When Patrick Coleman opened his restaurant 18 years ago last month, he wasn’t at all sure that soul food in the suburbs was a viable concept. So he started small.
The original space, just four walls and 900 square feet of space with 68 seats, was his way of dipping his toes into the water.
Now, having just celebrated a milestone, Beans & Cornbread is at the same address but with much expanded dimensions. It now boasts 96 seats in the main dining room and the adjoining cocktail lounge, Sidebar, that was added in 2006, and 50 in the private party room, the Red Velvet Room, a 2009 addition.
And so that diners at the cloth-covered tables would not be disturbed by people coming in for carry-outs, a separate Beans & Cornbread Too was added a few doors away for the to-go crowd.
Yes, soul food in the suburbs can be a viable business enterprise if it is handled with the same care that would be devoted at a more upscale restaurant. And that’s true at Beans & Cornbread. Coleman says he fashions a lot of his operation from what he learned while working for Matthew Prentice, a well-known local upscale restaurateur.
The menu of classic dishes starts with gumbo, Louisiana style, thick with andouille sausage, chunks of chicken, shrimp and rice, and it has a nicely balanced spice level. It’s almost a meal in itself, especially with the accompanying sweet potato muffins and cornbread and everything else.
Other notable dishes include sauteed catfish, irresistible fried chicken and smothered pork chops, and these have all been prepared since Day One by one of the baseball-capped cooks in the kitchen visible in the rear.
One of the most popular selections is not on the menu, but may be ordered and often is by the regulars. It’s “Swamp Thang,” combining several soul-food favorites — fried catfish over rice, layered with collard greens, smothered in gumbo, then topped off with two jumbo shrimp. A microcosm of down-home Southern cooking on a plate.
Sides are essential in Southern cooking, and the list of sides goes on and on, from red beans and rice to candied sweet potatoes, to collard greens and macaroni and cheese, all carefully prepared.
Service is friendly and accommodating by a staff that reflects the proprietor.
For dessert? Just give me another basket of those little sweet potato muffins.
Beans & Cornbread
29508 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield
Call: (248) 208-1680
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 Fri., noon-10 Sat., Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Lunch soups and salads $4.50-$9,
main plates $7.75-$15.50, sides $3-$4;
dinner appetizers $8-$9.50, main plates $13-$18 including sides, desserts $4-$7.75.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★— routine ★★ — good ★★1/2 — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding