8029 Agnes Street, Detroit, MI 48214
QISA (4, 3.5, 4, 3.5), $7-14, Vegan
There is a part of me, a horrible, nasty, cranky, cynical part of me that desperately wanted to disparage Detroit Vegan Soul. This part of me wanted to deride the establishment for reducing the American Black experience to a museum exhibit, complete with an artfully framed picture of a pre-civil rights bathroom (showing door signs that say “Men,” “Women,” and “Colored”) ironically placed in the restroom so you can contemplate old societal injustices while doing your business. This part of me wanted to laugh at the calming music played over the restaurant speakers: selections of smooth jazz, 70s R&B, and mild hip hop, all of which created an ethnomusicology of African American music minus any unpleasant edginess. This part of me wanted to comment on the racial diversity of the young wait staff, a level of diversity not typically found in Soul food establishments. This part of me wanted to paint the restaurant as an attempt to bring African American culture to a Caucasian upper-middle class vegan population rather than bring veganism to an extant African American population. Most of all, this part wanted to loudly ask, “Are you trying to sanitize the African American urban experience for my protection?”
Luckily, that part of me was quiet enough to let me enjoy the experience of Detroit Vegan Soul. The experience may not have been absolutely authentic, but it was definitely amiable, enjoyable, and classy. The wait staff were friendly, the food was tasty and well prepared, the restaurant was clean, and the whole atmosphere was pleasant enough to melt the heart of a liberal curmudgeon such as myself. I would even have been confident enough to bring my African American friends along with me without constantly checking on my cultural sensitivity.
I ordered the tofu “catfish” with yam chips, a choice I was very, very happy about. The tofu cutlet was cornmeal breaded, fried, and served on a soft whole grain bun with lettuce, tomato, and vegan tartar sauce. The sandwich had a good balance of flavor with not too much salt, very little fishy taste, and no lingering sense of horrible animal death.
I apologize for that. The curmudgeon still wants to come out. I digress.
The yam chips were thick cut, somewhere between steak fries and chips. They were fried to a crisp tender and lightly coated with salt and herbs. I did not leave a single one on my plate.
Some foods were merely good, not amazingly delicious. The coleslaw was not as crisp as I would have liked, and it was slightly sweeter than I am used to. The “Sock it to me” cake was a very nutty coffeecake with a ribbon of cinnamon in the center. It was an enjoyable end to the meal, but not a rich dessert worthy of additional lines of text.
The berry blast smoothie, on the other hand, was one of the best smoothies I have had in ages. Sweetened with dates and filled with fruit, the smoothie was a sweet treat that still allowed me to feel virtuous.
I would definitely recommend Detroit Vegan Soul. They have their act together on all accounts, from the food itself, to the photo collage of street signs on the wall, to the service. My waitress, a very cute diminutive blond woman, was very friendly, constantly sporting a winning smile that almost had me believe she was flirting with me, even though there was no way in this universe that she was actually flirting with me. Of course, had I been a middle-aged woman, the handsome young African American man behind the counter probably would have come out to take my order.
Or am I just being cynical again?