215 West Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI 48220
QISA (4, 4, 4, 4), $13-20, Vegan
While looking for a new vegetarian restaurant to patronize in the Detroit Metro area, I came upon Greenspace Cafe, a fancy, vegan, kosher restaurant and bar along the fashionable Nine Mile Road in downtown Ferndale, just north of Detroit proper. The restaurant was started by Dr. Joel Kahn, a “plant-based cardiologist who combines the best of Western and complementary therapies for total healing.” Kahn, who was voted “Sexiest Male Vegan Over 50 by PeTA,” has created a plant-based restaurant and bar “inspired by health, as well as global culinary traditions and Detroit’s exciting artisan food culture.” His restaurant focuses on subtle flavors, textural variety, and fresh ingredients. The mixed drinks incorporate the therapeutic benefits of various fruits and botanicals and uses raw organic juices to become healthier versions of their standard form.
There was no way in Hell I was missing out on this one.
With its wooden Jenga block art motif and slightly too loud music, the restaurant was clearly going for a trendy vibe to wrap around its healthy vegan focus. However, the wait staff were very friendly, and the clientele included everyone from swanky 20-somethings, to middle-aged men and women in business suits, to elderly refugees from old Jewish diners. I felt perfectly at home.
I started with an Autumn’s Cup, a cocktail of cardamom birch bark infused rum, Saskatoon jam, fresh lime, orange bitters, and a wedge of blood orange. Although the drink started on the palate like a standard citrusy cocktail, it had a complexity that made you sit and think while exotic flavors danced at the borders of your subconscious. I felt all sorts of sophisticated.
I then began my meal with a cup of red lentil shorba, a North African stew with a dollop of green chermoula in the center that provided a sharp tangy contrast to the mild, comforting soup. The entire dish was artfully decorated by a swirl of cashew labneh on the top. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that chermoula is a lemony marinade used in Tunisian and Moroccan cooking. Shorba is a type of stew found in the Balkans, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. And labneh is a strained yoghurt cheese. I felt all kinds of cosmopolitan with my new found worldly knowledge.
Finally, I got to my main course, a Chiapas Bowl, which was an esthetically rendered mix of seasoned black beans, chips, greens, quinoa, corn, and tofu, each residing in its own sector. The dish was a work of art unto itself. Although it was marked “spicy” on the menu, it wasn’t really. Rather, the flavors were subtle, focusing more on the inherit flavors of each ingredient, brought out through gentle cooking. “Oh,” I found myself saying, “That’s what quinoa is supposed to taste like.” The tofu, which was a local organic Michigan product called Panda Brand, was lightly marinated and baked, giving it a strong texture but mild flavor.
For dessert, I had a piece of turtle cheesecake. The cheesecake was a little small for its $8.00 cost, but considering how full I already was, it was the perfect denouement to the meal. The cheesecake had a slightly yoghurty tang that seems to be typical of vegan cheesecakes, but it had a ribbon of chocolate throughout, and it was covered with chocolate and caramel sauces that upped the decadence factor. The crust was a chocolate coconut crust, which was a different take on the standard crumb crust, but very effective and very delicious.
The restaurant is certified kosher by Kosher Michigan, which makes it the perfect place to take your Jewish vegan date. And the prices are quite reasonable for this type of restaurant, which means you can impress your date without wiping out your bank account. In fact, men, I would recommend you target Jewish vegan women and put Greenspace Cafe in your arsenal of romantic moves. It will show your woman that you are a self-confident, sophisticated, worldly, eco-conscious, and yet surprisingly physically fit suitor. Just pray that Dr. Joel Kahn is not there that night. I mean, really. Nobody needs that kind of competition.