“If cameraman Korey (@KoreyDavisPhotography) doesn’t shoot it, I won’t eat it.” I found an article from the Washington Post titled, “One of the country’s poorest cities is suddenly becoming a food mecca”. As I completed reading the article, I thought it would be cool to look up some of the restaurants discussed and list them on my Facebook in celebration of National Black Business Month. I assumed the majority would be black owned given the reputation of the city’s demographics (I have never visited Detroit). To my unpleasant surprise, I could only find one restaurant in the entire article that was partly black owned. How could this be? How could a city with all of these black people only be represented by one black restaurateur inside an article about Detroit’s food scene? So I did my own research and found over fifty black owned restaurants. I called cameraman Korey, and we were on our way to Detroit that same weekend.
We began calling restaurants from my list and narrowed it down to fifteen to review. My finances have been running low covering these businesses, in addition to flying around the U.S., so I tried moonlighting by playing the piano and singing on Ocean Drive, but was run off by a gang of homeless people who already formed their own band. To that end, I had to make sure this trip was worth it. Fortunately, Detroit is the place to be if you’re a Foodie, especially a Black Foodie. We began our journey at Cutter’s Bar and Lounge, then to Le Petite Dejeuner, and finally ending at Detroit Vegan Soul. My experience thus far was humbling and comforting in that these businesses were vibrant, delicious, and service driven. I decided to cover Detroit Vegan Soul first because it enlightened me on something I thought didn’t exist. Detroit Vegan Soul is a 100% Plant-Based, Organic, Dairy/Egg/Lactose Free restaurant. There’s even a counter area where you can watch the employees make smoothies (which are fantastic btw). The restaurant’s slogan “Soul Food Made From Whole Food,” is painted beautifully along the ceiling where directly under it, young people are at the register taking orders. We decided to dine in given that the restaurant had really cool seating, natural lighting, an amazing juice bar, and views of the surrounding historic neighborhood in which it resides.
I sat down and was greeted by co-owner and General Manager, Ms. Kirsten Ussery, who was able to speak with our team along with her partner and Executive Chef, Ms. Erika Boyd for our upcoming podcast. “Detroit Vegan Soul started with a more personal journey in that my family has a history of diabetes and Erica’s father passed from cancer. These realities had us really take a look at our health, and Erica began making vegan meals at home, and I enjoyed them, especially the southern fried tofu that mimicked southern fried chicken, so that is how I was sold to becoming vegan.” The business is the only 100% vegan restaurant in Detroit and is completely black female owned. Looking at the menu, you see soul food staples, only with the meat being replaced with a plant based substitute. “If it had a mother, we won’t serve it,” stated Mrs. Ussery, who was attempting to make me feel bad for eating so many animal babies in my lifetime. Like, I honestly feel bad right now. But just one thought of the goodness I experienced while ripping into a veal chop I had the previous night at this Italian spot had me remove any empathy or guilt.
Now, back in my primal mindset, I was ready to review this place for real, for real. I ordered the Southern Fried Chicken Bites, oh wait, I’m sorry….I meant to say the Southern Fried Tofu Bites ($9). These little nuggets were hand battered, fried, and served with an in-house spicy buffalo dipping sauce. I took a pause to really observe the scandalous dish placed on my table. This was an affront to fried chicken eaters everywhere! As I went to take a bite, none other than a manifestation of the Black lady from the racist Popeye’s Chicken commercials appeared brandishing a Billystick, daring me to take a bite of this plant based impostor. I gathered up courage with God’s help, took one of the golden cubes, dipped it in the sauce and ate it whole. Then, I took another piece, and another, and before I knew it, I was eating the entire bowl. I wanted so badly to critique the bites, but just kept eating instead. How did this thing taste like chicken? What type of sorcery was at work here? I was determined to find out.
The eerie aberration of the Popeye’s Chicken lady had grown furious as she crip walked wearing her iconic “Aunt Jemima” apron clinching a set of thongs in one hand and the billystick in the other. I knew at this point I should probably fear for my safety. However, I ignored my mind’s illusions, and ordered the Fried Broccoli ($8). I’ve had pretty good fried broccoli at other joints, but this was some other s$%&, and was honestly, the best I’ve had thus far. It came with an incredible sweet Asian inspired dipping sauce that was just superb. Each piece had a mild crunchy batter, that once broken, ushered in a moist and mouthwatering broccoli floret so succulent and bursting with flavor….I teared up….literally. I know, I know, I’m describing broccoli here, but you just don’t know how good God was being to me this day…Thank you Lord. Honestly, I’m salivating as I type this review. The frying technique used in achieving this perfect condition with its beautiful golden brown color and perfect texture was Southern to the core, and would definitely be GRANDMA approved.
At this point, I am impressed with EVERYTHING, and hadn’t even had my main course. The service, food, atmosphere, art, I mean everything, was so freaking perfect. My true appetite was finally intrigued, and I was ready to try these 100% vegan dishes. My first selection was the DVS Burger ($10), which is a House-made veggie millet patty with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion and pesto aioli on a sesame seed bun. Understand what I am about to tell you….I can eat this damn burger every day for a year, and never get tired of it. For starters, it didn’t necessarily fool you into thinking it was beef, there was something else at work here. The patty was just good as f$%#. It was flawlessly seasoned for an uncomfortable level of balance in addition to a texture and patty consistency of an Angus burger. This was important to me because I’ve eaten some amazing black bean burgers around the country, but they usually become mushy and slightly unstable.
Following the Burger, I ordered the “Catfish” Tofu ($12), which was a cornmeal battered tofu, broccoli/corn medley with redskin potatoes and onions. This dish was as indistinguishable from fried catfish as one can get using plants. At this point I’m thinking these two young ladies did what many have speculated the great Blues musician Robert Johnson did on a crossroads late one night….there is simply no explanation for this food. How are they able to trick a carnivorous brute like me into eating healthy vegan food? I love soul food. I love meat. I love salt, sugar, grease, and just about everything unhealthy. I am not ashamed, I am just being honest with you. For me to enjoy the food at the level I did, was seriously unsettling to my philosophy and an insult to the many animals in my life who have made me the man I am today. (I ate some stuff before the picture was taken, so my apologies. The food was just too good and cameraman Korey was taking too long and it was getting cold)
Falling deeper into this spell of vegetable voodoo, I ordered the Soul Platter ($14), which came with mac-n-cheese, tenderly smoked collards, maple glazed yams, black-eyed peas and a cornbread muffin. The collard greens were good, but I must admit, I’ve had better, but it didn’t take away from the amazing flavor they possessed. I mean, without the meat for them to taste like Grandma’s, it still turned out pretty good. The mac-n-cheese was OK, but I’m too use to the unhealthy version with cow cheese to truly appreciate the vegan rendition, so I was not too keen on that. The beans were plain old southern goodness. They were Black Thanksgiving approved. The yams were nice and sweet, and the cornbread muffin was soft and flavorful.
My final dish was the most unbelievable. I ordered the Seitan Pepper Steak ($13), which is a seitan stir fry in a special sauce with peppers, onions, garlic and ginger served with brown rice and sesame broccoli. I began praying, thanking the Lord for blessing me with the opportunity to have such an amazing healthy meal, and taste JUST LIKE FREAKING STEAK!! HOW THE F%[email protected] ARE THEY DOING THIS S%#@?! Like, for real now. I’m starting to think these ladies are actually serving meat and just putting on a front. That was until I had the opportunity to see them preparing it. I am at a loss. I have never been able to use this word, but I was BEWILDERED. If you’ve ever gone to an upscale Japanese grill and had amazing sirloin steak stir fry, this dish will either compete or beat any of those experiences. It came with brown rice in this little cool white bowl. It deceives you as far as its heartiness goes as well. I’m a big guy, and couldn’t really eat much more after that. It is very filling. This dish would fool even the most ardent meat eater. The flavor and texture is like none other. I would honestly go back to Detroit, just to have this dish.
My Black Foodie Series will continue reviewing Black owned eateries in Detroit over the next few days. Detroit Vegan Soul lived up to its name in bringing true soul to its menu. The name also probably references how these young ladies sold their own soul to come up with such amazing food. I will keep them in my prayers so they can get both their souls back. As a meat eater, I’ve eaten at a couple other Vegan spots and most of them have tasted like leaves and soil. I will NEVER be a vegetarian or vegan, unless forced to, but I would eat here daily if they had a location in Miami. Oh wait, I’m not done! The desserts and beverages! Yep, I tried a vegan chocolate chip cookie ($3.00), and it was pretty much just a chocolate chip cookie that happens to be totally vegan. I then had a piece of cake ($4.00); I don’t remember how to adequately describe the flavor besides chocolate, but it was really good.
They have great tasting vegan sodas that were crisp and refreshing, but you have to be careful not to drink too much because they do have quite a bit of sugar.
There was also a Hibiscus Tea available that was phenomenal. I would definitely order one of these and a soda as your beverages if you choose to dine here.
They change their desserts weekly, so you probably wouldn’t get what I had anyway. I tried another cake, but I ate it before Korey took the picture. It was super soft and moist with an awesome buttercream tasting icing. I must say, Detroit Vegan Soul changed the way I view Vegan cuisine and the eating habits of my people across the nation. There is an alternative, and it’s delicious. They honestly demonstrated what happens when #blackgirlmagic decides to take over a cooking style and put some soul in it. If you’re in the Detroit area, I would definitely recommend you stop at Detroit Vegan Soul. Stay on the lookout for the podcast with both co-owners as special guest.
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8029 Agnes St Detroit, MI 48214
Atmosphere A hip and vibrant dining room that has character without trying to hard.
Drinks and Wine – Beer and Wine
Price $ (Moderate)
Open Monday – Closed
Tuesday-Saturday – 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Takes Reservations No
Accepts Credit Cards Yes
Accepts Apple Pay Yes
Good For Lunch
Bike Parking Yes
Wheelchair Accessible Yes
Good for Kids Yes
Good for Groups Yes
Noise Level Average
Outdoor Seating No
Has TV No
Waiter Service Yes