66 years of the 'best fish anywhere'

Enjoy the Fish Fry and Carnival in Costa Mesa this weekend, but don't even think of asking for the recipe.

May 30, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • A fresh batch of fried Pacific cod is prepared during the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club's 65th annual Fish Fry and Carnival, held at Fairview Park last year. This year's event is Friday through Sunday.
A fresh batch of fried Pacific cod is prepared during the… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Only three people can list the ingredients of the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club's secret fish batter recipe.

President Mike Scheafer is one of them, and he claims that the directions will probably accompany him to his grave. The 59-year-old Costa Mesa resident created some wiggle room, though, when he admitted that he might share the coveted information with his oldest son, Matt, who is a fellow club member.

Dinners — for $10 they include the famed fish, French fries and coleslaw — will be offered at the Lions Club's 66th annual Fish Fry and Carnival from Friday to Sunday.

"It's the best fish anywhere," said Scheafer, who over the years has inherited the title Mr. Fish Fry. "Even people who don't like fish like our fish."

Local foodies can also devour hot dogs and hamburgers, grilled by Estancia High School's baseball team, while a group from Banning Ranch prepares corn on the cob.


"As much as it disappoints me to say, there are things other than fish to eat," he joked.

Scheafer said the club was established in 1927 and soon put together a hamburger festival, which lasted through the '30s. In the '40s, Heinz Kaiser, who lived in Costa Mesa for many years and was the namesake of Kaiser Elementary School, came up with the undisclosed piscatorial concoction.

The club has been selling fish dinners ever since.

The switch was "extremely successful," Scheafer explained, "because no one else in the area had ever done anything like it."


A small-town camaraderie

In the past six-plus decades, the fish fry has faced many changes, including a new venue at Fairview Park, the discontinuation of a long-standing parade and the introduction of beer in 2012.

What continues to this date, though, is a sense of camaraderie palpable among the nearly 15,000 visitors. For those who have grown up in the area, the fish fry is a highly anticipated ritual.

"There's a sense of reconnecting with old friends and high school chums," Scheafer said. "I see them once a year and it's at the fish fry. This is definitely a small-town community type of event."

Scheafer notes the decline in Lions Club membership — something he called typical of service clubs nationwide — and says the fish fry provides people an opportunity to inquire about getting involved.

"There's not been a tremendous amount of growth, but we have had some success," he said.

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