Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Beyond Beans & Cornbread

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM

West Bloomfield, where suburban sprawl is duking it out with pear trees and farm houses, seems an unlikely place to find a restaurant called “Urban Wings.” But it’s where Patrick Coleman chose to open his second suburban soul food restaurant.

Coleman’s much acclaimed white-tablecloth dining room, Beans & Cornbread in Southfield, was the first. His more traditional and urban soul food place, Mo’ Beans & Cornbread, on 8 Mile, bit the dust. At Urban Wings, the moderately priced menu focuses on chicken and ribs, prepared with some consideration for health — no trans fat is used.

There’s no oil drum charcoal-grill out back. Chicken comes fried, oven-roasted or “barbecued” — oven-roasted with barbecue sauce. The portion size is a half-chicken; the oven-roasted variation is marinated, seasoned and billed as “lo-carb yardbird.” Executive chef John Arnold’s fried chicken is perfect, with a crunchy crust that shatters when you bite into it, yielding to firm, moist meat, and not the least bit greasy. Roasted chicken was the one disappointment. Although we liked the house-made barbecue sauce, which was neither too sweet nor too hot, the breast meat was dry. After sampling many other menu items, including plenty of chicken wings, it appears this was an anomaly.

Wings are oven roasted with lemon-pepper sauce, or fried plain or glazed with barbecue sauce, honey or “kickin’” hot sauce. Ribs are grilled St. Louis style (the brisket bone is trimmed away), and can be ordered as a half or whole slab. Beef ribs is one of the most popular dishes. If you choose them, don’t do it because you think they’re less fatty. They’re not, but they are delicious.

Of course, the essence of soul food is in the sides, and Urban Wings makes the very best macaroni and cheese ever. It’s creamy and cheesy, and although yellow, as far from Cheez Whiz yellow as yellow can get. Collard greens are also way above average; made with smoked turkey, they’re neither sweet nor hot, and the pot liquor is delicious. Fried okra is another thumbs-up. If you object to the sliminess of okra, this is the way to eat it, with a light crust and 100 percent slime-free. Two sides come with each entrée; ordered à la carte, they’re $3 and $4.

Urban Wings is the kind of place where little extras are tucked in without fanfare. In your breadbasket, you’ll find tiny sweet potato muffins that are delicate and rich, as well as a generous slab of cornbread. Great hush puppies come with all entrées. There are also some very unusual things on the menu, such as salmon grilled with ginger-soy sauce glaze and garnished with wasabi.

Service, which Coleman is known for, is up to his customary standards. As I walked in one evening, the manager greeted me with a big smile and held the door open.

Urban Wings is smartly decked out with an orange and yellow color scheme and an extensive collection of chicken memorabilia: chicken weather vanes, chicken cartoon characters, glazed tiles with chickens, chickens woodcarvings, a metal rooster sculpture, ceramic chicken plant holders, photos of chicken diners, a sign advertising eggs for 5 cents a dozen. It used to be that such a collection was a lifelong pursuit, but our server cheerfully told us all these items were ordered online.

Desserts vary from day to day, but always include a very good peach cobbler (made with pie crust, not biscuits) and sweet potato pie redolent of cinnamon with a nicely browned, flaky crust.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail


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