After several years, I’m finally fed up with my favorite Detroit soul food restaurant.
My wife, Akanke, and I live in the often soulless Detroit suburb of Westland. The relatively quiet bedroom community is devoid of any real culture of its own beyond the Westland Mall and the city’s well maintained parks. (There is a lot to be said for tree-lined streets though.)
The best aspect of Westland, however, is that it lies halfway between Michigan’s two cultural meccas – Ann Arbor and Detroit. We always end up driving a half hour in either direction to get our culture on. Concerts, real shopping (in non-mall boutiques) and good (non-chain) restaurants.
Because of our southern upbringing, good southern cooking, aka soul food, is an important part of our lives. No, it isn’t the healthiest food in the world, but it is comfort food. You can’t eat stir fry and tofu every day. When it comes down to it, every once in a while, you’ve just got to have some cornbread, fish and collard greens.
Now granted, either Akanke or I could cook a better soul food meal than most restaurants by using our mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. But the one negative aspect of good soul food (besides the calories), is that it is highly labor intensive. When I feel like taking an entire Saturday afternoon to cook a great meal for Sunday, I do it. But when we’ve both been working a lot, the conversation we often have is, “What are we going to do for dinner?”
Today, as I was leaving Royal Oak, driving down Southfield Road, Akanke’s answer to my question was, “soul food”.
Until about a month ago, I would have turned the car around, and driven through the rush hour traffic to My Sisters and Me, a family-owned restaurant deep on the east side. For a few years, it has been our Sunday tradition that we would drive 45 minutes from the southwest burbs to Detroit’s north east side for some fried chicken, whiting fish, collard greens, candied yams, cabbage, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. We’d eat there, soaking up the atmosphere, take leftovers home, and order two carry out plates to munch on for the first half of the week.
Unfortunately, the quality at My Sisters and Me has deteriorated over the past couple of years. The chicken had gone from hot and juicy to dry and bland. The collard greens were always about a grade B. (Akanke makes the best greens I’ve ever eaten – Sorry, mom. I may blog her sauteed collard green recipe at some later date.)
But worst of all the service had gone from slow, but acceptably courteous to rude and unbearable. The last straw was a fiasco over carry out when the manager on duty refused to satisfy me, a long time customer, when they messed up my order.
It’s over. We’re fed up. We’ve got to find a new favorite soul food restaurant in Detroit.
Yes, this is similar to a heartbreaking divorce. My Sisters and Me had been good to us, and they deserved our loyalty. We ignored their shortcomings because we loved the food, the romance, the very idea of the place. But after being taken for granted once too often, it’s time to move on. Being disrespected and unappreciated was finally too much to bear.
Akhnartoon’s had been our favorite soul food before My Sisters and Me. That north end eatery somehow convinced us that their succulent soulfully barbecued chicken and tasty greens were a healthier option, perhaps because they were connected to a health food store. When that fabled establishment closed for good, we wandered lost in the wilderness until finding My Sisters. Now we are lost and wandering again.
So we are now on a quest to find the best soul food restaurant in Detroit. We hope this won’t take too long, but there are A LOT of soul food restaurants in Metro Detroit.
This is a quest for OUR favorite restaurant. I make no warranty that what I like in soul food will also be good to you. First of all, Akanke and I don’t eat pork, and we avoid beef (she doesn’t eat it, but I’ll have it every so often), so if a restaurant’s best asset is it’s ribs, it won’t help them win us over. No corned beef. No pork chops. No neckbones or chittlins. We’re talking fish, chicken, and mainly veggies, sides and desserts.
Also our standards are high. Akanke was born in Alabama and raised in North Carolina. My Tennessee heritage takes food very seriously. Some of the most popular restaurants in Detroit wouldn’t stay open a month in Nashville or Charlotte. As my Texan friend, Paul Hue, would say those stemmy collard greens are “an abomination.” Just because you “Yankees” crowd some of these places, doesn’t mean that I will darken their door if they don’t make the cut.
For instance, my standard of measurement for a restaurant’s fried chicken is my mother’s cold fried chicken. Yes, Ms. Betty’s cold fried chicken is the best chicken I’ve ever had. The perfectly seasoned, lightly breaded poultry is a delicacy fit for a king. Betty’s Fried Chicken gets and “A” when it’s hot. When it’s cold the next day on a picnic or in the car on a long trip, it’s an “A+”. That is the bar.
You may think your mama’s chicken is better than my mom’s (it isn’t), but I’ve never had your mama’s chicken. If you want to challenge my rulings, you’ll have to try the restaurants yourself.
Our judgments will be based on the following criteria: Food Quality and Taste, Meal Value, Customer Service, and Overall Experience. They will get a letter grade for each (A, B, C, D or F), and the criterion will be averaged for the final grade. Each criterion weighs equally, 25%.
It simply isn’t good enough that the food tastes good. Also, slightly above average food can seem a lot better in a restaurant with a nice atmosphere. Of course, value for the dollar is very important.
Yes, many Detroit soul food joints will lose a ton of points for poor customer service. These are the breaks. Treat your customers better.
The straw that broke the ocean perch’s back with me and my last favorite soul food joint was poor service. The food quality and taste had become worse over time, but it was the poor service, yet another bad experience that caused them to lose me as a customer forever.
So pour a glass of lemonade, and pass the hot sauce. Say grace, and your bible verse. “Rise, Peter. Slay and eat.”