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Several restaurants in Ithaca recognize Easter but not Lent

The Boatyard Grill is one of few restaurants in town that offer meatless specials for Lent.
At least 10 restaurants in town like Agava and Mahogany Grill are having special dishes added to their menus for this year’s Easter Sunday, April 5. But only a handful of them offer specials during Lent for Catholics who may be abstaining from eating meat.

More than 30 million Americans dine out on Easter Sunday, making it the fifth busiest holiday for restaurants, according to National Restaurant Association. For many, Easter is an occasion for a family outing to brunch or dinner. However, for Catholics, Easter is a feast after 40 days of Lent, which symbolizes faith and self-discipline.

The Catholic Church expects its members to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, but there are those who do not eat meat during the entirety of Lent or on all Fridays of the year, Reverend Joseph Marcoux of Saint Catherine of Siena Church said.

“Abstaining from meat on Fridays, especially during Lent, is a really historically important tradition because it is connected to Good Friday, or the idea of Jesus’s suffering,” he said.

Many restaurants in Ithaca don’t do anything in particular during Lent because almost all restaurants already have fish or vegetarian dishes on their menu that people with special dietary needs due to health or religious reasons can choose from.

The Boatyard Grill, however, said it only puts out seafood or non-meat dishes in its specials on Fridays during Lent because its owner and head chef, both of whom are Roman Catholic, said they want to accommodate fellow Catholics who are observing Lent.

Boatyard’s owner, Mark Campagnolo, said he is currently abstaining from meat and that Lent is a fitting opportunity for his restaurant to showcase its seafood options. He also said some fish dishes, like their fish fry, profit more during this period.

“Beef dishes are our core business but we make a point to not offer beef specials on Fridays,” Campagnolo said. “ Orders for fish go up overall during Lent season.”

Head chef Patrick Tarantino has been cooking for nearly 30 years and worked all across the country in many restaurants, university kitchens, culinary schools, supermarkets and hotels. He said in all the places he’s worked, he observes Lent by abstaining from meat himself and offering alternative specials in his menus.

“No matter where I’m at, I always start off the Lent season with Ash Wednesday specials that are geared towards creole, cajun, low country foods to accent the start of Mardi Gras, which represent the start of Lent,” Tarantino said.

The decision to make Friday specials exclusively non-meat is a choice Campagnolo said he makes with Tarantino because of their religious background, but Campagnolo added that his restaurant isn’t trying to spread Catholicism.

“Being in the food business, we can’t force or push our own ideologies on people. It’s really based on the customers’ demands. So if they tell us they wouldn’t mind having more fish specials, we wouldn’t mind doing that,” Campagnolo said.

The owner of the Mahogany Grill on Aurora street, Matthew Torchia, said the menu stays the same during Lent with the usual meatless dishes. The restaurant will be serving a lamb special on Easter Sunday, but he said he doesn’t promote anything special during Lent or any other religious seasons because he doesn’t see that as his responsibility as a restauranteur.

Aside from the Boatyard Grill, the only other places that offered meatless specials on Fridays were Wegman’s and Tops Market. Mike Washburn, executive chef at Wegman’s, and a Tops employee who did not want to be identified both specified that while they offer alternatives in consideration of those abstaining from meat, the decision to do so is not because either company adheres to Catholicism or any religion.

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