Detroit Vegan Soul's spinach lasagna, served on Wednesdays, features tofu, ricotta and sun-dried tomato basil sauce. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Patrick Coleman of Beans & Cornbread proved you can do a soul food menu without meat when he opened the vegetarian Southern Nosh in Southfield, and now two Detroit women have taken it one step further, offering a vegan menu with the same premise. That’s a tougher task, because it means not just meatless, but also without any animal products whatsoever, even milk and butter.
A nonvegan can feel a bit like a stranger in paradise when walking into a vegan restaurant, but that’s not the case at Detroit Vegan Soul, the sunny little spot seating just 25 in Detroit’s West Village that Kirsten Ussery and Erica Boyd unveiled on Sept. 28. They and their staff make everyone feel comfortable.
The restaurant, done up in cheerful apple green with glossily varnished wooden tables etched with the Detroit Vegan Soul logo, is the first sign of revival in the row of small storefronts on Agnes between Van Dyke and Parker, but it won’t be alone for long. Red Hook, a coffee shop, and Craftwork, a restaurant and bar, will be their neighbors shortly, and they say they can’t wait.
For now, though, Boyd and Ussery are holding the fort, translating Boyd’s family recipes into the vegan discipline. Boyd, who is the chef, makes every effort to cook dishes with enough flavor that diners don’t even think about what they’re missing. And she succeeds quite well, if you forget the dry cornbread. That can’t hold a candle to the real thing.
Some of her successes, however, are impressive. The soul platter, for instance — mac and cheese (substitute), delicious maple-glazed yams that aren’t overly sweet, black-eyed peas, nicely tart collard greens (with a big bottle of Sriracha chili sauce to spark them) and well, we’ve already mentioned the cornbread.
Then there are nicely done interpretations of catfish and pepper steak with tofu and seitan respectively as the main ingredients, the first served with onion-sparked redskins and a mix of broccoli and corn, and the second stir-fried with peppers and onions and sparked with garlic and ginger. It’s served over brown rice and accompanied by sesame broccoli for an especially filling dish.
One area where vegans join the mainstream is with salads, and I’d recommend that anyone who doesn’t particularly like meat or fish substitutes try one of the salads here, maybe the cleverly named Cesar Chavez, a rosemary-sparked mix of romaine with house-made croutons and Caesar dressing, or a simple garden salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and mushrooms in garlic vinaigrette.
In addition to the regular menu, there’s a Sunday brunch array in which tofu takes a starring role, including an entrée of scrambled tofu with vegetarian sausage, potatoes and onions, served with cinnamon raisin toast. Filling even without meat. Beverages include tea, coffee, lemonade and fruit smoothies, but no carbonated drinks.
This bastion of things-that-are-good-for-you leaves diners feeling virtuous, even if only for one day.
Detroit Vegan Soul
8029 Agnes, Detroit
Call: (313) 649-2759
Rating: 2½ stars (out of 4)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat.,
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.-Tues.
Prices: Appetizers $6-$9, soups, salads and sandwiches $4-$9, sides $4-$6, entrees $12-$14, desserts $4-$6
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Quiet
Parking: Rear lot or street
Wheelchair access: No barriers