Polishing a Greasy Spoon

Rock City Eatery chef/owner elevates burgers and hot dogs at second Hamtramck restaurant, Campau Tower

Campau Tower is the type of place where you can start your day, end it, or both.

In the morning, you can get a no-frills breakfast for $5 — two eggs, your choice of meat, and toast — while rubbing elbows with locals and suits alike at the bright-red counter. Or after hanging out at one of Hamtramck’s bevy of bars, you can head back to the Tower — which is open until 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays — for a late-night snack of bao buns or burgers, perhaps to soak up one too many beers.

Plus, you get a side of people watching. “On any random night, you can catch a weird crowd of young people, police officers, and a random person off the street at the counter eating,” says owner Nikita Sanches. He also owns Rock City Eatery; you might also know him as a Young Gun and the Pie Guy.

Sanches was walking by a few months ago and saw that the Tower was closing. He reached out to the owner and worked out a lease deal. He also saw an opportunity to make business more efficient; the Rock City lunch crowd was kind of small, and it cut into his prep for dinner. The Tower closes between 5 and 9 p.m. every day (except Sundays, when they are closed) as to not compete with Rock City, which is open for dinner. With both spots, he can keep Hamtramck well fed day and night.

After some sprucing up and a few tweaks, Sanches has stayed true to some of the original elements. For example, the red, white, and blue façade that screams “Campau Towers … Hamburgers” is still there — as well as the black boards with the white plastic letters that spell out the menu.

But Sanches also put his unique culinary spin on the Tower. He’s upgraded the burgers and hot dogs with high-quality ingredients and toppings, including caramelized onions, kimchi, and fried eggs. A good, old-fashioned cheeseburger boasts a flavorful patty accompanied with fresh pickles, tomato, and special sauce that’s light years ahead of that certain fast-food burger. Many of the components such as the chili and cheese sauce are made in-house.

Here’s something you won’t find at the typical greasy spoon: bao bun sandwiches — steamed fluffy buns stuffed with pork, brisket, or chicken. Sanches also has fun with the specials, such as pulled pork poutine, which we didn’t get to try because they didn’t have any pork when we ordered (Sanches explained to me since the joint is so small they prep at Rock City and try to replenish ASAP, which we experienced as some pork was delivered before we left), and a fried bologna sandwich with kimchi. At press time, he planned to put tacos on the menu.

Pie lovers may be saddened that Sanches’ signature dessert is nowhere to be seen, but they can satisfy that sweet tooth by adding Nutella or peanut butter to the from-scratch milkshakes.

Fries and onion rings are available add-ons, but the best accompaniment to the Tower’s affordable fare is the people watching — and that’s always free.

10337 Joseph Campau Ave., Hamtramck, 313-265-3694; B, L, & D Mon.-Sat.

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