Once a regular event near Lake Superior, the smelt fry thrives in Brooklyn Park.
The Brooklyn Park Lions Club bills its annual event as the “World’s Largest Smelt Fry” and says 1,888 people showed up last year. The club expects about 2,000 people this year. In this 2007 photo, Andrew Reinhardt, left, served smelt to Lions member Tom Warrian.
Sucking down a whole fish -- even if it's fried to a crisp with golden batter -- might make some people go ewwww. But not at the 46th annual Smelt Fry in Brooklyn Park, where the local Lions Club plans to serve more than 2,000 pounds of the small fish starting today.
"There's nothing worse than a half-fried smelt because they're soft and mushy," said Art Kvamme, who is an original member of the local Lions Club. "The big secret is frying them so you get them done well. The tails are crisp and the meat is nice and solid."
Smelt fries used to be relatively common in the northern Minnesota communities near Lake Superior, where the fish was abundant. But in recent years, the events across the state have dropped off and local organizations had to find new places to buy the fish.
"It was just a part of the Minnesota experience, but because of the natural trends it's pretty much died out," said Andrew Reinhardt, who at 37 is the youngest member of the Brooklyn Park Lions.
But the club wasn't willing to let go of the tradition and trade it in for a pancake breakfast or spaghetti feed.
After a few years of smaller crowds, the club began noticing new groups of people attending the self-described "World's Largest Smelt Fry" -- members of the local Hmong community and younger people who had attended with their grandparents.
The taste of smelt was catching on again.
This year the club is expecting about 2,000 people from around the metro and the Midwest. While Kvamme said he might miss the years when he would drive up to Lake Superior and load his trailer with smelt, he doesn't miss the year that the members had to cut off the heads and clean hundreds of fish themselves. Now they buy cleaned fish and use commercial fryers.
"We've got it down to a certain science now," Kvamme said.
Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628