LakeHouse by Cravings

(Saint Joseph, MI) — Many moons ago, when we were attempting to acclimate to the Saint Joe area, we made the fateful mistake of stopping in for a beer and a bite at a Mexican restaurant that seemed to have it all—bright neon lights, a sprawling deck, and a fantastic view of Lake Michigan. Poor service, inauthentic food, and a lingering spilled cerveza stench sank that experience. Mere months ago, however, one of our favorite local restaurants decided to take over the space and thus this new ship was launched, christened LakeHouse by Cravings...

He Fed:

I still feel a little guilty about talking Juliet into eating at the old Mexican restaurant, particularly since she’d warned me not to expect much. That meal crouches in the dark recesses of my skull like an emerald-eyed spider, ready to pounce whenever I’m too quick to pick another eatery and my wife is raising her eyebrows.

Tonight, I’m expecting a much better experience. We pull up and already I can tell this is a quality redux, the garish color scheme replaced by stateful white paint with black trim. It almost has a plantation or Key West feel. We go inside to the bar (where I can smell the ghost of spilled beer, but not anywhere near what it had been) and enjoy a quick drink while waiting for our dinner compatriots, new friends, to join. Soon, we are shown to a table in one of the dining room areas. A fireplace set in one wall promises ambiance and comfort when the weather turns cold.

I’m digging on the Perrin Grapefruit IPA, eventually shifting gears to Tapistry’s Enigma. We make small talk and eagerly peruse the menu. It is a well-rounded, seafood-oriented lineup with nothing too out of the ordinary. Together, we agree to split two appetizers: Bang Bang Shrimp and Seafood Risotto Croquettes. The shrimp turns out to be of the popcorn species, half dollar size curls lightly breaded and tossed in a spicy sauce. It’s a familiar dish that doesn’t deviate from the formula. I find myself longing for prawns instead, but these are fine. The croquettes, on the other hand, are beyond the norm. Stuffed with scallops, shrimp, and clams, these discs of fried risotto are salty sweet, contrasted nicely with the drizzled chipotle aioli. (Speaking of aioli, I do get slightly turned off when I see that same uniform squiggle adorning other dishes. It might taste good, but seeing it replicated on dish after dish only makes me suspect a lack of creativity.)

Before our main course, I’m able to try a cup of their Tomato Basil soup. It’s creamy and thick, just a whisper of velvety herbaceousness under all that sweet pureed tomato. The cup drained away steadily until the spoon rattled against the ceramic like a bone picked clean at cannibal’s last supper.

Our waitress rattles off the evening’s specials and, as you might expect, I’m sunk even before I can fully contemplate the rest of the menu. I mean, when else am I going to be able to try an Oyster and Brie stuffed Pork Chop? And did I mention they come with a side of jalapeno cornbread fritters? Yeah, I really have no choice, do I?

I cut into the bone-in chop with my knife. The pork is prepared exactly, still pink at the bone. Juices flow onto the plate. Grey oyster meat slips out, more like clams, swimming in thick clots of melted cheese. With no trepidation, I test a forkful... Amazing! Natural salts commingle, anchored by the juicy pig. Happily, I keep at it until full. All of my fears about lack of creativity dissipate.

Our companions are satisfied with their choices too—Jambalaya and Parmesan Encrusted Whitefish. Satisfied, we all lean back and finish our drinks, chatting until it's time to head home, and the sun sinks low over the lake. Already, we're considering our next trip. We may have a new favorite place!

She Fed:

There’s been lots of buzz since the announcement of Craving’s taking over this space. When it was the dark and drab El Cozumel, I was continually underwhelmed by the food, service, and interior. But what an amazing transformation! The space is bright, airy, and welcoming. Stained carpets have been replaced with gleaming hardwood. New Palladian windows let in both sunlight and gorgeous views of Lake Michigan. The walls are creamy beige and light grey. It’s hard to believe this is the same space.

We arrive a few minutes early, bellying up to the bar. I plan on wine with dinner so just have an ice water while Jeremy orders a Perrin Grapefruit IPA. Our dinner companions arrive just a few minutes later. We cash out and head to our table.

Our foursome chooses to split a few starters; I love dining out with people who suggest splitting a few apps. It’s a mood killer when someone at the table announces, “I don’t like to share my food.” Entrees I get, but starters are meant to be shared, right? Each appetizer sounds better than the next. We order the Bang Bang Shrimp and the Seafood Risotto Croquettes. I opt for a glass of Mind Bender Chardonnay, figuring a bit of oakiness will work with fish and seafood tonight.

The apps arrive and we all dig in with gusto. I temporarily forget we’ve ordered risotto croquettes and think I’m biting into a crab cake. The texture throws me for a loop, until Jeremy reminds me what they are—scallops, clams and shrimp combined with risotto. The spicy aioli drizzled over each croquette is really yummy and our table quickly divides the final croquette into fourths so we can each have one final bite.

The shrimp are those tiny ones that are easy to overcook. However the crunch of the breading with the spicy-sweet sauce is slightly addictive and I keep going back for more. I think larger but fewer shrimp would be a better offering. I’d rather have 2-3 fabulous shrimp than a mountain of ho-hum ones.

Our waitress confides that the Parmesan Crusted Whitefish and Lake Perch are the two most popular entrees. I’ve been eyeballing the perch so it’s an easy choice. It comes with soup or the Garden Mixed Greens, which turns out to be one of the tastiest salads I’ve ever had with red onions, spiced pecans, dried cherries, feta, and a champagne vinaigrette.

The main courses arrive quickly and everything is plated beautifully, though I think the whitefish one of our companions orders is by far the prettiest plate. (Check out the photos for the Seafood Jambalaya, too—gorgeous!) My perch is very lightly breaded and absolutely divine with a squeeze of lemon, no need for the tartar sauce The garlic mashed potatoes are disappointingly bland and actually tasteless. The broccoli, however is cooked expertly and after those big apps and a fab salad, fish and broccoli is perfect.

The service tonight has been top-notch, attentive without being intrusive or overbearing. Rumor has it they’ll be putting in a tiki bar on the deck this summer. And for me, a tiki bar with Lake Michigan views overrides bland mashed potatoes every time!

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