Lagos spices up local food scene
Nigerian entrepreneur brings his native cuisine to Detroit
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
Tunde Wey is earning quite a reputation in Detroit’s culinary avant-garde, first with his Hamtramck Revolver pop-up concept, followed by Goldfinch American.
The Nigerian born chef recently launched a third concept, Lagos, a Saturday-night-only Nigerian barbeque joint in Southwest Detroit.
But Wey, who moved to the U.S. by himself at 16 to attend college, doesn’t just jockey the finances; on opening night, he and Sous Chef Jacques Washington — making every dish from scratch — turned out food for close to 100 people almost by themselves.
Lagos has a set menu: suya, peanut/ginger/pepper rubbed grilled beef; egusi, a funky and savory mix of ground melon seeds, pumpkin leaves and spinach (for color, Wey says) livened up with rich red palm oil; jollof rice, the grains stewed in a spicy tomato pepper sauce that may remind some diners of spanish rice (with a kick); and of course friend plantains.
The beef for the suya comes from a local farm, which Wey says does an excellent job raising their cattle.
Lagos’ menu brings together different styles from across Nigeria, a diverse country filled with many languagescultures and traditions. The capital, Lagos, Wey’s inspiration for the restaurant is Nigeria’s most populous and one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
While capturing the some of the breadth of Nigeria’s rich palate in his offerings, Wey still maintains a personal connection with the food. The recipes for the jollof rice and the egusi were passed down from his aunt who taught him to cook them.
At Lagos meals are served family-style, with heaping bowls of the suya, egusi, rice and plantains being brought out to the tables where friends, family and strangers can pass the dishes and help themselves to their fill.
There is one set price for the food, $30, and a cash bar helps to bring the restaurant’s soundtrack, contemporary Afrobeat, to life. Afrobeat was invented by Fela Kuti, but restaurant-goers will note the genre has evolved over the years, incorporating elements of electronic dance music, hip hop and pop.
Currently, Lagos is located in the Mexicantown Fiesta Center (4114 W. Vernor Hwy.). The center’s owner Dolores Sanchez recently remodeled the MFC, aware of the influx of new-comers of all backgrounds moving into the Southwest Detroit neighborhood. A long-time member of the community, Sanchez is excited to see new enterprises like Lagos springing up. “Young people today have so many ideas, and they seem to know how to make them work,” she told the Michigan Citizen.
Customers quickly gobbled up the first plates of food to emerge from the kitchen on opening night. Big jugs of water came to the aid of their tingling tongues (there is no “mild” option at Lagos).
The long tables, at which the diners were seated, turned the normal buzz of a restaurant into a din of laughter, anecdotes and friendly debates. The music had to be turned up a few times to keep pace with the conversational volume.
In the raucous conviviality, Wey sees something Detroit and Lagos have in common. “There’s an energy here that is everywhere you have people who are trying to create a life in the midst of serious adversity,” says Wey.
Watching Wey and Washington turn out dish after dish, it stands to reason Lagos too “hustles harder.”
Wey sums up his latest concept simply, inviting Detroiters to “(c)ome get out of your ‘frame of mouth’ — not frame of mind, but ‘frame of mouth’ and try some hearty non-fufu s—, and listen to some raunchy music.”
The next Lagos dinner will be held on June 28.
Make reservations and learn more at www.fromlagos.com.