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Jan 7, 2010 07:57 PM

Good Detroit Area Vegetarian (Please don't say Inn Season Cafe)

I have not read much on this board regarding great Detroit area vegetarian places. I visit metro Detroit quite often and would like to add some tasty veggie fare to my 'must try' rotation. First, a little synopsis of what has led to this request...
I visited Inn Season Cafe recently (I had a hankering for their brown rice salad which I had tried many years ago) and was very underwhelmed. I would expect a restaurant devoted entirely to vegetarian/vegan cuisine to be a bit more creative and not so...bored. Brown rice salad: not what I remembered. Thick, not light. Boring. Chili: Fine. Boring. Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad:( It's a SALAD -is there anything more basic to vegetarian cuisine than SALAD??) B-O-R-I-N-G. The 'balsamic vinaigrette' was missing, though there was a light coating of oil over the greens. I munched on some greens & blue cheese and tried to taste the 'pickled onions' (nothing) and 'balsamic raisins' (nothing), and then asked for some "extra" dressing. I was met with utter disdain by the waitress who silently brought me a bottle of balsamic vinegar. ( I looked for the 'ette' but it was not there.) I added the vinegar, some salt, some pepper... nothing. Then I realized I was paying $9.00 to make myself a salad at a VEGETARIAN restaurant that doesn't know how to make VEGETABLES taste good! So, I mustered my courage and politely asked for the salad to be returned, at which point the waitress decided we could no longer be friends and after removing the plate, never returned to the table. Another girl (busperson I think?) came to offer dessert and then returned to bring the check. It was a very silent exchange, and a very unpleasant experience.
So, Detroit, tell me there is more to vegeterian dining in your fair city. There must be some hole-in-the-wall or corner of a grocery store that is delivering yummy, creative fresh food without the "healthier than thou" treatment. Any favorites that you would consider travel-worthy?

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  1. Tokyo, I can't honestly remember: are you not wanting Middle Eastern suggestions? For some reason, I've got it in my brain that you're not interested in the Middle Eastern stuff, but if you are, I'll chime back in again.

    For now, I can recommend Blue Nile in Ferndale. I haven't been in a couple of years, but I've enjoyed their vegetarian fare on the couple of times I've been there. The nice thing there is that you don't have to be pigeon-holed into eating exclusively vegetarian if you don't want to. You can do vegetarian only or vegetarian with a few meat dishes included. While you'll obviously like some offering better than others, there's bound to be some good things for you. The one caveat about Blue Nile is that I think it's really designed to be a place that caters to a group of people, rather than a single diner. Not that they wouldn't love to have a single diner, but it's really a group-oriented place.

    From what I've heard (and I know this might be pouring a bit of salt in the wound...), Fly Trap in Ferndale offers some good vegetarian fare. I haven't been myself, but like you, I've been meaning to.

    Modern Food and Spirits in Keego Harbor offers vegetarian entrees, but I've never ordered the vegetarian entrees. What I *have* ordered here, however, are their soups, which are always completely vegetarian, and can even be vegan sometimes. Their soups can be absolutely wonderful. I've never had a bad soup yet, but if I could recommend their red lentil with apricot...I always order that whenever it's available.

    I really enjoy meat, but if the flavors present are well done, who cares? As you can see, I'm not married to being a carnivore at every meal. JanPrimus was telling me earlier this week about an Indian vegetarian place out on the west side (Canton, I think) that he says is great. I'm looking forward to trying it myself. He's a self-professed carnivore himself, and says he doesn't miss meat while he's there. I believe him.

    Be sure to post about whether you want Middle Eastern recs.

    9 Replies
    1. re: boagman

      What is NeeHee's Alex?

      I have had Mixed success with the #2 Special Bhel. The first time I got was absolute heaven. The next time I got was servicable. I am ready for thirds on that dish. The secret is in the balance of the Chutneys. I just need to find out who makes it the best.

      I have had quite a few other items off the menu and all have make me very happy.

      In the same vein....I love the dishes at Krishna Catering on Ford Road in Garden City. It is slow in there and not the prettiest place...but I get by.

      1. re: boagman

        This is a good area for both Middle Eastern and Indian food, both of which always offer decent veggie dishes. I've had good luck at Pine Land, which has the virtue of having locations both west (Middlebelt Rd. in Westland) and northwest (12 Mile). But it's interesting--sounds like there's a real opening for the old-fashioned, vaguely hippie type of all-vegetarian restaurant around here. I went to Inn Season years ago and it was fine, but now we have multiple reports of serious problems. There used to be a fun one near Wayne State called the Cosmic Cafe, but it closed. Arise, seitan slingers and tofu turners (not to mention tofurkey tamers)! Seva in Ann Arbor is acceptable, and their sweet potato fries are even good, but it's bland. Around the corner is Earthen Jar, which is also all-vegetarian Indian. Pretty good, and cheap, but all-buffet and very student atmosphere--I tend to avoid it during flu season.

        1. re: boagman

          "Be sure to post about whether you want Middle Eastern recs."

          I am never happier than when I am eating Middle Eastern food. That is not an overstatement. Unfortunately, I never ever seem to make it to Dearborn, but if and when I do, I am armed with a list - Al Ameer, Al Berdouni, La Pita... I've even mapped out a place close to the airport in case of pre- or post-flight munchies. In the northwestern 'burbs, the best I've found (being a previous La Shish fan) is La Marsa. Not crazy about Mezza. But there are so many to try, I would gladly welcome other recs.

          I'm glad to hear Blue Nile is recommended. I really enjoyed it when it was in Greektown, but had heard mixed comments about the one in Ferndale.
          Modern Food & Spirits, noted. Sounds good. And I do LOVE soups.
          NeeHee's looks like fun. I heartily concur with boagman's approach: - "I really enjoy meat, but if the flavors present are well done, who cares?" With the exception of bacon. Bacon alone would keep me from ever being a good herbivore.
          I think Jim is right - where are the hippies? I love me a good black bean burger every now and then. I am sure those devoted 'seitan slingers' (good one, Jim :) must be out there...

          1. re: tokyo

            I love ordering a veggie burger with double bacon at certain places....

            It is called the "Hypocrite".

            Oh the odd looks you will get!

            1. re: JanPrimus

              haha, veggie burger with double bacon makes perfect sense to me.

            2. re: tokyo

              Blue Nile in Ann Arbor is bland. Are they all that way?

              1. re: momskitchen

                There's a Blue Nile in Ann Arbor? Are they related to each other? My experience at Blue Nile in Ferndale was pretty good!

                1. re: boagman

                  Yes, they are related - there used to be one in Detroit, too, at one time. The food tasted bland to me, and it was pretty expensive. I won't be back. I know some Africans and they say Blue Nile isn't good...if you want to try something more authentic, they suggest Red Sea on Washtenaw in Ypsi. We haven't tried it yet.

              2. re: tokyo

                Pita Cafe on Greenfield between 11 and 10 mile (right off the 696 freeway) is every bit as good as any chow you'll get in Dearborn...just another option for good veg food. A little gas station in our city, Berkley, houses Mr. Kabob -- a take out or min-take in (just a couple of cafe tables), terrific fattoush -- I skip the crushed lentil soup as it's too cumin heavy for me.

            3. I haven't been for a couple years, but I really like Seva in Ann Arbor . I really miss Cosmic Cafe, as well as Govindas.

              1. Tokyo, Try Udipi on Orchard Lake. They make really great Indian food. It is completely vegetarian and even carries a conservative kosher hecksher from Rabbi Jason Miller.

                1. Hi tokyo
                  I'm not a vegaterian but most know that I'm a big Diamond Jim Brady's fan. It's not unusual for Mary to offer a vegetarian entre among her specials. It's worth checking out (none there for January but keep checking); get on her e-mailing list if you wish.

                  1. Thanks for all these recommendations, everyone. My boyfriend and I are traveling to Detroit to check out some museums this weekend and I came to Chow with this exact question. I've now shortlisted Modern, The Fly Trap, Red Sea, and Diamond Jim Brady's Bistro. I also picked up Traffic Jam and Snug from another thread. Any specific recommendations from that list?

                    (And one reason I'd agree with Tokyo about not wanting Middle Eastern recommendations is because I feel like I can get great vegetarian Middle Eastern or Indian at home. When I go some place new, I really want to try food that's creative and less standardized.)

                    Diamond Jim's
                    210 S Main St Ste 1, Crown Point, IN 46307

                    Fly Trap Restaurant
                    22950 Woodward Ave, Ferndale, MI 48220

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: LOLTofu

                      I actually think Ferndale’s branch of Blue Nile (walking distance from the Fly Trap) is better than the other branches. The downside is that Blue Nile meat dishes are better than their vegetarian dishes. Momskitchen is going to un-friend her African buddies after she tries Red Sea in Ypsi, because it is lame (sorry).

                      While far away from the museums, Mind Body Spirits in Rochester MI has some veggie highs (sure, with some blahs), but their atmosphere and attitude always are in the right place.

                      Metro Detroit also has some great pizzas that are do-able, vegetarian-wise (if you can accept cheese).

                      Also, while I can’t know that you don’t come from Lebanon, I do think that Detroit almost FOR SURE has Lebanese food that is incomparable to that from wherever you currently live.

                      Picano’s Italian restaurant in Troy has some excellent (basic) vegetarian dishes, too (the dishes are not designed to be or called Vegetarian; rather, they just don't happen to have meat in them). And, Ajishin in Novi has some wonderful Japanese noodle dishes, though many have fish flakes or stock in them.

                      Depending on how long it is before your trip, Seva Detroit (Ann Arbor location already mentioned by Chowchowbrowncow) may finally be open, right near the museums. (liquor licensing was delaying opening)

                      Along with the posters above, we welcome you and wish you a great time!!!!
                      PS--if you like brew pubs, we have some bonuses for you

                      Seva Restaurant
                      314 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

                      42270 Grand River Ave, Novi, MI 48375

                      Fly Trap Restaurant
                      22950 Woodward Ave, Ferndale, MI 48220

                      1. re: vtombrown

                        Gah, I wish I'd seen this post earlier! I ended up at Angelina's Bistro downtown and it was awfully disappointing. I got a gnocchi dish that really tasted like little balls of soggy mashed potatoes, NOT gnocchi. My omnivorous boyfriend got a badly overcooked steak that was awash in capers. He said it was both weird and bad.

                        And while I'm sure Detroit has awesome Lebanese food, my family is part Lebanese and I'm pretty sure I will always like our versions of things best.

                      2. re: LOLTofu

                        I would actually strongly recommend Taste of Ethiopia in Southfield over Blue Nile. I have received recycled injera at Blue Nile, but never at Taste of Ethiopia. ToE also does vegetarian as well as they do meat dishes.

                        1. re: jjspw

                          I take it the Taste of Ethiopia in Eastern Market is owned by the same folks.

                          1. re: JanPrimus

                            Yes, I believe so. Forgot that they had that second location.

                            1. re: JanPrimus

                              I work right around the corner from Eastern Market, and I live about five minutes away from the Southfield Taste of Ethiopia location.

                              If you are going to visit the Eastern Market location, you should know that the food -- as I understand it, ALL the food -- is cooked that morning in Southfield, transported to Eastern Market, then reheated and served.