Not gonna lie — the Detroit Pepper Company’s concept at first generated a bit of skepticism. A menu built around stuffed bell peppers? The dish is something that’s associated with memories of mom cooking dinner for the family, and it’s just not anything that I’ve ordered while out at a restaurant.
And here, on Detroit’s east side, Marlin Hughes had set up a restaurant dedicated to the dish. Seemed weird, but he put my skepticism to rest.
Far and away the best option was the stuffed poblano, with two jumbo halves of pepper bursting with ground beef, brown rice, quinoa, as well as mushrooms, onions, broccoli, celery, and carrots that are stir-fried with a house barbecue sauce. The sweet and tangy sauce along with the thick coating of cheddar cheese over the peppers are what made the dish. Hughes revealed the barbecue sauce’s secret ingredient — pineapple juice. Excellent.
Admittedly, I’m late to the game on Detroit Pepper Co. It’s gotten a bit of media attention since opening with the help of a Motor City Match grant in East English Village in late 2019. Hughes quickly built a customer base and managed to weather the pandemic in a small, clean carryout-only space.
The concept sprang out of a birthday party that Hughes threw for his wife many years ago. He made stuffed peppers for the event — his first stab at doing so — and they were such a hit that he prophetically declared as they cleaned up, “We’re going to sell these peppers some day!”
Not long after, as Hughes tells it, opportunity knocked, they bought the building at Warren and Cadieux, and Hughes quit his job of more than 20 years at the post office to launch the restaurant.
The menu is generally healthy and built with fresh ingredients — everything is cooked to order, so expect to wait a minute. Customers pick from a short list of meats or cheeses they want in and on the peppers, and the menu also offers sandwiches, rice bowls, smoothies, salads, and a range of sides. There are plenty of vegan options, vegan cheeses, and gluten-free choices. The smoothies are made with real fruit instead of a gross, sugary premade mix. If you need it sweeter, he’ll add agave.
Hughes said his son is autisitic and long ago that got him into researching and preparing healthy foods, which naturally carried over into Detroit Pepper Co.
Another excellent plate was the stuffed jalapeño peppers, which I got filled with ground beef and coated in cheddar. It radiates sharp heat, which, beyond the peppers, owes to fresh jalapeño hot sauce Hughes developed after customers complained that the dish wasn’t spicy enough — he’ll sometimes tweak and change his menu based on customer feedback.
The Detroit stuffed pepper is Hughes’s traditional pepper. He packs it with brown rice and black beans, and I got one of mine with ground beef and another with ground chicken. The beef works better, and it was topped with Martin’s Detroit Pepper red sauce, a marinara he makes in house with slightly sweet and fragrant San Marzano tomatoes.
The vegan pepper comes with brown rice and quinoa, red sauce, squash, black beans, and zucchini — a great fall pepper. I ordered a thick blanket of mozzarella, rendering the package vegetarian instead of vegan. The inside-out grainbowl is similar with a mix of whole grain rice, squash, zucchini, black beans, roasted peppers, and onions, and I also got that blanketed in mozzarella. My one complaint of the meals — didn’t love the mozzarella cheese the restaurant uses, and would definitely stick with cheddar going forward.
I love a high-end chili cheese fry, and at the top of the list for the next visit is the Detroit chili cheese fry with a hand cut roasted potato medley, house chili, diced red onions, and cheese. Also eyeing the stir fry hoagie, with stir fry vegetables, Italian-style hog with Detroit tomato sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, banana peppers, and Italian dressing.