Date of Visit: Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 9:15 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: I always say that my favorite way to get to know a city is by experiencing its breakfast. Example: we’re in South Haven, Michigan for some friends’ wedding. Even though I grew up an hour north in Grand Rapids, this is only the second time I’ve been to South Haven. So it’s time to grab some breakfast. We met with a group of friends on a busy Saturday morning, and South Haven’s little beach town vibe was in full swing. Phoenix Street Cafe (oddly enough, located on Phoenix Road, according to Google Maps) is located on the main drag, a fairly small storefront amongst a variety of shops, restaurants, bars, and the like. Phoenix Street/Road leads directly to the harbor and to the South Haven beach.
ATMOSPHERE: The vibe that morning was quintessential West Michigan Saturday going-to-breakfast: people breakfasting with purpose. As you might expect, there was a line at the door and the place was packed.
Phoenix Street has chosen a lot of warm, bright colors for their cafe. The space itself feels fairly new; I’m guessing this restaurant is only a couple years old, or was recently renovated. There’s a lot of seating – although only a small waiting area – and it was all full when we visited.
A fun little detail that I liked: syrup served in an olive oil container.
Ah the small-town cafe, with their paper placemats full of local advertising. It’s always fun to read these while you wait. They give you some sense of the local businesses.
FOOD: The nice thing about eating with a big party is that you get to see and photograph more dishes. This is the sampler breakfast, with eggs, meats, potatoes, and toast.
And the mini breakfast. It seems like Phoenix Street can handle the basics well. Eggs done right, pretty good meat, potatoes seasoned nicely, wide variety of bread choices.
Here was a first for me: quinoa oatmeal! I haven’t seen that on a menu yet, although it makes perfect sense. This is the version with raisins and bananas.
And a version with raisins and cranberries. Our friends who ordered it said they liked it. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a very protein-rich grain.
My wife ordered the California benedict, which is essentially a benedict with avocado and some crumbled bacon. Beautifully plated and well-made, although not the most mind-blowing benedict. I think the hollandaise could have used a little more seasoning.
A friend ordered the crispy chicken sandwich from the lunch menu, Florentine style, with provolone, roasted red peppers, and artichokes, and gave it a thumbs-up.
I’m a sucker for a good chicken and waffle, especially when the menu says they’ll cover it in sausage gravy and give you a side of their homemade smoked Jack Daniels syrup. Again, beautiful plating, and all told the dish came together well: crispy chicken, the very smoky syrup, good waffle and gravy, although I do think the gravy needed a better punch of spices. That seemed to be a common problem with the food: good ingredients and plating, maybe a little more creative seasoning needed.
SERVICE: Our server was nice, although the food took quite a while to come out. Granted, we were a bigger group and the cafe was busy, but it felt inappropriately long. There’s also a little confusion at the door, where newly-arrived customers are unsure where to sign in or check in with a server. I’ve seen this problem at a number of cafes.
OVERALL: I think Phoenix Street is a solid visit if you’re in South Haven, even if there are a few misses. There’s a diverse selection of dishes, and although none of them were completely mind-blowing, there are some interesting things that don’t see everywhere: chicken and waffles with gravy, quinoa oatmeal, also some oatmeal cakes and a lox omelet. Be prepared for a big crowd and slower service on the weekends, especially if you have a big day of shopping and beach-reading planned!