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Dear Janice: Oh the sorrow! Mackies on Clinton in West Seneca has closed its doors since last summer! They had the best takeout (or eat in) fish fries for miles around -- and plenty of sides included! Macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw, German potato salad, crispy baked potato wedges, and the obligatory slice of rye bread (all-inclusive!).

So, we know you said you're going vegetarian for a while, but please please find a similar batter haddock fish fry in our neighborhood. Otherwise we'll be forever stuck with crunchy supermarket takeout, too crunchy, small fish (even the larger) varying amounts of fries from week to week, a tiny cole slaw, with a gooey "roll" and pay extra for anything else. We've tried other restaurants and can't be driving all over the place. Any ideas where they still know how to make a great and generous fish fry?

Thanks in advance!

-- Ed and Donna K. (in West Seneca/Gardenville area)

Oh, Ed! Oh, Donna! I hereby raise my fork in salute to your expertise. (Not to mention your energy.)

Today is the first day of Lent and fish frys (local spelling) are swimming everywhere. They bob up in upscale places (which once used to be quaintly called "white tablecloth restaurants"); they turn at your neighborhood pubs. And -- may the good god Neptune help us -- as you mentioned, they turn up in supermarkets So where should I begin?

Sometimes ambience is as important as flavor. A fish fry is most satisfying to me in a neighborhood tavern where the beer flows freely and the decibel level rises just as fast. I don't care about fancy linen. Give me paper napkins every time.

In other words, the total experience is what I look for, and that's what I kept in mind, when I made up the list below. It's far from the ultimate list; it's even further from a "Western New York's Best" list. I know that every reader out there is going to disagree with me and many will send in their own suggestions. People do tend to get that emotional about fish frys. But I'm going to hold my nose and dive right in:

In your neighborhood:

Connor's, 3465 Seneca St., West Seneca. Big, traditional, and the first name that springs to mind around here when the words "fish fry" are mentioned. It's a fun place with a rather cool reception at first (unless they know you, I'd guess). The fish fry is served every day, but Friday is, of course, the big event because on that day, and that day alone, you can get German potato salad. The rest of the time it's macaroni salad and cole slaw, of course.

The fish is not haddock, by the way. The server told us it's something called Atlantic whitefish.But the batter is great. A battered fish fry, including slaw and macaroni salad, is $11.99 (not including tax).

And right down the street, the much newer Ebenezer Ale House, 4348 Seneca St., is also housed in very large quarters, but it's a little spiffier. An especially interesting lineup of beers here. Fish fry every day. Haddock, potato salad, cole slaw for $10.99, tax not included.

Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub, 2134 Seneca St., Buffalo. Much loved, much respected South Buffalo eating place. Fish fry on Friday only. Haddock (12 ounce), choice of potato, cole slaw and macaroni salad for $10.99. Not too far to drive.

How could I forget Hoak's 4100 Lakeshore Road, Hamburg? This institution actually has a view of water (the lake). (Eat outdoors in summer.) A fish fry every day offers more kinds of fish than a municipal aquarium -- haddock to yellow pike, etc., etc. From $8.99 for a "Senior Fry" and up to around $12 for others.

And, by the way, that remark I made a week or so ago about eating vegetarian for a while?

I'm back to a balanced diet once again.

Send your questions to Janice Okun at janiceokun@yahoo.com. She will respond in this column.