christian Gass and Mark Howe, who handle the hard coding, make up the core team. There is also a yearly Fish Fry Map Update-a-Thon, an event for anyone, tech savvy or not, who wants to help out by working together to verify all of the listed fish frys. 

“After Wednesday night, the map will seem much fuller but it will continue to grow over the Lenten season,” says Barmer.

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