Unless you’re running a barbeque restaurant or steakhouse, having some vegetarian and vegan items on the menu is a must for businesses these days.
When Royal Oak’s Inn Season Cafe opened in the early 1980s, though, a 100-percent meat-free menu was considered a specialty, something for hippies only. The small restaurant just outside of the city’s downtown area has been serving organic, GMO-free, made-from-scratch and farm-fresh cuisine since before those terms were considered buzz worthy.
“I would say eight years ago vegan was a bad word,” says Inn Season owner Nick Raftis. “People were confused by it, we couldn’t advertise that we were vegan even though most of the food we carry is vegan, (made with) no animal products.”
Raftis, who is an engineer, purchased Inn Season from his friend, George Vutetakis, in 2008. He’ll be celebrating the cafe’s 35-year milestone throughout the month of October with specials and giveaways. Besides it being Vegetarian Awareness Month, Raftis says because of the fall bounty, this is the best time to eat vegetarian.
“I’ve always loved the Inn Season and I don’t think of myself as the owner,” he says. “My feeling is that the Inn Season is something you take care of for the next generation. So I push ownership down (the ladder) ... the head chef, the pastry chef, the general manager all have equity.”
Guests who dine at the Inn Season on Saturday can be entered to win a $50 gift card. Tuesday through Oct. 8, $50 gift cards can be purchased for $35. A Facebook contest for free dinners will be posted Oct. 11-15.
A fixed-price menu featuring a seasonally-appropriate three-course dinner for two will be offered Oct. 18-22 for $35 per couple. The big party is 5-8 p.m. Oct. 24 with a happy-hour fundraiser for Earthworks Urban Farm, with wine tastings from Birmingham’s Elie Wine Company, food and entertainment.
Inn Season’s menu has salad, soup, pizza and “burgers” made with multigrain patties, tempeh or mushroom caps. Entrees change often, but a menu mainstay is spaghetti, Shanghai noodles and a macro combo with brown rice, steamed kale and a shiitake-miso sauce.
“People say that the food might be a little expensive, but the reality is the quality is unsurpassed,” says Raftis, who explains that he competes for the same produce from vendors as popular area chefs like Luciano DelSignore and James Rigato.
“We’ve developed a big relationship with our 25 local suppliers,” he says, adding that he thinks the food at Inn Season has increased in quality over the years. “Everything is hand made — the bread, the sauces — we don’t use canned stuff, and we don’t have a microwave.”
Raftis says that while he has customers who dine at the Inn Season Cafe several times a week, he understands not everyone can. For those who want to eat GMO-free on the regular, he recommends farmers markets.
“You can really make your dollar go a long way and get high quality products,” he says.
Besides meals free of animal products, Inn Season Cafe also has gluten-free, wheat-free and soy-free meals, and is kosher-certified. A full bar menu is expected to be added by the end of the year, pending the approval of a liquor license.
Inn Season, 500 E. Fourth, doesn’t take reservations except for larger groups. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for brunch. Call (248) 547-7916.
Ferndale restaurant news
■The Daily Dinette in Ferndale, in the back of Pop’s for Italian, closed this week. Owner Brian Kramer is repurposing the space to expand Pop’s, an Italian restaurant and wine bar. They’ll use the area for private dining, larger reservations and wine events. This change means that Pop’s, 280 W. Nine Mile, will now take reservations for any size group. Call (248) 268-4806.
■Como’s Restaurant at 22812 Woodward closed for health code violations last week. A post on their Facebook page says the 55-year-old business will be “closed for a few weeks” for renovations.