Detroit is soul, and what accompanies that soul is food. Starting with the influx of people who migrated to the city to work in the auto industry, Detroit has retained a strong system of Southern roots.
Lets break down Soul Food in simple terms. It refers to cuisine traditionally prepared and enjoyed by African Americans of the Southern United States. Its roots can be traced to the African continent, then the style gained steam during American slavery. In the modern scene you find things like ribs, fried chicken, catfish, pork chops, chitlins, macaroni and cheese, okra, red beans and rice, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and mashed potatoes (to name a few). There are Soul Food restaurants all across the country: however, this is not a history lesson.
This is about Beans & Cornbread, Detroit’s premier spot to enjoy the classic cuisine of Soul Food. The restaurant has been voted best in Detroit since it opened in 1997. This is their 4th time being nominated for best in the country, but have yet to take home the prize. They keep falling behind Washington D.C. and Atlanta, they both have a bigger population, but we have more pride. Let’s bring the Soul Food championship belt to Detroit. Their gumbo has cleaned up numerous awards as well.
“I’ll put our gumbo up against anything, from any city. It’s like stepping into your grandma’s cooking at Thanksgiving. Homemade, and created with tender loving care,” the owner Patrick Coleman said.
We had the pleasure of sitting down at Beans & Cornbread on Saturday night. Much to my own embarrassment I had never been there, I had heard about it, but never made the pilgrimage. In the city there are few sit down, dine-in Soul Food spots, the majority are swift affairs where you shuffle past all the savory treats, make your choice, and walk out with a to-go box. Sitting down, being able to enjoy a cocktail, the kind service and the amazing food is the way to do it.
Speaking of the kind service, our waitress Alicia was extremely nice, all smiles, knowledgeable, full of recommendations and on point. Jacquitta Terrell the General Manager welcomed us warmly, was enthusiastic about her job there, and made us feel at home. Its always refreshing to see that the staff in a restaurant is cheerful and happy to be there.
“I love working here because it is really easy to get behind the product. The food is as fresh as possible, made in the traditional fashion, and everyone is always pleased with their experience. I have lived in Detroit my whole life and seriously this is the best” Jacquitta said.
The food did not disappoint, and lived up to the reputation. I am by no length a Soul Food expert, but we were all so pleased we spent the entire meal in laughter, and reaching across each other’s plates to scoop up another forkful of food.
We started off with a basket of Fried Catfish Fingers. This was not a complicated starter, but it certainly didn’t last long. The fish is lightly fried in cornmeal and a subtle seasoning. The beauty of cornmeal is that it doesn’t absorb the oil like other sorts of batters, it left the fish the ability to standout, and of course it was paired with a few helpings of homemade tartar sauce.
Ever since we decided to stop by, I had it my mind I was getting ribs. Naturally I opted for the full slab, ate half there, and ate the rest for lunch yesterday. The ribs were exactly how you hope a rack to be cooked. The pork slipped off the bones effortlessly, the sauce had that tangy flavor that pushes back just a little bit, but takes nothing away from the meat. Each entree comes with a choice of two sides. I ordered three: collard greens, red beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese. None of which survived the meal.
Our photographer, and jack of all trades, Stephanie got the pork chops, done fried, mashed potatoes and mac & cheese. My girlfriend ordered fried chicken, because it wouldn’t have been right to visit and skip the chicken. The owner swung by to see how everything was tasting, and brought a sample of the gumbo. He glanced down and saw that Stephanie had ordered the fried chops, and let her know that she was a woman after his own heart.
The restaurant has a full compliment of wine, beers, and cocktails. The beers we ordered before dinner were icy cold, and served with a chilled mug to maintain the temperature. After dinner we all got one of their signature cocktails, and after a little coaxing from Alicia we split a piece of their chocolate cake.
Beans & Cornbread is not just a place to seek out authentic Soul Food, its a place to grab an amazing meal in general. It lends a comfortable ambiance, plays a lively soundtrack at a reasonable level, brings great service and management. Its clear they care about their patrons. I am pretty sure every manager on deck the other night stopped by at one point or another to see how our meal was going.
I would highly recommend making your way there. Bring a hearty appetite, this isn’t the place to push your food around the plate, this a restaurant that is to be fully enjoyed. You can obviously grab food to-go, but I’d go for the in house experience.
Let’s all take the time to vote for Beans & Cornbread on Monday. The voting is from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m… Its an easy process. For your vote to count, you’ll need to enter the following: your name, email, address, and then select Detroit, MI, and 92.3FM Detroit for the radio station! We would love to see Detroit take the top spot, and be able to claim “Best Soul Food Place.”