One of the surprising changes affecting metro Detroit's burger culture is a new wave of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly offerings. In last year's Eat guide, Metro Times freelancer Mike Larson noted how owners and chefs have become more accommodating to those with alternative diets, and was told by the Rattlesnake Club's executive chef, Christopher Franz, "It's got to be frustrating to look at a menu and have to basically decide between a salad or a nut platter or something. "
So it goes with burgers, although we've always had some good non-meat burgers in town. Long the standard-bearers of organic vegetarian and vegan cuisine, Inn Season Cafe offers several burgers made with tempeh and their own multigrain patty, a mixture of oats, lentils, brown rice, millet, cracked wheat, cornmeal, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. In this case, it's a green-friendly restaurant offering a kind concession to the meat eater, but the example holds.
Another longstanding vegetarian offering is the "Lentil Burger" at Cass Cafe. It's a low-rent Cass Corridor classic at $6.50. It has been on the menu for at least 20 years. Sandy Mudge once told us the patties are made with lentils, walnut, Parmesan, and "other special ingredients," but the recipe is a trade secret. It would be vegan but for that Parmesan, and it has won over both a few meat eaters and pennywise Wayne State University students.
Another hit with the WSU set would be the Bronx Bar's black bean burger. It's not vegan (it has a bit of egg in it), and it's not even house-made. Bartender Tim Blumberg guesses it must just be the magic of the grill and the awesome bread it's served on that make it so popular.
Another campus burger without red meat is the Stevers McFever at Woodbridge Pub. It's a vegan house-made black bean burger topped with tomato, avocado purée, balsamic glaze, and grilled onions, on a vegan ciabatta bun. It is vegan. It is so popular that it survived the menu makeover several years ago when Woodbridge went seasonal.
Just north of the freeway, Northern Lights Lounge has served a vegan burger for almost a decade. Available every day, it's the "House-Made Veggie Burger," made from falafel, red beans, parsley and spices, and is topped falafel-style, with lettuce, tomato, pickles and tahini. The restaurant's Sherry Slaight tells us, 'It's home-made every day, it's special, and it has a bit of a kick to it."
But it's not just the university area that offers vegetarian burgers anymore. Look at the upscale creations at Townhouse, among them a "Townhouse Veggie Burger," with a hand-formed patty made with black beans, brown rice, mirepoix. It gets suitably upscale toppings, including Sriracha aioli and avocado purée. Even Rochester Hills' Clubhouse BFD offers a house-made black bean burger. They put the patties atop their triple mac 'n' cheese, which Clubhouse's Jason Peltier calls, "just a beautiful thing."