After a pleasant morning touring the various tourism sites of Port Huron, MI (the Edison Depot Museum, the Lightship Huron, and the Gratiot Lighthouse park, amongst others) we decided it was time for a late lunch. Luckily, just south of the Black River on Military Street, the Raven Cafe sits in a rather old building (dating from approximately the time of the Civil War). Billing itself as the “cultural, musical and culinary Mecca in the heart of Port Huron”, it’s actually a very nicely appointed bar, one of those places where the people decorating it seem to have turned the “eclectic” knob to 11. But it’s got a very nice old wooden bar downstairs, some very nice loft seating upstairs, a small outdoor balcony, and an odd little indoor balcony only accessible via ladder from the entryway for band performances. It’s certainly got a little bit of charm. We grabbed a nice table outside where we could look over at the old lift bridge over the Black River as well as some of the boats docked on Quay Street.
As far as the menu? The Raven most does funky sandwiches, along with a few stalwarts like a French Dip. I’ll digress a little bit here and mention that there’s something about my 1970s and 80s upbringing that makes me still crave French Dips (bear with me, I haven’t waxed nostalgic about French Dips since I wrote about The Milltowne Grille three years ago…). It seems that pretty much any time my parents packed the family into the car and had us drive around all over Arizona, California, and New Mexico, four times out of five whatever little family-owned or chain restaurant we stopped at would have a French Dip on the menu. While the quality would vary widely from approximately “Arby’s” on the low-end, to “masterpiece of cold, rare, prime rib on artisinal bread with pan-reduced jus”, it pretty much was always available someplace nearby. And I got strangely addicted to them.
But sadly, starting around 1990, they became passé, and I don’t generally see them on menus anymore (certainly not in my little corner of New Hampshire, once Patrick Henry’s in Hanover closed up shop). But nestled in a little corner of the Raven’s menu was their “Plutonian Shore” French Dip Sandwich (spot the Poe reference, folks!). I pretty much had to order one, while Carol opted for the “Loss of Breath” Deluxe Grilled Cheese.
How was my French Dip? It was good. To be honest, it wasn’t earth-shaking, but it was a decent enough French Dip. The bun was nice and crusty, the beef was generously stacked and not overcooked, and, probably most importantly, the jus actually tasted more like beef than salt. Served up with some decent slaw and some chips, and this was a quite satisfying sandwich.
Carol fared well with here “Loss of Breath” Deluxe Grilled Cheese as well. With two kinds of cheese, crumbled real bacon, tomato, and red onion, this came out as a perfectly toasted little sandwich. And she was quite pleased with it, mentioning that in this particular case, bacon did indeed make the sandwich better.
I also need to give a good shout-out to the Raven for their beer list. Michigan has developed one of the Midwest’s better small brewery scenes, and The Raven does a good job having a cross section of the better Michigan Beers (Bells, Founders, Shorts, Dragonmead…). Carol opted for a Dragonmead (from Warren, MI) Stout, and I ended up going with one of my favorites (Founders’ Dirty Bastard). So not just good food, but a great local beer selection to go with it.
If I had to fault something, the service at the Raven is definitely more on the “mellow” end of the spectrum than the “attentive” side. Between our initial server (who apparently was also recovering from a “customer from hell”), and then a completely botched handoff to another server taking over for her, who then neglected us completely, I always felt a bit as if I had to set a napkin on fire to get attention. Hopefully this was a one-off thing, since I was pleased enough with the food and beer to give it another try next time I’m in the area.