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Coney-loving Detroit has room for vegans

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

While covering the world premiere of the Kathryn Bigelow film “Detroit” in the city last week, I overheard two people from out of town discussing our area’s culinary offerings.

One out-of-towner buzzing around the red carpet last Tuesday was lamenting that she’s feels like she’s eaten nothing but processed meats during her stay in Detroit.

“I haven’t seen a vegetable since I got here,” responded a journalist from elsewhere.

I opened my mouth to protest, thinking about Eastern Market, Whole Foods, Detroit Vegan Soul, the Nosh Pit food truck, and other notable places to get vegetables and vegan food inside the city limits.

I stayed silent, though, because honestly, they may have a point.

Detroit’s unofficial food is a processed all-beef hot dog smothered in chili. When we’re not beaming with pride over our coneys, we’re building a case for Detroit-style square pizza to trump the pies of New York and Chicago. Did you see the line when Shake Shack opened?

I can see how someone breezing through may think we’re a vegetable-less community. But for vegetarians and those on a strictly plant-based diet, Metro Detroit is not a wasteland. There are options, and they’re growing.

This weekend at VegMichigan Summerfest returns with a smorgasbord of food that is completely free of animal products. I’m told the six-hour event at Madonna University has doubled in size this year to cut back on lines.

Vegan-friendly restaurants and food trucks will serve dairy-free ice cream, vegan tamales, raw juices, desserts, meatless burgers, macaroni and “cheese,” and Indian dishes. There will also be a smoothie bar, a variety of nut butters and gluten-free snacks.

Shimmy Shack vegan food truck will serve vegan coney dogs at the fest. They’re back in operation after their truck was vandalized recently. Someone poured some kind of liquid into the gas tank, causing a need for “extensive repairs.”

If you’ve never had vegan food and assume it’s tasteless, this family-friend event is a good starting point if you’re looking to try a plant-based diet. Besides food, there’s also vendors, health and diet resources, animal advocates, live music and face painting.

VegMichigan Summerfest is 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at Madonna University, 36600 Schoolcraft in Livonia. Admission and parking is free. Visit

Chili Mustard Onions was scheduled to be one of the vendors at the event, but chef and owner Pete LaCombe had to bow out because he says he is too busy preparing to open his Brush Park restaurant at 3411 Brush. Set to debut in a few months, the restaurant will specialize in vegan coney dogs. Chef LaCombe also makes a vegan version of McDonald’s Big Mac called the Big Mock.

When Chili Mustard Onions opens, it’ll join Seva and Detroit Vegan Soul in serving 100 percent meatless menu in the city. In the meantime, keep up with their progress at

In other vegetarian dining news, the Clean Plate club recently opened in Shelby Township. The casual restaurant is from the same folks behind Royal Oak’s organic-vegan-raw-gluten-free restaurant Cacao Tree Cafe.

The Clean Plate sources local products to make soup, salads, sandwiches and smoothies. They offer Mexican food like tostadas with black beans, avocado sauce, chipotle aioli and a “meat” mixture made of nuts and seeds. A vegan mac-and-cheese dish uses gluten-free brown rice pasta smothered in a fake cheese sauce made of almond milk, butternut squash, cauliflower, nutritional yeast, potato starch and spices.

The Clean Plate is at 45629 Hayes. Call (586) 580-3293.

Detroit may not be the kale and avocado mecca that a city like Los Angeles is, but if we can get a vegan coney dog spot, then who knows what else the future holds.

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens