A few weeks ago, I treated you to a sneak peek of the Inn At Harbor Shores. Good news: the hotel is finally open, and so is its restaurant, Plank’s Tavern!
Plank’s Tavern is named for the charming turn-of-the-century resort that sat on the river’s edge in this area’s heyday. The restaurant is a charming addition to the hotel led by an enthusiastic team of chefs, featuring an approachable menu that focuses on fresh and local cuisine.
I was anxiously awaiting its opening and thrilled with the outcome.
Plank’s Tavern isn’t a large restaurant–but it makes up for its size with a big-hearted menu, staff and sommelier.
The restaurant reflects the Inn’s intimate size: it seats 76 diners in the main dining room and there’s space for an additional 88 guests on its waterside porch. The inside is cosy: the ceiling is made of Michigan pine, the windows are the beautiful resort style double hung beauties featured in the upstairs ballroom, and the doors to the restrooms have leather handles. All in all, it’s a casual tavern aesthetic that doesn’t try too hard.
One special touch that I love: diners can arrive by boat or car.
The restaurant is located just off the lobby of the Inn At Harbor Shores hotel. It features a lovely bar with beautiful fireside seating. It’s cosy and charming. As we reflected on the recent harsh winter, my friend and I decided that we will be spending the next winter drinking craft cocktails by the fireplace (so if you see us coming, scoot over).
When Michael, one of the members of the hotel development team gave me the behind-the-scenes tour of the property, one of the things that he was most excited about was the new chef for Plank’s Tavern, Tim Hendren. A fellow foodie, Michael was excited that area foodies would no longer need to pack up the car to find a variety of good menu options. I couldn’t agree more.
Tim is the restaurant’s executive chef and comes to Plank’s Tavern from Keystone Resort in Vail, Colorado, where he helped to modernize a somewhat outdated steakhouse, transforming it into an upscale casual bistro.
At Plank’s Tavern, Tim and his team will specialize in serving handcrafted food and beverages featuring local ingredients. Their commitment to Michigan-based ingredients is pronounced, and I liked that the menu did not restrict itself to western Michigan favorites, but instead opted for a broad variety of Michigan based elements. Although the restaurant is in its early stages, the chefs have spent a lot of time outside of the kitchen visiting farms, suppliers and sourcing the best ingredients for its menu. They’re detail obsessed and excited about bringing the best of the state to the table at Plank’s Tavern.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to meet two of the chefs, Matt and Tim, and the sommelier, Ruth.
The truth is, my friend offered to let me taste her tuna, and I ate all of it.
When the chef came over to say, “hello”, I was in the process of apologizing to her for eating her entire dinner, and was offering to order one (so she wouldn’t starve) and pay the bill (since I was so embarrassed I ate the entire thing!). There’s really no decent seafood in the area, absolutely no sushi, and probably, no place that I’d eat fish from around here except Plank’s Tavern.
I recommend the tuna, the shrimp and grits and the chocolate covered cupcake!
The chefs have known each other for a while, and worked together in Colorado. They’re committed to a scratch-made kitchen and cure their own bacon and smoke their own meat. When we mat Matt, he had been outside smoking meats for the restaurant. He smelled incredible (although, have you ever smelled bacon that didn’t smell incredible?). It’s clear that the team takes great pride in what they do, are committed to getting things right and are doing things themselves to make sure that the food is executed at a high level. The result is high quality and excellent presentation.
We asked the chefs for their personal recommendations, both men suggested the Plank’s Burger–so be sure to try one if your travels take you to the Tavern!
One of the things that I was impressed by was the kitchen’s committment to the environment. Currently, they are on the path to being green in the kitchen– from composting and recycling to tending their very own herb garden. It will be exciting to watch this unfold! This is something that both men practiced out west, and want to merge into their kitchen here. They’re committed to a forward thinking, green philosophy and are serious about composting their waste.
While I haven’t included a special section detailing the service at a restaurant before, I’m adding one today. My favorite meal of 2014 was hands down, Carolina at the St. Regis hotel. Everything about that experience rocked my world, and confirmed my belief that the waiter and sommelier are an important part of the dining experience.
Ruth, is the restaurant’s sommelier and has years of experience in the hospitality industry. She came to our table and recommended several truly excellent wines. I was impressed with her knowledge of wines, vineyards and varietals and felt that she single-handedly elevated the dining experience with her enthusiasm and suggestions. Our waiter was also incredible, and together they made a great team. I think this is particularly worth noting, because in the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve found very few places I would willingly take my visiting friends.
The service at Plank’s Tavern separates this experience from some of the other dining experiences I’ve had in the area.
While Benton Harbor may not be as beautiful as St. Joseph, it’s classier cousin, the dining scene there is better–and Plank’s Tavern is the latest addition to an exciting list of places worth eating at.
Soon, the easiest way to make a reservation will be by visiting Open Table. Frequent readers know that I am obsessed with earning Open Table points (and sort of hate that restaurants in this area don’t take part in the program). Plank’s Tavern is one of the few restaurants in the area to leverage Open Table, so take advantage of this opportunity to actually golf or visit the beach, make a reservation for dinner, dine and earn points! Note: the link isn’t live yet, but most likely will be soon.
Diners can also join the team at Plank’s for Community Hour, daily, between 2:00-6:00 pm. The concept of Community Hour differs from a traditional Happy Hour slightly. The idea behind its community hour is to build a community around its food and place, and chef inspired craft cocktails and community plates will be offered.
Also on the horizon: a bottomless mimosa brunch is coming to the menu at Plank’s Tavern! On Saturday and Sunday brunch will be served on the waterside porch between 9am- 2pm.
address + phone:
800 Whitwam Drive
Benton Harbor, Michigan