Reporter Food: Shoebox Lunch at Beans & Cornbread

Reporter Food: Shoebox Lunch at Beans & Cornbread

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 3, 2019)

Southfield, MI- It is truly an honor to be back working on the Reporter Food column after taking a pause for some health issues, and there is no better way to dive in than with a meal that that was both delicious and educational – the Shoebox Lunch at Beans & Cornbread in Southfield.

When I saw the Shoebox Lunch on the menu I thought that sounded like something cute and unique.  The description on the menu – “Southern fried wings served in a commemorative shoebox” – did not do justice to what this actually was.

Back in the 1950s and 60s as the nation was grappling with issues of racial integration, there were places where people of color were not allowed to eat. As segregation became illegal, it was still hard to know if a person would be safe stopping for a meal if they were not white. Travel by trains was a challenge also, as black people were not permitted in the dining cars.

The solution was the shoebox lunch. Travelers would package food – often fried chicken – in old shoe boxes to take with them on their journeys.  In the south, women in church groups would make similar lunches for weary travelers.  This became a bittersweet tradition for black families in a time of major changes and adjustments in our nation, not even a full lifetime ago.

Keeping the tradition and history alive are the reasons Beans and Cornbread put the shoebox lunch on their menu.  It features two impeccably fried chicken wings and a choice of two sides.  I opted for the creamy, soothing cole slaw and the traditional mac and cheese.  Other sides include collard greens, black-eyed peas, green beans, hoppin’ John, muffins, fries, okra, salad, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, red beans & rice, and grits.

The shoebox lunch also comes in a collectable box covered with bits of black history, including profiles of famous African Americans including Bessy Coleman, Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King Jr.  There’s also an image of George Wallace in front of a Confederate flag.

Sitting in this Southfield restaurant full of diverse people enjoying a variety of delicious foods, it’s hard to imagine those times in history. Yet the remnants of racial division are still around, and having an unexpected moment of education and remembering this was a pretty amazing way to spend my lunch break.  So thank you Beans and Cornbread for that.

Plus, I can’t really over-state how amazing this fried chicken was. Really, really, good.  The menu has other southern soul food favorites like Louisiana style gumbo, Mama’s meatloaf, farm raised catfish, rib tips and more.

Beans and Cornbread is located at 29508 Northwestern Hwy, Southfield, MI 48034. Find them online at

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