Fry Days: For love or the halibut

Posted: Sunday, July 05, 2009

I'm a big sucker for good fish 'n' chips, which is what originally brought me to Fry Days fish 'n' chips trailer in the Western Auto parking lot.

Proprietor and cook George Kuhar does 'em right. Wild Alaskan halibut is dipped in an Alaskan Oatmeal Stout batter, fried to an amber crisp, and served with Serrano Lime Tartar Sauce, fresh lemon wedges and vinegar. The fries, which are always crisp and perfectly seasoned, come with a side of Kuhar's addicting Chipotle Ketchup.

This attention to detail has grown a sort of cult following for Fry Days over their last three summers in operation. As one devoted regular put it, "When I see the Fry Days sign, my steering wheel turns into that parking lot all by itself."

If there's one thing I'm as much of a sucker for as good fish 'n' chips, it's a good love story, which is what brought me back to Fry Days to get the story behind the folks behind the little orange trailer. Chances are when you step up to the screened window to place your order, you'll be greeted by Kuhar's other half, Bridget Cross, a local musician and yoga instructor. Their love story began four years ago when Kuhar was working at Heritage Coffee and made Cross her favorite Chai.

"The first time I saw George, I thought, I want to play music with him," Cross said.

Cross's musical past includes stints playing bass and singing with such legendary punk rock bands as Unrest, Fugazi and Velocity Girl. She sniffed Kuhar out as a fellow musician right away.

"He was this big-haired, tall, Texas guy with the tightest Wranglers, and a big Texas belt buckle, which I have now," she said, flashing me the lone-star emblazoned piece of brass.

After a coworker of Cross' spilled the beans to George, sparks began to fly. But there was a hitch - Kuhar had plans to move back to Austin in a few months.

"I'm not going to do that," Cross told herself. "I'm not moving to Texas for a man I barely know, but ... I did. (George) was special. I've done a lot of dumb things, but this actually wasn't that dumb."

It was in Austin that Kuhar built and began operating his mobile food unit, under the name Texas Fish Fry, while Cross completed her yoga teacher training. The fried fish business wasn't catching on in Austin, and the pair decided to head back to Juneau - a decision Kuhar credits to the fact that he was coming into a major health crisis.

"I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been in kidney failure at the time," Kuhar said.

Due to a hereditary kidney disease, Kuhar knew he would be dealing with kidney failure at some point in his life, but didn't expect it to hit him at age 27.

"You start getting nitrogen poisoning in your blood and so you don't think as clearly. Realistically it wasn't a wise choice," he said of hitching a two-wheel single-axle trailer to his truck and driving from Texas to Bellingham. "I didn't know I was getting sick, but maybe deep down I did."

In spite of his declining health, George managed get Fry Days successfully up and running during the summer of 2007. Cross knew he was unwell, but Kuhar couldn't bring himself to face it until he was forced to that fall.

"It was just a week after the fall equinox that (my health) seriously went down, fast," Kuhar said.

Kuhar was medevaced to Anchorage, where he received seven blood transfusions and was put on dialysis. It was clear he needed to find a kidney donor. That's when Cross decided to give him one of her's.

Cross met the two major requirements for kidney donorship: She had the same blood type, and she was healthy.

"Everybody tells us how remarkable it is," Kuhar said of the donor match. "I guess we take it for granted because it just seems so natural and organic."

In May 2008, Cross and Kuhar flew down to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, and underwent transplant surgery. Kuhar's body accepted Cross' kidney like it was his own. Today both are feeling healthy - so healthy in fact that they plan to climb Mount Rainier on Saturday and Sunday. The surgeon who removed Cross's kidney has organized the trip to raise organ transplant awareness.

Between a successful fish 'n' chips stand, a life enriched with regular yoga practice, their two-man band ("Maybe It's Reno") and a pair of healthy kidneys, life - and love - is good for Cross and Kuhar. As for me, I'll be heading to Fry Days this weekend, not just for the halibut.

Fry Days serves fish 'n' chips in the Western Auto parking lot on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. - or until the halibut runs out.

• Ginny Mahar is a trained chef and food writer who works at Rainbow Foods. She writes about all things "food" in Juneau, from cooking with local ingredients to restaurant news and food events. View more of her food writing at ginnymahar.blogspot.com.



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