- 125 E. Empire Avenue
- Benton Harbor, MI 49022
- (269) 927-5008
- No Known Website
I’ve been to Benton Harbor many times, but to be honest, it’s usually just to get to St. Joseph. The furthest I’ve been off the Business Loop is a few times I had to go to the Whirpool Ad Center on Paw Paw Avenue. I know there’s not a lot in the town to explore, but I still like getting off the main road from time to time to see what else is out there.
I was in St. Joseph earlier this week around dinner time and while I know a bunch of great spots in St. Joe, I decided to look around the area and get away from downtown. The place that popped up was listed as 24 Hours (spoiler alert: it’s not) and the Google Streetview pictures showed signs for chicken wings, fries, burgers and Italian beef.
Harbor Express is a small, carry-out only shop on the corner of East Empire and Lavette Avenue just east of Benton Harbor High School. I don’t know much about Benton Harbor neighborhoods, but everything about this place makes me think it isn’t the greatest. The windows all had steel bars and the kitchen/cashier is behind bullet proof glass with a turntable to allow food to be passed through it.
The public area is very small. There’s just enough room for two, maybe three people to stand comfortably. There’s no seating or waiting area. The large menu is on giant printed posters behind you as you face the cashier.
I walked in to Harbor Express kind of in the mood for a burger. I looked over the menu and tossed around a few different ideas. An Italian beef started sound good. So did the Italian combo. When it came time to order, the wings just kind of won out. I ordered an eight piece wing dinner which came with fries and white bread.
The cost for the meal was right around $10 and I was told it would take about twenty minutes. I headed back to the car to wait so I could sit in the air conditioner and listen to a podcast to kill the time.
When the twenty minutes were up, I headed back in. My food was just coming out of the fryer. The cashier struck up a conversation through the bullet proof glass while I was waiting. She asked how I had heard of the place as it looked like I had never been there before. I told her about the Google’s and told them they really should get a Facebook page to put a menu online or something. We talked a few more minutes then she passed my food through the turntable and threw a Pepsi in there out of the kindness of her heart.
I was a little surprised when I got back to the car and looked in the bag. The Styrofoam container could barely contain all the food inside of it. The wings were quite large and there was also a really good size portion of the fries as well.
There was no place to sit and eat and I didn’t want to eat this meal cold, so I sat in the parking lot for a little bit and dug in to my food. I started with the fries and while I had low expectations when I saw them, they actually turned out pretty tasty.
The fries weren’t much more than a GFS frozen fry, but they had a really crispy exterior and that soft, pillowy inside. On their own, they would have been average, but they had some of the seasoning from the chicken (I’ll get to that) on them which made them awfully damn tasty.
Once most of the fries were gone, I picked up the first piece of chicken and ripped it in half. The wings are super crispy whole wings with juicy, tender meat. Again, one their own, these would have been solid wings….nice crispy outside and a steaming hot, juicy, and tender inside….but these wings didn’t have to stand on their own. The seasoning on top of these wings took the wings from delicious, but average to “that’s interesting.”
The seasoning reminds me a little bit of the “Crack Chicken” made famous by Fresh Fish Fry in Lansing. It’s a seasoning salt with what appeared to be some Italian spices and garlic powder. Too much of it in one spot and you’ll desperately be reaching for something to drink. When it’s applied sparingly, it gives the crunchy skin of the chicken a little bit of a salty kick. There were times I was dusting a lot of it off the wings, but if you can find that perfect ratio, this chicken is damn good. The seasoning is good, but too much of it, in this case, is a bad thing.
Sometimes, it really pays to get off the main road. Harbor Express was one of those times. It’s not a place for everybody. I really like greasy, salty food….not everyone does and that’s OK. Places like Harbor Express can really only be surprising or disappointing. There never seems to be an in between. Harbor Express was surprising. I didn’t expect such a huge menu and I didn’t expect chicken that would have me licking my lips three days later.