Destination Detroit: Black Restaurateurs Thrive in Food Mecca of the Midwest

Detroit, once known as Motown, is now the new up and coming city for all things food. As a matter of fact, PETA recently named Detroit as one of the top 10 vegan-friendly cities in America. This new-found passion of this down and out town that sits at the Canadian border is a first.

Detroit has seen vast highs and lows over the past 60 years. From the infamous riots of 1967 to the innovative, industry-changing designs from the top three automobile manufacturers in the U.S. But with the relocation of Hitsville and the downfall of the big three, Detroit found itself once again on the downside of the economy.

Detroiters are reliable, resilient, and resourceful. With the rebirth of the city, it has once again found a way to reinvent itself; not for music or cars, but for food. The comeback city is quickly becoming the place for chefs to thrive and flourish in the culinary world. There are many black-owned restaurateurs in Detroit that are making their mark on the city by challenging how we traditionally think, eat, and feel about food.

Chef Maxcel Hardy
River Bistro |18465 Grand River Avenue

The Food Network celebrity, Detroit-born chef returned to his hometown in 2017 to open his premier restaurant, River Bistro. Since its launch in August 2017, Hardy has earned the #10 Best Restaurant title in only six months. Named River Bistro because it’s located on the infamous Grand River Avenue, it serves up traditional Caribbean fare such as shrimp fritters and ginger beer. They also offer Caribbean soul fusion flavors in dishes such as jerk ribs with guava BBQ sauce, honey-glazed fried chicken, and key lime cheesecake. Hardy has pledged to open two more restaurants in the city, one planned for later this year and the other next year in 2019. In the meantime, pick up a copy of his latest cookbook written with Rohan Marley, entitled “The Marley Coffee Cookbook.”

Chef Mike Ransom
Ima Noodles | 2015 Michigan Avenue

Classic Japanese dishes have been twisted and turned by the hands of chef Mike Ransom to create something resembling edible masterpieces. This innovative culinary mind opened the doors to Ima in Corktown Detroit in December 2016 to take the city by storm. In less than a year, this new kid on the block earned the 2017 Detroit Eater Award as Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year. 20 years of training gathered from Chicago, San Francisco and Baltimore have produced a think-outside-the-box mentality for Ransom when it comes to food. Couple that with the experience of his parents introducing him to Japanese cuisine as a young child and raising him as a vegetarian, you get a cultivated mind that has developed dishes to tantalize your taste buds. Stop by to enjoy an eclectic selection of rice or pork-free broth bowls that will change your world. FYI – the Yaki Udon is a popular favorite.

Chef Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery
Detroit Vegan Soul | 19614 Grand River Avenue and 8029 Agnes Street

Detroit Vegan Soul holds the title of Detroit’s first 100% vegan, plant-based soul food café. In a few short years, they have become a favorite eatery among local Detroiters. Starting in 2012 with a meal delivery and catering company, DVS now has two restaurants in the city. The first brick and mortar location is on the west side of Detroit in the Grandmont/Rosedale Park neighborhood. The newest restaurant is on the east side of the city in West Village. Co-owners Kirsten Ussery and Erika Boyd definitely have their hands full. They work their black girl magic to cater to the needs of each community they serve. Whether cooking up the seitan pepper steak or serving up the “catfish” tofu sandwich, they draw in people from every background and ethnicity to partake in what is vegan food for the soul.

Davante Burnley
SavannahBlue
| 1431 Times Square

Indulge in southern charm with classy sass and a touch of hipness at the swankiest restaurant in town. SavannahBlue, named after a co-owner’s daughter (and not the city in Georgia), offers major style and flavor. Located in Times Square, the restaurant is positioned to overlook the city’s people mover, allowing for a bird’s eye view that adds to the total ambiance. The watermelon pecan salad, the blackened shrimp farro jambalaya, and the bananas foster bread pudding (along with every other item on the menu) will keep you coming back for more. Enjoy specialty drinks and appealing appetizers at the bar or in the living room, or a delicious meal in the dining room. Either way, this is one hot spot you don’t want to miss.

Mikiah Westbrooks
Brix Wine & Charcuterie Boutique | 7968 Kercheval Avenue

In her wildest dreams, Mikiah Westbrooks would have never imagined one day owning the bank across the street from her childhood school. After all, the Michigan Savings Bank was a community staple in its hay day. Now the aged building is a historical landmark. Westbrooks renovated it and turned it into a cozy wine bar. The original bank vault was preserved and now serves as the tasting room. It can also be rented for an intimate private party to enjoy a one-of-a-kind curated dining experience. Relax and enjoy the grown n’ sexy scene from the bar, lounge chairs, or patio areas (seasonal) of this gem of West Village. A variety of fruit, cheese, and charcuterie plates are available while sipping on some of the best wines available.

Now, of course these aren’t the only players in the game. There are numerous other black-owned restaurants serving up good food and drinks in the city that deserve to be mentioned. Here are a few:

Kuzzos Chicken & Waffles
19345 Livernois Avenue

Crab House Ribs & Soul Café
19721 W. Seven Mile Road

Spudheadz
16400 W. McNichols Road

It doesn’t matter if you’re a local, an import, or a tourist, you should definitely make a point to indulge in the culinary treasures Detroit has to offer. Just imagine yourself listening to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” on the radio of your vintage pink Cadillac while cruising down Woodward Avenue on your way to the grand opening of the city’s newest, hottest restaurant. Yeah, now that’s what’s up.

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Angela Jordan is the founder, owner, and CEO of Culinary Kisses, LLC., a food consulting company based in Detroit that shows you how to shop, cook, eat, and live healthy offering in-person and online classes.