I'm part of a secret society.
A small band of merry men who get away from their kids and homes once every other week or so and head to a bar to drink and discuss Michigan beers. Do we talk politics? Do we talk sports? Do we talk knitting or Dungeons and Dragons?
Maybe a little of each. But mostly, we talk beer, bullshit, and food. No heavy conversations. And who the hell cares what your political beliefs are, man? We're enjoying a Michigan brew. Nothing you could say could ruin that.
There's been quite a renaissance of beer in Michigan, and two of West Michigan's micro-breweries are now consistently rated among the best microbreweries in America: Founders (in Grand Rapids) and Bell's (in Kalamazoo). But there's breweries all over the darn place, now. And there are several bars in town that have caught on that people like their Michigan beers, so they constantly change out and mix up their offering of Michigan beers, so you know our secret society just HAS to show up and drink beer there when a new beer comes in.
But it's not just beer. It's food.
We love our food.
We order samplers, we share our orders liberally.
Me...I order the same thing almost every time. I order a West Michigan classic. A fried lake perch sandwich.
I've been eating fried lake perch my whole life. Whitlow's Forerunner still has, hands down, the best fried lake perch anywhere. ANYWHERE. And my family used to go there at least once a week after church. And I'd get fried lake perch starting from when I was just a wee boy, on up to adulthood.
Every West Michigan local establishment worth a damn offers fried lake perch from the spooniest greasy spoons on up to the ritziest candle lit steak joints.
Fried lake perch.
It's a way of life. It's the flavor of West Michigan.
And, dammit, it's what I order.
Except for today.
Today I was with my secret society at a fine restaurant that shall go un-named and I ordered a certain appetizer because appetizers were half off: fried perch sliders.
"Fried perch sliders" I said.
And the waitress said "I'm sorry, we don't have those anymore. We don't have any perch."
And I was like "But....but........but............b.....but........but that's what I EAT!"
"I'm sorry. We don't have it on the menu any more."
I kept sputtering "BUT.....why?"
The waitress was apologetic: "The perch we've been getting is so small. And it's not fresh. It's just not good."
"Am I the only one who's pissing and moaning about this?"
The waitress said "Oh no...every night somebody asks about it. It's been a big deal."
So I got some ahi tuna mini tacos. It was terrible.
Once teaming with lake perch, Great Lakes and inland lake populations of lake perch have been dramatically reduced as invasive species start to horn in on the environment...particularly zebra mussels.
Catches have been fewer and smaller...and many places have turned to very expensive farm raised lake perch.
It's just awful.