Bistro Beans & Cornbread dishes up Southern fare in Southfield. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Is it possible to be down-home and upscale at the same time? Patrick Coleman of Beans & Cornbread thinks so, and he can prove it.
Soul food was most often found in obscure storefronts with few frills until he decided to leave the high-end restaurant group for which he'd been working to open his own restaurant in an affluent section of Southfield. It immediately began drawing a crowd for its Southern fare in a setting that paid homage to the Harlem Renaissance with black-and-white photographs and vintage magazine covers.
Hard to believe that was almost 15 years ago.
It's tough to keep a restaurant relevant for the long term, as Coleman's upbeat spot has managed to be. While he still serves pretty much the same menu — the crispy fried catfish, smothered pork chops and fried chicken, with time-honored sides of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas and candied sweet potatoes — Beans & Cornbread has evolved with the times.
Flanking the central main dining room are Sidebar, a small cocktail lounge with a copper-topped bar that was added in 2006 on one side; on the other side is the appropriately scarlet Red Velvet Room for private parties, added in 2010.
The upbeat dining room, with an open kitchen on the back wall, seats a few more than 60 at tables and in cozy high-backed booths along the walls. The tables are double-covered with black linen and fresh white paper.
Service is friendly and cheerful by a staff that appears to enjoy working here.
They bring to the tables nicely sauteed catfish in its lightly dusted crust; candied sweet potatoes that hit the right note of sweetness; crisp, greaseless fried chicken and collard greens that only need a drop or two of the hot sauce and/or vinegar from cruets on each table, all prepared by three cooks in black baseball caps busily working the burners.
Everything is accompanied by baskets of sturdy cornbread and tiny sweet potato muffins that have an almost fluffy texture. (The muffins have become so popular that they are now sold in a couple of gourmet markets in Oakland County.)
Among the notable dishes is Louisiana-style gumbo, thick with andouille sausage, chunks of chicken and just a touch of shrimp and topped with rice. It's made with a base of the classic dark roux and a nice balance of spice, definitely noticeable but not overpowering. It may be ordered on its own or as part of a main dish of Cajun-grilled salmon sauced with gumbo.
Vying in popularity with gumbo are baby back ribs, chargrilled and then finished in a slow oven. Another dish that's been around since day one is salmon croquettes, given a modern touch with roasted red pepper sauce and portobello mushrooms.
The list of sides is really as important as main plates in any restaurant specializing in Southern-style fare, and Beans & Cornbread doesn't disappoint, offering no fewer than 14 choices to round out lunch or dinner, ranging from red beans and rice to mashed potatoes and country corn.
Coleman is very much a hands-on proprietor, one of the reasons why Beans & Cornbread is still going strong, living proof that down-home and upscale can indeed make a winning team.
Cynthia Green, foreground, of Oak Park and Ria Siler of Detroit enjoy ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
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