(Saint Joseph, MI) — Considering our house is still without electricity—after a vicious storm blew through the area, knocking down trees and power lines—we deem it wise to seek sustenance where the food might actually be cooked. A nearby restaurant called Mark III Grille & Bar seems busy most of the time, so we decide to investigate. Ignoring the fact there’s a motel just behind the tavern, we manage to snag a parking spot in the bustling lot...
My expectations are set realistically even before I walk in the door. Mark III has the air of a roadhouse you’ll find in most small towns, a bar that’s evolved into a family restaurant but still has the earmarks of a watering hole. I mean, one can only imagine the late night revelries that transitioned from barstool to motel room in the late 70’s.
Still, the place has always seemed busy so it’s definitely a neighborhood favorite. Just inside is a dark foyer with a fireplace and restrooms. A narrow corridor leads to the host stand. Toward the front of the building is the bar, with requisite televisions tuned to sports and news. In the rear are separate dining rooms with functional tables and booths. The servers are efficiently hustling back and forth from the kitchen to the customer. Our waitress is clearly overtaxed but her sense of humor buoys our interaction. Finally, after many apologies for the slowness of the service, it is we who must assure her that we’re in no hurry and everything’s fine.
Curiously, the menu is heavy on Mexican dishes. This is perplexing because directly across the street is an arguably more authentic Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, it’s typical roadhouse fare: steak, ribs, chicken, shrimp, salads. Nothing out of the ordinary, unless you count The Steak Bomb! which is a monstrous burrito stuffed with a 10 ounce New York Strip.
We begin with guacamole, topped with fresh diced tomatoes. It’s undeniably fresh avocado chunked and pulped, but it’s also bland. A dash of salt helps immensely. Too, the tortilla chips taste somewhat stale. Time to move on to the main course.
I’m in no mood for beef tonight and recently had Mexican for lunch, so decide on the Grilled Chicken Salad. The poultry is slightly dry, but breast meat usually is, even when marinated. Among the ingredients, kidney beans are an odd choice but red onion, black olives, hard boiled egg, green peppers, tomato and carrots are expected. I enjoy the jalapeno honey mustard dressing; it alleviates the arid chicken and adds just the right amount of sweet heat. Overall, it’s a salad that fills the gut but I’m not writing poetry about it.
By the end of the meal, I’ve already forgotten most of the details. If I’m in the mood for a quick beer, I might hit the bar sometime, but otherwise I’ll find nourishment elsewhere.
Since we’ve moved here to St. Joe last autumn, we’ve driven by the Mark III multiple times a day. We both pass by on our way to and from work and wondered for the last nine months what the pace was like inside.
Now to be honest, we’ve heard mixed reviews from friends. Their opinions ran the gamut from “they have great bar food” to “their burgers are decent” to “it’s awful, don’t go.” Not exactly raves, I realize, but their parking lot is perpetually packed so we figure they’re doing something right. We’ve lost power to the house due to a big storm, so tonight seems like the perfect night to let someone else cook.
Despite the full parking lot, we find a spot with no trouble. It’s a few minutes wait for a table and we quickly learn pretty much everyone else here has no electricity at home either. Our server immediately sets expectations that the kitchen is backed up and service is a tad slow. I let her know as long as she keeps us in drinks there will be no complaining.
We start with some guacamole to go with the chips and salsa that are automatically placed on the table. The guac is bland so we end up mixing some salsa in to give it a kick. Since we know there will be a bit of a wait, Jeremy opts for a beer and I go with a margarita on the rocks.
The margaritas are overly sweet, clearly there’s no real citrus juice here, but they’re also damn strong and after all day without power I gotta admit—I’ve got a taste for tequila. In fact, I manage to down three of them tonight.
I’ve been eating a lot of veggies all day in an attempt to use up the fresh food from the fridge before it goes bad. Jeremy’s going to have a salad, but I want a chimichanga with ground beef. It’s smothered in spicy cheese sauce and comes with a side of rice and refried beans. Yes, the beans are clearly right out of the can. The lettuce is iceberg and I’m pretty sure the rice was once frozen. Overall, it’s a pretty mediocre meal.
The storm has raised havoc in our town and on our new home. Tonight I’m perfectly content with ho-hum Mexican fare and margaritas made from a sugary mix. Not every meal can be a life-changing experience, after all. Sometimes a frosty beer and a plate of nachos fits the bill perfectly.