People tend to say many different things when you tell them you’re from Detroit. Often, adjectives and descriptive phrases come to mind. Usually, “Vegan Haven” isn’t one of them. In fact, I doubt anyone has ever used that term to describe the city of Detroit and its surrounding areas. And there’s probably fair reasons for that. But I’d venture to say it would come as a surprise to most people that Detroit as a whole — the “food desert” pockets of Detroit make for a different story, entirely — does not exactly present a dearth of vegan options, either. While not New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, Detroit has plenty to boast about in the world of plant-based cuisine. Without getting too ahead of myself, it’s difficult for me to not be optimistic when I look at the upswing of vegan options in this city since I moved back 3 years ago.
Not only are there two exclusively vegetarian restaurants within walking distance of my house in Royal Oak, but another mostly vegetarian and Macrobiotic restaurant is no more than a 7 minute drive away. All offer many vegan options. And that’s not even considering downtown Detroit, where things are getting even more exciting. Since I moved back to the area, a longtime favorite vegetarian restaurant out of Ann Arbor, MI opened a second outpost near Woodward avenue in downtown Detroit. Then recently, an entirely vegan soul food restaurant made its mark on the city. Not to mention that Whole Foods Market famously opened its first location in the city, also right off of Woodward. I’ve been there several times since it opened, and love reporting that it seems to be enjoying continued success. I’m so excited about the growing number of vegetarian and vegan options around here that I’ve long been considering doing an entire blog post with reviews in the near future. So stay tuned!
But that’s not even where I’m going with this post. See, I told you I can get a bit excited. Hence, my tangent. No, the real point of this post is that in addition to the many exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurants, there are also many non-veg restaurants in the area that have begun catering to us vegans, including local pizza places offering vegan (and sometimes gluten-free and vegan) pizzas, vegan sushi options popping up at Japanese restaurants (and not just the usual asparagus or avocado rolls) and make-your-own kale bowls topped with veggies and Daiya cheese with Shiitake bacon at the latest local “it” spot.
Finally, one of my favorite non-vegan places offering a variety of yummy vegan options is Russel Street Deli in downtown Detroit. Perched on one of the more busy street blocks surrounding Detroit’s Eastern Market, Russell Street Deli is the kind of place you’d find on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. On weekends during the summertime, you’ll usually see a line going out the door during brunch hours. If you’re lucky enough to get inside, you’ll find homey communal tables, an open diner-style kitchen and daily specials etched in chalk at the front of the long, deep counter area. Always included in those specials are at least one or two vegan soups, from vegan split pea to black bean to spicy red lentil. No matter what vegan option they have that day, it always seems to be incomprehensible delicious for how simple it may be.
Recently, I found a bunch of Russell Street deli soups being sold in the prepared foods section of Detroit’s Whole Foods (a sign of many vegan-friendly worlds colliding). I bought the curried yellow split pea, as much because I love their soups as because the ingredients were listed on the back, allowing me to play with making my own version at home. This recipe is my homage to Russell Street Deli: a delicious, homemade Curried Yellow Split Pea soup.
Interested in checking out some of the vegan options in the Detroit area? Here’s a list of some of the places I mentioned in this post, with links:
- The Inn Season Cafe (all vegetarian; items vegan or vegan option, unless noted; gluten-free options noted on menu)
- Cacao Tree Cafe (high raw; almost all vegan with the exception of honey and bee pollen; mostly gluten-free)
- Om Cafe (Macrobiotic; vegetarian during the day with fish at night; several vegan and gluten-free options clearly noted)
- Seva Restaurant (all vegetarian; many vegan and gluten-free options clearly noted on menu)
- Detroit Vegan Soul (all vegan; gluten-free options clearly noted on menu)
Curried Yellow Split-Pea Soup:
Makes about 4-6 servings. Inspired by Russell Street Deli.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed
6 cups water, divided
1/2 cup white wine
cilantro or parsley for topping (optional)
smoked paprika for sprinkling on top (as pictured, totally optional)
1. Add onion and olive oil to a large soup pot or Dutch Oven. Toss and saute over medium heat until onion begins to soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or ramekin, mix together turmeric, coriander, cumin, cayenne and salt.
2. When onions have softened, add minced garlic and spice mixture. Stir together and saute for another 2 minutes over medium heat.
3. Add yellow split peas and 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover pot. Simmer covered for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Split peas should be tender and start to fall about after about 40 minutes.
4. Turn off heat and add another cup of water and white wine. Then use an immersion blender to blend soup to desired consistency. Alternately, transfer soup to a blender or food processor in batches to blend. Personally, I like this soup blended until almost smooth, but still having some texture to it.
5. Return blended soup to low heat. Heat for another 5-10 minutes, or until soup begins to thicken and just reaches a simmer. Add salt to taste. You can heat longer if you want a thicker consistency. Serve topped with cilantro and a pinch of smoked paprika, if using.