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Robert Makhlouf is the head chef at Freddy's Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant in Leamington, and the creator of the Point Pelee Drive establishment's famous perch platter, voted No. 1 in Ontario by readers at MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. Among the ingredients most often mentioned by customers who helped to make Freddy's perch platter tops is garlic butter. Yum!


Best Perch Platter in Ontario:
Winning dish a family affair at Freddy's in Leamington


News Archive BY GARY MAY
When they bought the little variety store that sat outside the gates of Point Pelee National Park back in 1988, Freddy and Maria Makhlouf could not have dreamed that some day their sons would be serving perch that would be voted the best in Ontario. But that’s just what happened when MyNewWaterfrontHome.com asked the experts — our readers — for their opinion.  

In the words of one of their most loyal customers, the perch at Freddy’s Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant in Leamington is “just like home,” which is high praise, because that's where Dad’s fish is fondly remembered as the absolute best in the world. But customers aren’t the only ones who think Freddy’s perch is worth showcasing: the restaurant’s award-winning fish will be featured at this year’s Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Sept. 8-11. More on that later.  

Freddy’s, located on Point Pelee Drive, led the voting as Leamington establishments cleaned up in the perch sweepstakes, taking three of the top four spots on MyNewWaterfrontHome.com’s Top 10 Best Perch Platter survey. For those who have never been to Leamington, Point Pelee is located south of Windsor, where it reaches out into Lake Erie as the southernmost point on Canada’s mainland.  

Having been declared “dead” in the 1970s because of high pollution counts, Lake Erie has made a miraculous recovery, thanks to strict pollution standards and nature’s remarkable recuperative abilities. Today the lake is the fishing capital of the Great Lakes, with the largest commercial freshwater industry in the world and an active sport  fishing scene.  

With yellow perch in great abundance, it should come as no surprise that Lake Erie establishments took eight of the 10 spots on the Best Perch Platter list. Finishing in the No. 2 position is Hippo’s at Mohawk Marina in the Erie-side community of Lowbanks, located between Port Maitland and Long Beach. Paula’s Fish Place and T.J.’s Sports Bar and Grill, both in Leamington, took third and fourth spots. Two St. Lawrence River locations – known for their perch rolls – finished out the list.  

(See the full list at the end of this article.)  

Over the years, Freddy’s Park Stop variety has grown into Freddy’s Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant. And Freddy’s customers were effusive in their praise for the restaurant’s signature perch dish.  

'It's tough finding anything that comes close'

Among them is Eddie Gazzola, who was born and raised in Toronto and moved to Leamington last winter. Gazzola says as a boy, his father took him on a lot of weekend fishing trips.  

“My father was the cook when it came to fish and had some of the best secret recipes,” Gazzola told MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “It’s tough finding anything that comes close. I’ve toured the restaurants in the (Leamington) area and finally found something that tasted just like home. I wonder what my dad would have to say about Freddy’s perch?”  

For about 14 years, Freddy’s Park Stop was a variety store, where they also prepared hamburgers and other fast food. Then nine years ago, Robert and Michael Makhlouf, two of Freddy and Maria’s five children, decided to expand their horizons.  

The boys left their jobs in Chatham and Windsor and the family bought the next-door property and built a full-service restaurant. More recently, they added a bar and today, Freddy’s Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant boasts a 60-seat patio overlooking Lake Erie and a 150-seat dining room and bar area. The store remains.  

On regular days, Freddy’s goes through 20 or 25 pounds of perch, Robert says, while on a busy day he could use upwards of 40 pounds.  

Robert is the head chef and creator of the award-winning recipe. While specific ingredient portions are a trade secret, he believes the light panko-style coating, seasoned with black pepper, granulated or minced garlic, flour and dill seed, then lightly pan-fried, is the reason Freddy’s perch is so popular with the clientele.  

No deep-frying perch here

Robert says customers are more health-conscious these days and appreciate the light breading and pan-fry method, compared to the deep-fried perch served up by many restaurants.  

Brother Mike jumps in to add that customers also appreciate the special attention they get. “If someone asks for their perch to be done without any breading, pan-fried in olive oil, we can do that too,” he says. “We just ask customers to be patient because depending on how busy we are, it could take a little longer.”  
And don’t forget the importance of presentation, says Robert. “I believe the eyes always eat first,” he explains. “You’ve got to make it look good.” A fresh Greek-style salad adds colour to the dish.  

Robert says he’s going to have to alter his recipe a bit since he’s having trouble getting a dependable supply of dill seed. He’s already starting to think about alternatives. But Mike believes “the light garlic is a more important factor in the taste. And we never overcook the fish. That’s key.”  

How long does it take to fry the fish? That depends on the temperature of the grill or pan, says Mike. But once it’s heated up, likely about 10 minutes.  Adds Robert: “I just know from experience when it’s just right.”  

As for the fish, the Makhloufs buy their fresh perch from Loops’ Fishery in nearby Wheatley. Robert says Loops’ takes special care to make sure it’s of the highest quality and has been properly deboned.  

Freddy’s always features local wines, and recently some officials from the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival dropped by for a meal. Robert says they were so impressed, they decided to feature Freddy’s at this year’s festival, set for Sept. 8-11 in Amherstburg, and asked Robert to do a cooking demonstration. He’ll be featured at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, where you can learn how to cook perch.

Newcomers to Freddy’s perch will no doubt find the same thing Eddie Gazzola says a visitor from England recently discovered. His friend “has been trained by some of the best chefs in the world,” says Gazzola. When he took his guest to Freddy’s, naturally they tried the perch. “With no doubt, my mate from the U.K. was impressed. My kudos to the master chef at Freddy’s.”  

Brenda Schroeder of Kingsville says husband Abe is the fisherman in the family and he always thought nothing could beat his own perch — until they tried Freddy’s. “He said … it was the best perch that he has ever tasted. It was perfect.”  

Added Austin Coppola: “Whenever I dine out, I make it a point to try a perch dish since it is my favourite meal. I am yet to find anything that compares to Freddy’s Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant. Their pan-fried, lightly breaded and seasoned perch is excellent. Not only that, but the restaurant environment is great and always cheery.”  

'You're only a stranger once'

As for that cheery environment, Freddy’s motto is: “You’re only a stranger once.” The Makhloufs make a point of getting to know their regulars, says Mike. “People come in once when they’re vacationing here, and they’ll come back the next year and the year after that.”  

Located less than three kilometres from the gates of Point Pelee National Park, famed for being one of the best spots for birding in North America, the restaurant has become a favourite of regular birders who visit the area during the spring and autumn migrations. Freddy’s opens in late March and, depending on the weather, remains open until some time after Thanksgiving.  

Depending on when you go, you might find live entertainment, and there’s usually a wine-tasting event about three times during the season.  

Besides the perch, the restaurant serves Lake Erie pickerel, chicken, ribs, pizza, pasta and steaks, and is well-known for its Greek salad and Lebanese specialties. Robert has also recently introduced tuna fried in olive oil.  

Freddy and Maria Makhlouf left their native Lebanon, where the five children were born, to make a new life in Canada. “Dad was an entrepreneur,” says Robert. “Hard work is nothing to him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him sit still for more than 10 minutes, max.”  

Freddy is still seen regularly around the Point Pelee Drive restaurant that bears his name, chatting with customers and maintaining the tradition of Freddy’s as a friendly, welcoming place — with the best perch anywhere.  

Top 10 list

Here, based on the votes of MyNewWaterfrontHome.com readers, is the full list of the Top 10 Best Perch Platter, together with their location and the body of water nearest to where they’re located:  

1. Freddy’s Cocktail Lounge & Restaurant        
Location: Leamington    
Body of water: Lake Erie

2. Hippo’s at Mohawk Marina      
Location: Lowbanks    
Body of water: Lake Erie

3. Paula’s Fish Place                     
Location: Leamington    
Body of water: Lake Erie

4. T.J.’s Sports Bar & Grill     
Location: Leamington     
Body of water: Lake Erie

5.  Buccaneer Restaurant     
Location: Port Stanley     
Body of water: Lake Erie

6. Meadows by the Lake    
Location: Harrow (Town of Essex)    
Body of water: Lake Erie

7. Erie Beach Hotel    
Location: Port Dover    
Body of water: Lake Erie

8. Molly & O.J.’s    
Location: Erieau    
Body of water: Lake Erie

9. Blue Anchor Dining Lounge    
Location: Glen Walter    
Body of water: St. Lawrence River

10. Loretta’s Chip Wagon  
    
Location: Lancaster      
Body of water: St. Lawrence River  

NEW TOP 10 POLL:
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MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — September 2011