A Professional Vegan's Guide to Detroit
Motown is rocking once again thanks to a plethora of plant-based food.
To celebrate VegNews naming the Top 10 Best Vegan Cities in America (found in our May+June 2017 issue), we asked our favorite vegans to explain why their winning town should be atop every meat-free traveler’s list.
In 1908, when Henry Ford rolled out the first Model T onto Woodward Avenue, the city of Detroit became an industrial powerhouse. Revolutionizing the world with the automobile, Detroit grew to be the country’s fourth-largest city, where busy streets buzzed with blue-collar Americans and their families, who expanded throughout the city and the nearby suburbs. After social and economic issues appeared during the late 1970s, The Motor City saw its population decrease, and by the time the 2000s approached, Detroit was a running punchline for anyone looking for an easy target when describing just how far a town could fall. However, the blue-collar attitude that built Motown never left, and Detroit is back with a vengeance. Artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and others with fresh ideas have invaded the city limits and suburbs, eager to rebuild what once made Detroit—and its surrounding region—special. During the past few years, the food scene has completely expanded thanks to successful restaurants in neighboring cities such as Birmingham and Royal Oak. These thriving restaurants gave owners the following they needed to jump back into the city limits, and at some points during spring and summer, at least five new restaurants will open its doors for the first time. And thankfully, the vegan options are absolutely incredible.
Top 3 vegan eateries
1. Seva: Located at the rear of the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, this gorgeous space has unbelievable vaulted wood ceilings paired with a handmade bar made from Michigan birch. Everything about Seva’s Detroit location lets you know you’re in downtown Detroit. And what food item is Detroit famous for? The Coney Dog, of course! Seva’s vegan spin on the Detroit classic is unlike anything else in town. The homemade vegan chili—with onions and mustard—top a classic vegan frank and is sided with sweet potato fries. If the Coney Dog is unavailable, try the Cilantro-Peanut Stir-fry. With broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, mung sprouts, green onions, and carrots over brown rice in a cilantro-peanut-ginger-lime sauce, this stir-fry will fill you up nicely before visiting the many museums Detroit has to offer.
2. Detroit Vegan Soul: Located in the center of West Village (one of Detroit’s most popular and rising neighborhoods), this former catering and delivery company puts a vegan spin on classic soul food. Without a doubt, the “Catfish” Tofu entrée is the go-to here. The cornbread battered tofu comes with a corn-and-broccoli medley along with red-skinned potatoes and onions. Before you get to the “catfish,” though, you must try the okra stew. The flavor of the okra combined with fresh tomatoes and onions over rice is one of my favorite tastes in all of the city.
3. Om Café: Om Café is what you’d expect from a full vegan restaurant—in all the best ways. Small, cozy, and intimate, this Ferndale eatery’s staple menu items are what get me through the week. The Loaded Mac and Cheese is a regular dinner item for me, while the tempeh burger, sushi rolls, and vegan tacos always keep me charged with a full stomach. The tacos change weekly, so keep an eye on the always evolving menu.
Top 3 non-vegan restaurants with vegan options
1. Townhouse: After opening in Birmingham in 2011, Townhouse added a second location and joined downtown Detroit’s restaurant revolution during the summer of 2015. The stunning urban patio is perfect for every occasion thanks to its retractable glass roof, while the relaxing garden vibe makes you feel like you’re in a swanky hotel in New York City. The go-to vegan choice is the Black Bean & Brown Rice Burger, which is loaded with avocado, mushroom, onion, jalapeño peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes.
2. Bistro82: Located across the street from the Royal Oak Music Theatre and below SCL Night Club, Bistro 82 is a great place to begin a night out with a great meal. The vegetable risotto has a delightful cashew cream sauce to go with roasted carrots, blistered tomatoes, and peas.
3. 7 Greens: On a hot summer Detroit business day, 7 Greens has a line out the door with locals grabbing a healthy lunch option between business meetings. The eatery’s menu is loaded with plenty of vegan options, but my favorite is the Detroit Greek, which comes with lettuce, roasted beets, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and red onions (be sure to ask for no feta).
Favorite vegan item in Detroit
I love the Country Biscuits & Gravy—housemade biscuits, country herb gravy, sausage, and wild mushrooms—from GreenSpace Café. In fact, I had to ask three times to make sure this was vegan! Food options such as these are showing up all over making it easier than ever to stay vegan and eat out with friends all over the area.
Ultimate vegan meal
The perfect vegan meal is the broccoli-potato soup from Cacao Tree Cafe in Royal Oak. For lunch, I’d head to Chive Kitchen in Farmington to grab their vegan nachos, complete with house-fried tortilla chips, refried lentils, cashew nacho cheese, onions, salsa, cashew sour cream, and jalapeños. For dessert, I’d drive to Ann Arbor for a molasses gingersnap cookie and Mexican hot chocolate at The Lunch Room. Don't let the name deceive you—they’re open until 9pm most nights! Of course, while driving all over Detroit to each place, I slam DROUGHT juice. Literally everywhere I go I have at least some concoction of their organic juice. Usually, it's the Cacao Cold Brew full with organic oats, cold brew, chia seeds, coconut, hemp seeds, cacao, dates, and vanilla.
First-stop for a visiting vegan friend
As I said earlier, the experience cannot be topped at GreenSpace Café, as any first-timer to the Detroit region would be completely comfortable experimenting with the menu. I have personally taken business associates and friends who have never eaten vegan, and they all loved the experience—and the food!
Top three vegan desserts
1. Cacao Tree Cafe: The Magic Bars from Cacao Tree got its name for a reason—the powerful combination of walnut, coconut flakes, dates, cacao paste, cacao butter, maple syrup, coconut butter, vanilla extract, sea salt, and hemp seed make for a delicious ending to a day.
2. Avalon Cafe and Bakery: While most of this Detroit bakery’s options aren't vegan, they do have plenty of plant-based options, including an entire line of vegan cookies, bars, and cakes. I recommend the Vegan Blackberry Coconut Bar, which has a delightful blackberry filling and is crusted in coconut.
3. The Lunch Room: The many vegan cookies and doughnuts options at The Lunch Room are so good! Although they are listed under dessert, I’ve been known to have a few of them for breakfast after getting a little too carried away the night before. Doughnuts are considered a breakfast food, right?
Favorite non-food activity
We have an awesome yoga scene in the metro Detroit area. So many amazing personalities from all over the world have opened studios with some of the best studios I’ve ever been to. My new favorite scene in the yoga world is Acro Yoga. I even turned my garage into a personal yoga studio complete with rings, mirrors, gym mats, and everything else needed for a good pop-up group acro session.
Vegan king and/or queen of Detroit
I would hate to award one of them without the other because we have an equal king and queen here in Detroit. The king is Joel Kahn, MD, who privately owns multiple non-traditional cardiologist centers. His goal is to prevent 1 million heart attacks and remove all of the terrible foods that our hospital systems serve. Kahn travels the world spreading his infinite vegan wisdom that comes from his personal journey living vegan and what he has learned from treating patients. The queen is Amber Poupore, owner of Cacao Tree Cafe. I have mentioned Cacao Tree multiple times, and Amber is what makes it so amazing. Her dedication to her restaurant—along with speaking at schools and hospitals about the benefits of eating healthy— easily put her at the highest level of vegan minds and great attitudes in Detroit, if not the country.
One amazing vegan thing in Detroit every city should have
While seemingly every city these days has a farmers’ market, nothing is quite as extensive as Detroit's Eastern Market on a Saturday morning. With six covered sheds surrounded by open store fronts and pop-up shops, visitors can easily walk out of there with a week’s worth of organic ingredients for less than $25. Furthermore, Detroit has a Plant Based Support Network Group that hosts monthly support meetings at our local farmers’ markets. We have more than 3,000 members, making it one of the largest of its kind in the United States.
Scott Hank is a yoga junkie who’s always on the go.
Photo courtesy of Detroit Vegan Soul
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