(Benton Harbor, MI) — We’re running errands, sliding along the winter streets in the snow-choked city, when the inevitable occurs: Hangry Attack! You know, when you get suddenly hungry because you forgot to eat a nourishing breakfast, and a rage comes over you. If you don’t put something in your tummy soon, you’re going to scream, “It’s clobberin’ time!!!” Thankfully, we spy a sign for Cravings Bistro & Pub nearby...

He Fed:

I’ve heard Juliet talk about Cravings in the past, but I don’t really remember the details. Only that she hasn’t been impressed with their catering. The building is next to a Party City and other ubiquitous strip mall stores; from the outside, the impression isn’t exactly enticing. Still, never a good idea to judge a book by its cover.

Inside, we’re greeted by a small foyer with a fountain pouring water from wine bottles. There’s a faint tinge of chlorine in the air. To the right is a host stand, where a gentleman smiles, grabs two menus and leads us into the dining room. It’s a cavernous space lit by a fireplace in one wall. Only a few other tables are occupied, including one couple who are sipping on big margaritas. Now that’s what I call a lunch tryst! Through an archway, I can see the pub space, which is also spacious, bright and airy.

Our waitress arrives to take our drink orders. She is polite and curt at first, clearly not in the mood for chit-chat; later, though, she does warm up slightly. I see they have HopSlam on tap and can’t resist. It’s served in the proper glass, too! The menu is varied, not settling on any one cuisine, really a mix of Italian, South American, and Californian. The wine list is similarly all over the board. Still, I see plenty to pique my culinary curiosity.

We opt to start with the Fried Green Beans with Peanut Sauce. They are lightly breaded and seasoned, served on a bed of lettuce. I dip one into the sauce. Shazam! Spice floods across my tongue. The peanut sauce is clearly Thai influenced, sweet and hot. I’m surprised to find the green beans so fresh, with no telltale “freezer burn” taste. Each bite is better than the last, until all are gone. Besides Greenbush’s Joique Wings, this is my new favorite appetizer.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to sandwiches that have brie on them, because they nearly always disappoint. Some brands of brie can be so subtle, they lend nothing to the dish. However, I’m happy to report Cravings’ Ham & Brie with fig jam on ciabatta is not one of those. The ham is salty, the jam is sweet, and the gooey cheese adds just the right amount of full-flavor funk. I can’t keep from groaning as a I crunch into the crisp bread. One bite of sandwich, one sip of HopSlam. I am a happy camper.

Never mind Juliet’s past experiences with the catering side of the business. Our lunch is worth repeating. The interior of the building isn’t very intimate, but I can see it as a great meeting place for large groups like wedding parties. There is a dank odor down the long hall to the restrooms near the back too. These are minor quibbles, though. Cravings Bistro and Pub serves up high-quality, well-prepared food and I can’t wait to try them for dinner.

She Fed:

Despite a good friend encouraging us to try Cravings Bistro and Pub, we’ve just never had time to check it out. In all honesty, I’ve had some of their food at catered corporate events and have been relatively unimpressed. On a recent Saturday, we find our tummies grumbling after a long morning running errands and drive right by Cravings. We agree to turn around and give it a try.

The interior of Cravings is cavernous, a gigantic dimly lit room with a working fireplace and wooden bar opposite. A larger bar with several TV screens, lots of beer taps, and pub tables is on the other side of the space. I’m guessing this place can be rented out for large events. We are shown to a table near the fireplace, and it feels cozy almost immediately.

When I open the menu, I am shocked at the quantity and diversity of offerings. It all sounds really good. Not only do they have everything from starters to sandwiches to entrees, they even offer paella. The table next to us is having a large basket of plantain chips and salsa with two of the largest margaritas I’ve ever seen. Given the number of fun appetizers and the size of those cocktails, I think this would be a great place to gather with friends and watch a game in the bar.

I order a glass of California Pinot Noir and dig in to the fried green beans with Thai dipping sauce we’re sharing. The sauce is thick and peanutty—much like what you’d have with a chicken satay. It's got a peppery kick, so there's a sticky-sweet-spicy thing going on. The green beans taste freshly steamed; I would bet money these were cut, breaded lightly, and fried crunchy-crispy to order. I know someone who orders fried green beans probably isn’t looking for “fresh” and “healthy”, but these taste like the ones I get from the farmer’s market in August, not like the ones I pull from my freezer in February.

All of the burgers sound great, but I opt for soup and salad today. Along with a second glass of wine; it is the weekend after all. The Lobster Bisque is creamy and rich with hint of sherry. The roll that accompanies it is clearly right out of the oven. I tear the steaming roll into pieces and daub them in the bisque. Heaven!

The large Goat Cheese Salad is an assortment of greens, toasted almond slices, strong red onion, grape tomato halves, with a cilantro dressing. They’re very generous with the goat cheese and the dressing is deliciously addictive. I push the red onions and tomatoes out of the way and devour the entire bowl. Easily one of the most flavorful salads I’ve ever eaten. I’ve been dreaming of the dressing ever since! Don’t let the surroundings or the exterior fool you; Cravings is worth seeking out.

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