Chowing Down on Detroit Soul Food
Photograph by Joe Vaughn
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Metro Detroit’s connections with the South run deep. It’s a cultural link that’s evident at family dinner tables, where platters of fried chicken and mac & cheese are stalwarts. Fortunately for us, a hankering for cornbread, gravy, or collards can be satisfied at a number of local dine-in and carryout soul-food restaurants. We asked two frequent Hour Detroit contributors to sacrifice their waistlines for this roundup.
Gina’s Soul Food and Breakfast
17141 E. Eight Mile Rd., Eastpointe; 586-778-7902.
Ask Gina Russell what’s good to eat at her restaurant, and she’ll quickly reply: “Everything.” And from our many experiences at the cozy Eastpointe eatery, she’s right. One of our personal favorites is her waffles and chicken wings, but other dishes that will make you moan in delight are the yams, the catfish, and the short ribs. Gina has studied gourmet cooking, but her preference is soul food prepared with her own twist. She tries to be as health conscious as one can be in preparing soul food, replacing pork fat with smoked turkey in her collard greens, for example. Gina’s is a comfortable dine-in spot with well-appointed décor and a polite, uniformed wait staff. You’ll most likely find Gina banging pots in the kitchen.
Sunday Dinner Company
6470 E. Jefferson, Detroit; 313-877-9255.
Chef Eric Giles admits that the focus of his Southern comfort restaurant on East Jefferson in Detroit is 75-percent people and 25-percent food. As part of their commitment to the community, Giles and his business partner, David Theriault, opened their soul-food restaurant this year on Mother’s Day as a training center, creating employment opportunities for disenfranchised citizens and at-risk youths. Much of the courteous staff was hired through Goodwill Industries and trained personally by Giles to be polished waiters, hosts, cooks, and kitchen staff. In addition to supporting the community, Sunday Dinner serves good food. This dine-in and carryout spot is buffet style, with a server assisting guests with their selections. We liked the dirty rice and seafood, fried chicken, fried corn, and fresh green vegetables.
1917 American Bistro
19416 Livernois, Detroit; 313-863-1917.
Don Studvent wants to make one thing perfectly clear, his chic little restaurant on The Avenue of Fashion in Detroit, is not a “soul-food” restaurant. It’s an American bistro, he says. When we see such menu items as fried catfish, barbecue ribs, and fried chicken, we think soul. Studvent counters, saying his most-popular item is crab cakes. Studvent offers a Sunday brunch, but we prefer the catfish to-order, which was perfection, and the waffles, which were probably the best we’ve ever tasted. Bistro or soul food, this one’s worth a visit.
Beans & Cornbread
29508 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-208-1680.
Patrick Coleman describes the food he serves as an “epicurean spin on Southern cooking.” We get hungry just thinking of his $9.95 Sunday brunch, which includes morning standards plus fried chicken, catfish, barbecue ribs, greens, and macaroni and cheese. Beans & Cornbread takes a health-conscious approach: no salt pork or lard here. Coleman says he’s proud to call his place a soul-food restaurant, and he has great fun with the concept, offering Kool-Aid flavored martinis in the adjoining Sidebar Lounge, for example. All around, Beans & Cornbread is a favorite, with solid food, friendly staff, and a comfortable atmosphere.
Motor City Soul Food
12700 W. Seven Mile Rd., Detroit; 313-863-7685.
If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of Seven Mile Road and Meyers in Detroit around the dinner hour, you’ve surely noticed the hubbub coming from the northwest corner of that intersection. A line of cars snakes around the corner, and the indoor waiting area is jammed with anxious customers. The brainchild of George and Martha Clay, this 10-year-old establishment is a perennial favorite. Here’s a place where you can pretty much count on everything being good. Martha, who’s in charge of the kitchen, says, “I’m from Mississippi. Nobody does soul food better.” Underscoring her boast is the list of celebrities who pop in on a regular basis. Fans include Aretha Franklin, Red Man, Tommy Hearns, Greg Mathis, and, until recently, Kwame Kilpatrick.