Beans & Cornbread 29508 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-208-1680: A busy, colorful dining spot which features bright artwork and a bustling open kitchen. Open since 1997, this 72-seat restaurant is the place for upscale versions of traditional soul food fare, including excellent meat loaf, barbecue-style chicken and a dreamy sweet potato cheesecake. But it’s more health-conscious than your usual soul food, with careful presentation, healthier ingredients, no trans-fats and even some solid vegetarian options, such as the "Harlem burrito" appetizer (collard greens, tomatoes, black eyed peas and rice rolled in a grilled flour tortilla, served with Spanish Harlem salsa). Arrive early and plan to stand in line: this popular bistro has a perpetually full house. Or simply partake of their healthy carryout trade. Also worth a look is their Side Bar — a full wine and martini bar whose specialty is a $3 peach martini.
Connie & Barbara’s Soul Food 13101 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit; 313-862-5240: A soul food joint with 17 years in the business? You know they’re doing something right. Expect sound basics: All-day breakfast, chicken, ox-tails, ham, bacon, wings, meatloaf, and more than a dozen side dishes, including green beans and mac and cheese.
DeAngelo’s Soul Food, Deli, & More
17425 and 22542 Telegraph Rd., Detroit; 313-535-7157; deangelossoulfood.com: It seems like the phrase "family-owned-and-operated" is a fixture when describing any soul food restaurant, lending that vital sense of authenticity. But at DeAngelo’s, the owners strive daily to make sure the words mean more what they connote. Founded four years ago by the husband-and-wife team of DeAngelo Davis and Renee Walton-Davis, customers can taste their 25-plus years’ worth of catering and fine dining experience. Here, you’re able to choose from a broad menu that can be tailored to many tastes and requests. Whether you want it fried, char-grilled or smothered, they’ve got all the standard Southern proteins, from jumbo shrimp to chicken and ribs prepared on an outdoor grill to okra and mushrooms. DeAngelo’s is also known for its homemade soups and desserts, including banana pudding and peach cobbler (Renee’s specialty). And the cooks don’t use animal fats in their side dishes, so diners can expect black-eyed peas and green beans that aim to be nutritious while remaining just as flavorful. The atmosphere is casual, with live jazz on Thursday and Sunday evenings, but carryout and catering are also popular.
Floods Bar & Grille 731 St. Antoine St., Detroit; 313-963-1090: You can tell by the bottlenecked line of glimmering Jags, Beemers, Mercedes and SUVs lined up for valet parking that this is a nightspot where the Motor City’s elite come to meet. But Floods is more than a popular spot for networking and late night clubbing. Located in a beautiful historic building near Greektown (which just happens to house the offices of a certain alternative weekly newspaper), the hotspot is known for its magnificent bar and live entertainment, but also for its hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare. Though the appetizers are mostly wings, skins and tenders, the entrées are inspired by the Deep South, including Southern-fried pork chops, catfish fillet, butterfly shrimp, a "soul wing" dinner and liver an onions. Precaution: Don’t wear jeans and flip-flops.
Irene’s Southern Cooking 18680 W. Eight Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-423-0988: There’s a friendly atmosphere in the little dining room. Ribs are the house specialty, slathered with a spicy-sweet barbecue sauce. A generous half-slab is less than $9 and comes with two sides. For a very reasonable price, you get two sides and about twice what you might consider eating at home. Entrées include chicken (fried, smothered or barbecued), pork chops (also fried, smothered or barbecued), country-fried steak, catfish or perch, wing-dings, shrimp and meat loaf. As for sides — the heart of soul food — most of the regulars are available here, including yams, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, macaroni and cheese, corn, rice, collard greens, mashed potatoes, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw and fried okra. General Manager "High Top" says Irene’s is special because, "It feels like home. The food’s just like mom would cook."
Lenny’s Ribs & Chicken 15405 Gratiot Ave., Suite 100, Detroit; 313-527-0000; $$: Formerly "Kenny’s Ribs & Chicken," only the first letter in the name has changed. Located at Eight Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue, it’s a big building with one level serving up hot ribs, chicken, fish and non-alcoholic beverages. The rib tips are especially popular. Sides are the heart of soul food, and Lenny’s serves 17 of them, seven days a week. Opens at 11 a.m.
Mama’s Place 15250 W. Seven Mile Rd., Detroit; 313-342-6120: Mama’s Place is in a sunny yellow building in northwest Detroit. The no-frills interior is warm and welcoming. What’s more, the quality of the food at Mama’s Place is equal to some of the metro area’s upscale soul food eateries. The barbecue is delicious. For about $10, you can get a half slab of ribs or a half chicken. Both are cooked to tender and bathed in a rich and kicky sauce. Every dinner comes with two sides from the 14 varieties offered, which include candied yams (sweet and syrupy), black-eyed peas, pinto beans (both seasoned with fatback), green beans (cooked to well-done), french fries (hand cut!), potato salad, collard greens (sharply spiced), mashed potatoes (not instant) and macaroni and cheese (home-made). A corn muffin or a real buttermilk honey biscuit comes with dinner. If they’re out of certain items, chances are you’re your second or third choices will also be first-rate. The owners tells us "Everything is made from scratch."
Memphis Smoke 100 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-543-4300: OK, we know. Here we are listing all these down-home joints, and we’re going to include this Royal Oak mainstay? Well, you’re damn right we are. It’s like a little piece of the South in the comfort of the northern suburbs, artfully replicating the food, ambience and music of a jump-jivin’ joint straight from the heart of Tennessee. Entrées include a variety of barbecue, country greens and Swiss chard, catfish and red beans and rice. With regular performances by blues and rock acts, Memphis Smoke is one of the few places in Royal Oak where you can sit back, relax, enjoy the show and eat down-home fare.
Sweet Georgia Brown 1045 Brush St., Detroit; 313-965-1245: The dramatic dining room is dominated by a round raised platform with a bar and a grand piano, often featuring live jazz. A glass-covered river flows through the room over beautiful rocks, bisecting the floor in a meandering curve. Opened in 2002, the menu has been dubbed "nouvelle soul," but don’t expect take-out barbecue. This isn’t so much a "soul food" restaurant as a Southern-accented restaurant; it’s a place where you can get sweet potatoes in three different courses, and pralines are as likely to come with dessert as on a salad or soup. The entrées transcend the South, but are American favorites. The "Southern Comfort Pork Chop" is a grilled chop, lean and hefty, served with an apple-wine compote and fried onion straws.
Sweetwater Tavern 400 E Congress St., Detroit; 313-962-2210: In a historic building more than 100 years old (and sporting a newly remodeled facade), Sweetwater serves chicken, catfish, wings and other barbecued goodies in a casual atmosphere. One friend would rave about their ribs ($11.90 for a half-slab or $24.35 for a full) at the mere mention of the place. They also have appealing desserts, such as "granny" apple pie, peach cobbler and cheesecake.
Southern Fires 575 Bellevue St., Detroit, 313-393-4930: Considered the staple Soul Food restaurant in Detroit, Southern Fires packs ’em in, particularly the Sunday after-church crowd. The prices at Southern Fires are family-oriented (lots of food at low cost), and sweet, cheerful-yellow cornbread comes with your entrée, and you get the traditional choice of two sides, which include mac and cheese, collard greens, yams, mashed potatoes and baked beans. The menu here is from the upscale end of the soul spectrum — no chitterlings or pigs’ feet, but with three kinds of steak. Best of all are the short ribs: tender beef on the bone, slow-cooked with mushrooms and a luscious gravy. Baby-back ribs are admirable too, with a spicy sauce that’s just about the right sweetness level. Open for lunch and dinner every day but Monday; street and valet parking available; no smoking; no alcohol.See any inaccuracies in our listings? Any details that are incorrect? Do let us know. Send an e-mail to [email protected] or call