Hungry in Hamtown

Hamtramck is hopping with a global smorgasbord of eateries, from Polish, Albanian, and Bosnian to Yemeni, Bangladeshi, and Mexican



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Diners jam Polish Village for a taste of Old World cuisine. Even President Bill Clinton ate here.
Photograph by Marvin Shaouni

Little ol’ Polish Hamtramck, right?

It’s a city that’s synonymous with paczki, pierogi, and some of the finest duck blood soup around. The tiny enclave’s all-star Polish restaurants have been visited by Bill Clinton, Emeril Lagasse, and the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain. But that’s just the surface for those of you who haven’t ventured near Joseph Campau in awhile. Sure, Hamtramck’s claim to eating fame will always be Polish — at least for the foreseeable future. But over the last decade, the city’s culinary stockpot has been spiced by the arrival of new residents from Bosnia, Albania, Bangladesh, Yemen, and points in between. As each culture settled in, new restaurants popped up. The diversity of the faces visible up and down Hamtramck streets is mirrored in the variety that diners find on Hamtown menus. There’s an entire world available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: from barbecue to falafel, halal pizza to fresh sausage. Here’s a glance at the combination platter that is Hamtramck dining.

 

1. Royal Kabob

Royal Kabob is one of Hamtramck’s newest Middle Eastern joints in one of Hamtramck’s newest buildings. The owners run the fresh market across the street, and some of the chefs were plucked from the former La Shish. Happily, they brought the quality with them. Royal Kabob’s chicken shawarma with a half order of hummus is a good lunch — so long as you don’t have a meeting afterward. Their fresh bread and complimentary garlic spread also hit the spot (and, likewise, ruin your breath). But what makes Royal Kabob really interesting is its summer gelato. After you’ve had the falafel, shawarma, or even fried kibbee (all three are excellent), walk past the kitchen window for a cup of a gelato in a variety of flavors. It’ll help kill the garlic breath, too. 3236 Caniff; 313-872-9454.

2. Aladdin Sweet & Café

Dollar somosas? Yes, please. Finding thrift and taste can feel like mission impossible these days. That mission ends at the Bangladeshi-style Aladdin Sweet & Café, where they have $1 singaras (vegetable-filled puff pastries), $1 somosas (same, but with meat), and $1 Dal Puri (lentil-filled fried bread). A few extra bucks will reward you substantially at the Aladdin, whether it’s the chicken tikka masala for the meat eater, the motor poneer for the vegetarian, or the excellent, yet limited, lunch buffet. Aladdin isn’t a polished place, so don’t be put off by the Styrofoam plates, bowls, and cups. They let the food speak for itself. Perhaps best of all, Aladdin stays open late and offers free delivery to satisfy those weeknight tandoori chicken cravings. 11945 Conant; 313-891-8050.

3. Polonia

Last January, Travel Channel celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain brought his edgy No Reservations show to Hamtramck — specifically to Polonia — for a little czernina (that’s duck blood soup, for the uninitiated). Yes, duck blood is an ingredient. At Polonia, one of two Polish restaurants on Yemans Street, most of the waitresses have heavy Polish accents, and festive Polish music adds to the air of authenticity. You must try their homemade fresh sausage. It’s the best in town. 2934 Yemans; 313-873-8432.

4. Bosnia Specialties

This isn’t exactly a vegetarian place. Here, it’s pretty much meat with meat and a side order of meat. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s a lot of meat. The main item on the menu is the Bosnian specially cevapi, a beef dish. The prime-time dish is the pljeskavica with kajmak. It’s a mouthful to say and it’s a mouthful to eat, too. Pljeskavica is basically cevapi flattened into a patty the size of a small plate and filled with cream cheese (kajmak is the flat bread served with it). An artery clogger? Maybe. But it’s tasty and, of course, you don’t have to eat it all at once. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of a house on Caniff, so it’s not uncommon to hear the pitter-patter of feet upstairs or doors slamming and windows closing. If you’re not looking for the place, you’ll miss it. 3028 Caniff; 313-875-2722.

5. Polish Village

Bill Clinton ate at the Polish Village. Emeril Lagasse did a show from there. And generations of Poles pack the place to the gills every Sunday after church. The restaurant is doing something right, that’s for sure. A few steps below street level and maybe even a few steps back in time, the feeling of the place is thoroughly Polish. Authentic is the word here, from the décor, to the waitresses’ traditional costumes, to the aroma of the food. You can’t go wrong with the menu, but here are a few things to keep in mind: Watch out for the Hungarian pancake (it packs a punch), fried pierogi are always better than boiled, and everything on the menu tastes better with a Zywiec. The Polish Plate here is a must — at least once in your lifetime. 2990 Yemans; 313-874-5726.

6. Al Qamar

Hamtramck has a significant Muslim population, and the owners of Al Qamar saw an opportunity for, as they say, a community service. Everyone loves pizza, but religious laws don’t allow everyone to eat pizza. So how does Al Qamar (which means “moon” in Arabic) solve that? With halal pizza. All the meat at Al Qamar is halal, which means the beef, lamb, chicken, and goat (no pork) is cut and prepared according to Muslim beliefs. Halal constraints aren’t limiting for Al Qamar, however. They have all the toppings that any other pizza place would have. The place is busy, busy. It’s not uncommon to see a lunchtime line waiting for pizza or subs or something from the smaller Middle Eastern menu. (Falafel sandwiches are only $2.) 10240 Conant; 313-875-5592.

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