Locals had their first taste of summer this weekend, and it had a distinctly fishy flavor.
It was also lightly battered and crisped to perfection, visitors to Fairview Park for the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club's 66th annual Fish Fry and Carnival said Saturday afternoon.
"It's a very pleasant batter," longtime Costa Mesa resident Hank Panian said as he finished off a $10 plate with fries and Newport Rib Company coleslaw.
Added his wife, Barbara Panian: "It's not greasy at all."
But it's not just the Pacific cod that hooks residents year after year, said Panian, who's lived in Costa Mesa since 1956.
"We think what the Lions do is fabulous because of the charities they've raised money for many years. It's a shot in the arm," he said.
Former Lions Club president and Costa Mesa Sanitary District board member Bob Ooten estimated the Fish Fry typically nets about $30,000, much of which is donated to local charities.
Plus, Panian added, it's truly "a community-based event."
Event organizers said they see a steady stream of familiar faces throughout the event's run, which began Friday night and wraps up Sunday, with event hours scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
"Guys I've known for years, guys I went to school with, I see them once a year," said club president (and keeper of the top secret batter recipe) Mike Scheafer, who also serves on the Sanitary District board. "I see them at the fish fry."
Fish Fry first-timer Annette Johnson, 11, said the "Cowboy Nachos"— a nacho-like concoction that seemed to involve chunks of brisket and beans — from a Twisted Brisket barbecue booth were "really good," too.
Annette, a 5th-grader at Victoria Elementary School, said she was most looking forward to checking out the carnival rides on the mini-midway nearby and meeting up with friends.
For the first time this year, the Costa Mesa Community Run will coincide with the Fish Fry's last day, with its course ending in the Fish Fry's Expo area Sunday morning.
Scheafer said Saturday that about 3,000 people came out to the event Friday night, and he expected traffic to pick up over the course of the afternoon and evening.
"Everybody gets all amped up, then everything just falls into place," he said.
And as for that batter recipe, he did let one detail slip: There's no beer.
"Not even an ounce," he said. It does, however, contain, "A couple of things that'll blow you away if I told you."
Meanwhile, in what was an eventful day in the Newport-Mesa community:
Runners crossed the finish line of the Corona del Mar Scenic 5K.