Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Caribbean-inspired vegan restaurant is popping up ahead of its summer opening on Livernois

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 8:58 AM

click to enlarge Jamaican jerk BBQ burger made with a black-eyed pea patty. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Jamaican jerk BBQ burger made with a black-eyed pea patty.

A few months ago, we wrote about Detroit's small-but-mighty Jamaican food community that's kicking in Northwest Detroit. But for those not keen on meat, the pickings are generally slim.

However, that'll change when the Paradise Cafe and Juice Bar opens at Livernois near Seven Mile later this summer.

It's the work of Nezaa Bandele, who was born in Jamaica before moving to Toronto at eight year old. There she learned to cook Italian food from an Italian friend's great aunt, and began mashing up the flavors she grew up on with those of the different cultures she encountered in Toronto. So what Bandele makes isn't authentic Jamaican food, but that's often the base off which she builds dishes.

"I ate a lot of other foods from other cultures, but the core kind of meals would be Jamaican. That's probably where I get that from. I was so young that Jamaican food is what I remember, but then you go to school with all different cultures and you're influenced by them," Bandele tells MT. "I kind of nod to that Caribbean flavor, but I tend to cross-pollinate."

So when Paradise Cafe opens, one can expect a menu that holds plates like her signature Jamaican jerk BBQ burger, made with a black-eyed pea patty and jerk barbecue sauce. That holds elements of African-American and Jamaican cuisines, and is served with fresh cut yam fries. The Jamaican stew peas - which are beans - are similar to cajun red beans and rice, but made with a coconut-based gravy that's more in line with the Jamaican flavor profile.

And Bandele leans toward Italian in her vegan lasagna that's made with a sunflower seed cheese, and served with a Mediterranean salad and garlic bread. No matter what you get, be sure to order the strawberry lemonade, which is some of the city's best juice.

click to enlarge Lunch at Paradise's pop up. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Lunch at Paradise's pop up.
Though the brick and mortar is still a few months off, Paradise is popping up in one of metro Detroit's most unique nooks. Bandele serves her dishes on the patio at Ohana Gardens in Highland Park, which holds a small and charming urban garden with a fountain and a stray chicken or two pecking about. It sits in the middle of a complex of four brick apartment buildings whose super friendly residents work the gardens, and Bandele brings your food out to a small collection of patio tables.

Though much of Detroit's Jamaican fare is meaty, Bandele says there's a relatively large percentage of vegans and vegetarians on the island because of the popularity of Seventh Day Adventism, which is the nation's second largest religion.

Thus pork is scarce in Jamaica, and fish and chicken are the main meats, though they're only used sparingly among the religion's practitioners. Bandele isn't a Seventh Day Atavist, but she grew up in a household where the religion was practiced, so making the jump as a teen from meat eater to vegetarian to vegan wasn't too difficult.

The pop ups are on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 18 Church St. in Highland Park. Paradise Cafe will also be at the African World Festival, Concert of Colors, and likely at the Dally in the Alley this summer.

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