The Ideal Place
Located in the heart of Benton Harbor’s Art District, the Ideal Place is a cozy restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere and the look of a neighborhood favorite that you might find in Chicago. We were warmly welcomed by Chris Kasperzak, the owner, and quickly shown to our table where we ordered two tasty Michigan wines: a dry Riesling from White Pine Winery and Tabor Hill’s sweet Demi-Sec. The Ideal Place features many wines and beers from Michigan – a practice we encourage and appreciate.
Appetizers are a must!
Our waiter, Travis, was attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. We started with the Moroccan Scallops which were presented with a spice crust and a Moroccan sauce. We tried to pry the spice blend recipe out of Travis, but were informed that it is a secret and that customers come in just to purchase the sauce. I can see why as it was extremely flavorful but not overpowering. Truly yummy with the scallops. We next moved on to the Char Grilled Oysters which had a subtle smokiness from the grilling and were paired nicely with a tangy cocktail sauce and a creamy lemon butter sauce. The Vegetable Eggrolls were crisp on the outside and had a fantastic filling including carrots, mushrooms and onions and a nice spicy kick. They were complemented with a ginger soy dipping sauce along with a spring roll sauce. One word of caution about the eggrolls, though….don’t let anyone steal your last bite, it’s the best part! The final appetizer we sampled was a bowl filled with New Orleans (NOLA) style shrimp and grits. The large shrimp were perfectly braised in Ideal Pale Ale and finished with a NOLA style BBQ butter. They sat atop a cushion of gouda and jalapeno baked grits which were creamy and flavorful.
Real Food in Benton Harbor
Chris, the owner, explained that The Ideal Place uses all fresh ingredients and is a “scratch kitchen”, meaning everything is made fresh on site. After hearing this, we were even more excited to try the two soups of the day. First we enjoyed the tomato Bisque. It was light and fresh tasting, just as a tomato soup should be. The bisque was not completely smooth, but featured bits of tomato and onion as any homemade soup should. It was topped with crunchy fried croutons and was one of the best tomato soups I have had. The second soup was a NOLA style gumbo which was very hearty and chock-full of sausage, okra, chicken, crawfish and crab. It was served with a scoop of rice in the bottom of the bowl and was spicy and smoky and perfect for a cold winter night. The soups were delivered with pretzel rolls that had a crisp exterior and a tender interior paired with butter.
The Ideal Place serves a unique chopped salad that features chopped greens, carrots, apples, walnuts, goat cheese, dried cherries and deep fried avocado croutons. I’m not sure why we hadn’t tried deep fried avocado before, but I will be sure to have it again! It’s difficult to describe and imagine, but awesome when you eat it. The Ahi Tuna which arrived with a small salad, was seared in toasted sesame seeds and topped with a ginger honey soy glaze, served perfectly rare.
Now, I must say, I don’t know where Butterfish has been all my life, but I’m glad I have found it now! The thick filet is served pan sautéed in lemon butter which renders it light and juicy and flavorful. Butterfish is meaty without being heavy and has an overall sweetness that is divine. The fish is served with an artichoke and crimini mushroom salad dressed with vinaigrette and a purple lemon basil zucchini relish that delivers a tart contrast to the sweet fish. Lots going on in this dish for your palate to explore. We also tried the Filet which is served with a roasted tomato and oyster ragout with artichoke and onions. It is served atop a salad tossed in a lemon-cayenne vinaigrette. The steak was cooked perfectly as ordered and picked up the spicy flavor of the cayenne vinaigrette and smokiness from the ragout served atop it.
OH MY, Dessert Time!
Our favorite course, dessert, didn’t disappoint. Travis arrived with an Apple Cheesecake and a Coconut Cream Tart. We started with the Apple Cheesecake which was topped with caramel sauce and had a thick extra sweet graham cracker crust. It reminded me of a caramel apple but in cheesecake form. The Coconut Tart was topped with crisp toasted coconut that imparted a nuttiness and created a nice contrast in texture from the creamy filling in the tart. Both were served with Frangelico whipped cream and both plates were all but licked clean.
Executive Chef Barb and Chef Doug have created interesting combinations that you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the area. Be sure to stop by the Ideal Place and enjoy a unique dinner at this popular Benton Harbor eatery.
212 Territorial Road
Benton Harbor MI