Being a small town boy who grew up in the country, one thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to about the inner city retail experience is bulletproof glass.
I first experienced this phenomenon as a pre-teen visiting my cousins in Chicago. I’m aware that it’s a normal part of life in the city, but the thick, cold windows create a discomforting atmosphere in any retail environment, especially in restaurants.
While the offerings at Motor City Soul Food, 12700 West 7 Mile Rd in Detroit, were pretty decent, the glass box that surrounds the cafeteria table and workers detract from the overall customer experience. At least for a country boy like me.
I went to Motor City on the recommendation of a fellow traveler who shared my quest for good chicken and collard greens. We had both been examining the menu at a newer restaurant a few blocks down 7 Mile, but decided to exit that establishment and go for something more familiar.
I was pleased to see my friend, Oya Amakisi of Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival, in the line when I arrived. Oya shares many of my dietary idiosyncrasies, so I felt even better about my decision.
“I’ve been eating here since I worked at Aisha Shule,” Oya informed me. She had already ordered and was waiting for her whiting to cook, so she stood in line with me for a moment to catch up. I explained my soul food quest and that I was tired of mediocre food and bad service.
“Well, the food here is good,” she said, “but the service is another story.”
Oya hit it right on the nose.
As a Detroiter you get used to bad service. Unfriendly people are the norm, and not the exception, so poor service seems to be a part of the culture. The workers at Motor City Soul Food, however, weren’t unfriendly per se, and they were patient with me in my first time dealing with their system.
The restaurant is carryout only. There is no dining room, and only a few chairs line the walls for customers who wait on their food. First you stand in a long line parallel to the serving window, examining the food that is laid out cafeteria style on the other side of the bulletproof pane. I keep referring to the employees there as workers because the glass adds to the factory feel of the place. They seem more like “workers” than “servers”. I’ll call them servers from now on.
On the day I visited, there were four or five women serving food and another two who seemed to be cashiers only. Each server would come to the next person in line, take their order, and assemble the dinners into the ubiquitous styrofoam carryout box.
My first order, fried chicken dinner with collard greens and candied yams, was a bust. Oya had warned me that Motor City often ran out of food “quickly”, and sure enough, the holy grails of my quest – collard greens and dark meat chicken – were gone by the time I got there (around 6:30pm).
What’s the point of having soul food without collard greens? They already had a mark against them.
I ordered a wing dinner for my wife and opted for a whiting dinner for me. Sides of cabbage, green beans, yams, and corn were my other choices. My server told me that I should have ordered the whiting dinner first because each fish dinner is made to order and takes twenty minutes. If they had had dark meat chicken, I wouldn’t have ordered fish. But, anyway…
After paying and waiting twenty minutes for my fish, I was informed by my server that the kitchen had forgotten to put on my fish, and it would be another twenty minutes. This was unacceptable, so instead of getting my money back, I got another chicken dinner which worked out to be the same price.
And this is where the workers at Motor City went out of their way to make things right for me. They gave me a couple of extra chicken wings, a free dessert (advertised as red velvet cake) and a Pepsi for my trouble. That was a fantastic example of going above and beyond to make sure the customer left somewhat satisfied. I did.
FOOD QUALITY & TASTE
Chicken: A solid B-
As I’ve stated before, my mom’s fried chicken is the standard (an A+ in my book), and Motor City’s chicken isn’t bad. It just needed a little more seasoning. The breasts were a little dry, but the wings were nice and juicy. With a little salt, the wings would have been an A. Adding hot sauce made them great, but I don’t have to add hot sauce to my mom’s chicken…
Green Beans & Candied Yams: A
I should have ordered two orders of green beans. They were good. Nice and flavorful. Same with the candied yams. Sweet and cinnamony. Very nice.
Cabbage & Corn: C
What’s up with this not seasoning food thing? Add a little pepper to the cabbage, and it will take on a whole new life. The corn was the standard canned variety. No frills. Boring.
Tasty but dry.
Red Velvet Cake: C-
This was free, so I’m not complaining too much, but this wasn’t red velvet cake. It was more like a yellow cake with red food coloring, and not a chocolate cake with red color. It wasn’t a bad cake, but it wasn’t red velvet.
OVERALL FOOD SCORE: C+
MEAL VALUE: B
The meal was just a little over $20 for two people, so not a bad deal. Portions were good sizes. This was a good value.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: C+
This score would have been higher if they hadn’t forgotten my fish, but it would have gone down if the servers hadn’t gone out of their way to make me happy when that mistake happened.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE: B-
There were a couple of hiccups along the way, but this wasn’t a bad experience. I try not to detract too much for the bulletproof barrier between me and the human beings behind the counter, but it has to factor in somehow. The food was decent, except that poor management caused them to be out of some key items. The most important reason this went from a C to a B was that the servers worked to correct the kitchen’s mistake. Take note, business owners. A little free cake goes a long way, even if it isn’t red velvet.
OVERALL SCORE: C+
The Moral of the Story is: A little seasoning and attention to detail could help this place go from okay to really good. Some slight improvements in service and management could push it further. My score of this place is a little lower than the 4-star rating they got from other customer reviews on Yelp.com. But, I would go back. Maybe they will have some collards for me to try next time.
Detroit, MI 48235