Small Sacrifices

A bowl of potato-and-herb soup, with a turkey salad sandwich, served up as part of the St. Mark's Lenten Luncheon (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
St. Mark's Episcopal Church takes the sting out of Lent

In the movie Chocolat, free-spirited Juliette Binoche opens a chocolate shop in a conservative French town during Lent. Some find her flouting of tradition shocking, others titillating - especially the bonbons with evocative names such as Venus' nipples. San Antonio's Lenten culinary traditions are of a more subtle nature: nopalitos scrambled with eggs or stewed with tomato and onion; albondigas de camaron (shrimp meatballs); and capirotada, the humble - but absolutely delicious - bread pudding with raisins, cinnamon stick and, sometimes, melted cheese. You can find these and other seasonal specials at just about every Mexican restaurant in town. Episcopalians in San Antonio have another dessert to look forward to: St. Mark's Original Brownie with pecans. Doesn't sound like sacrifice to me.

As served at the St. Mark's Lenten Luncheons, the brownie - more like a blondie, really, with embedded chocolate chips - is one of the best around. Other dessert choices are Lemon Fluff, apple pie, and strawberry shortcake, all served by volunteer waitresses that could give the pros a run for their money. "You'll want more water with that brownie," suggested my server. And she was right.

Lenten Luncheon

Mon-Fri, through April 2
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
315 E. Pecan

The kitchen in St. Mark's Episcopal's semi-basement, a space that transcends the usual look with stained wood paneling and copper light fixtures, is pretty efficient, too. My potato-and-herb soup arrived in no time, and the turkey salad sandwich on a croissant followed almost immediately - a good thing, since the people already seated at my assigned, communal table were deep into conversation, mostly having to do with teenage-girl fashions (or lack thereof) - not a topic I have much to add to.

Accordingly, I contemplated my potato soup with unusual intensity, noting that it was exemplary, just herbal enough, and still piping hot when it reached the table. The turkey salad was admittedly a long shot, but it proved to have a good, light smoky taste; the croissant was, OK, a little limp, but fresh, and the pickle spear and potato chips filled out the plate adequately. Another cheerful volunteer came around with a basket of fresh, buttered biscuits I assume to be made from the Pioneer Flour Mills mix, the mill

Rosie Garcia and Josie Martinez enjoy their meal (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
being a luncheon sponsor along with Frost Bank and David Carter's Buñuelo Factory. (I forgot to mention the buñuelo ice cream sundae with chocolate or caramel sauce - also not too much of a sacrifice.) All told, the soup, sandwich, and biscuit came to a princely $5.50 - and it all goes to a good cause - the Habitat for Humanity and the Good Samaritan Center.

Diners with heartier appetites might want to take advantage of the daily roast beef plate, fitted out with mashed potatoes, peas, and a green salad. Ruby's Italian spaghetti is another option, and on Wednesdays only, King Ranch Chicken makes an appearance. Chicken á la King plays with the name on Thursday. And on Friday, baked fish with new potatoes and a green salad strikes a blow for tradition. In case you were worrying about that other church luncheon tradition, yes, there is a molded gazpacho salad, served alone or with chicken or shrimp salad. You don't go to these lunches for culinary thrill-seeking, after all; maybe that's what you can give up for Lent. •


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