Lake Perch, a time honored family tradition
Tradition. Tevye, the bearded patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof sang about it. While most of us have traditions, we don’t generally sing their praises as he did, but you have to admire his enthusiasm. When my children were young one tradition was eating dinner together as a family each night. It didn’t matter if my daughters brought friends home from school with them as they frequently did. The family unit just got a bit bigger and the volume a
little lot louder. When my husband travelled for business, dinner was sometimes served as appetizers (same dinner just cut up with toothpicks inserted into the bite-size pieces) picnic style on a blanket in the family room, but the tradition of eating dinner together remained. It was the time to share not only a meal, but stories about our day. Now in case you’re picturing a Norman Rockwell setting — allow me to pull you back to our reality. It was noisy, chaotic, voices talking over other voices and often involved beverages being spilled, but it was our tradition and my daughter and son-in-law have continued this tradition of eating dinner together with my grandson as well.
Another tradition began when I started dating my husband way back when Jimmy Carter was President (yes, really) — lake perch dinners on Friday nights. A couple of the places we enjoyed going were the Blue Goose and Pat O’Brien’s both in St. Clair Shores but the real favorite was the Old Mill Bar in Hamtramck, housed in a former bank building.
Diners and those patrons bellied up for a cold one (or two) before heading home from work all shared one large room that made up the Old Mill Bar. Both would agree that Friday night perch dinners there were legendary among Detroiters and former Detroiters alike. A long line and even longer wait for dinner were not only anticipated, but accepted. Always a packed house on Friday evenings, we sipped drinks and shifted from foot to foot as we waited in that long line formed in a narrow space behind those seated at the bar and those at tables already enjoying their meal.
The family style dinners were served by gray-haired women in aprons so loved their patterns were barely distinguishable — lightly breaded perch filets piled high on oval platters and golden brown hand-cut french fries. Another platter of cole slaw, scallions and radishes and still another platter of fresh bakery bread rounded out the meal.
The Old Mill Bar has been gone about as long as my natural hair color and frankly, it’s become nearly impossible to find a perch dinner the likes of which the Old Mill Bar served theirs.
As a boating and fishing family, (some of us more than others – my husband l♥ves fishing) and through much trial and honestly, very little error my husband has crafted his own lake perch dinner, complete with hand-cut fries, slaw, scallions and radishes. If you’re lucky enough to dine in our home on any given Friday, chances are you’ll be eating his perch and well . . . you’ll want to be invited back. It.is.that.good. He also serves his perch Old Mill family style on platters; his meal almost indistinguishable from the perch dinners at the Old Mill Bar.
My daughters were raised on these Friday night perch dinners and even my son-in-law, a non-seafood eater has dined on my husband’s perch and decided it’s “the best he’s ever eaten”. My one year old grandson has yet to try grandpa’s perch but it’ll happen soon and we hope he’ll give it his sincere, signature sing-song “mmmmm” or better yet, a two-fisted wave.