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Options abound for Feast of the Seven Fishes

By KATIE EGAN - | Dec 16, 2020

For many Italian-American families, Christmas Eve celebrations are synonymous with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Seafood dishes of all sorts, including baccala, whiting, mussels, smelts, clams, calamari and octopus and more, are served. Above and right, popular Feast platters prepared by Merrick Seafood.

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Southwest Florida is a great place to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Its roots may lie in Italy, but the abundance of fresh seafood in the area make Cape Coral an ideal place to celebrate the Christmas Eve seafood spectacular.

For many Italian-American families, Christmastime celebrations are synonymous with the Feast.

The seafood dinner traditionally features seven seafood/fish dishes, although families can make more if they’d like.

Some of the most common types of seafood include baccala, whiting, mussels, smelts, clams, calamari and octopus.

Italians chose to indulge in seafood and fish to show respect for the tradition of abstaining from meat until feast day — Christmas.

The feast is believed to have been started in the U.S. by southern Italian immigrants to North America in the early 1900s.

And families around the world are still celebrating.

“The Feast of the Seven Fishes is for the Italian culture,” said Kerry Kreig, owner of Merrick Seafood and Fishtale Grill. “They have to eat seven fishes.”

Merrick Seafood doesn’t have a set menu for the day, but they do specialize in seafood.

For Merrick, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is one of their biggest times of the year.

“A lot of people have orders in,” Kreig said.

As of Dec. 9, they had 400 total orders going out during Christmas time.

The super sampler platter, which has a little bit of everything, is a favorite.

The most popular are the lobster tail and shrimp platters. They also do a stuffed Maine lobster with seafood stuffing or crab.

Other options include a seafood salad, shrimp, calamari, scallops, crab meat and scungilli.

Orders should be placed two to three days in advance.

“We strongly recommend this year to preorder. For social distance, to help with that, and to get people in and out as quickly as possible,” Kreig said.

Around the holiday, Fishtale Grill also runs some specials like baked clams and calamari.

But Kreig says it’s more people picking things up for later at the market.

“It’s tradition for old-school Italians to cook themselves,” she said.

Owner of Paesano’s Italian Fresh Market, Jerry Furio has been helping area residents celebrate the feast for the past 35 years.

He’ll be offering the following dishes for pickup and curbside pickup: baccala salad and fried baccala, baby octopus and regular octopus salad, scungilli salad, fried whiting, fried smelt, calamari, oysters Rockefeller and clams casino.

Furio will start making everything a week before Christmas.

“Customers ask for things the week before. They try it and if they like it, they buy more for Christmas week. They try it the week before to make sure it’s good and fresh,” he said. “Then when they figure out how many guests they’ll have, they’ll place their order.”

For curbside pickup, customers need to call ahead and specify.

Furio was born in Italy and moved to the United States when he was 14.

“In Italy, the night before Christmas Eve, all we eat is fish,” he said. “Fish, fish, fish. Anything to do with fish, we eat.”

Scungilli is his favorite dish. Furio says it’s another name for conch.

“It comes in the shell,” he said. “The food comes out of it, it gets cleaned, boiled and made into a salad.”

Amore Italian Market and Bakery is doing a special salad for the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The seafood salad will include octopus, shrimp, clams, mussels, crab meat and baccala.

The market also sells other seafood options.

Baccala, salmon and shrimp will be available.

Orders for specialty salads should be placed by Monday, Dec. 21.

“The sooner, the better,” said owner Giovanna Lasata. “They’re popular. They’re selling fast.”

Merrick Seafood (adjoining Fishtale Grill) is at 1229 S.E. 47th Terrace, Suite A, Cape Coral. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information call 239-542-8080 or visit http://merrickseafood.com/

Paesano’s is at 862 Lafayette St., Cape Coral. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; Closed, Sunday. For more information call 239-549-7799 or visit http://www.paesanositalianmarket.com/

Amore Italian Market and Bakery is at 4703 S.W. 16th Pl., Cape Coral. It’s hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. For more information call 239-800-3938 or visit https://amoreswfl.com/