HAMTRAMCK: Poletown Pleasures

11 Aug

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Today we are in Hamtramck, the tiny city inside the city of Detroit. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding a new chocolate shop that opened just off Jos Campau on Evaline; c’mon, let’s check it out. Parking on the residential streets of Hamtramck can be challenging, this afternoon we fall right into a space within feet of our destination: Bon Bon Bon (which translates to Good Goodie). Alexandra Clark is the woman behind the chocolate, she has created quite a stir with her unique goodies.

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A black sandwich board on the sidewalk announces the shop; at only 650 sq ft, most of which is taken up by production, the customer area is quaint and snug. We find ourselves face to face with a row of display cases featuring the much celebrated chocolates; each has a name and a number; #37 Sticky Bun, #16 Bacon & Egg, #34 Smores; you get the idea. Though these rectangle-shaped chocolates come in 45 flavors, the shop features 24 flavors considered the “Detroit Collection”. Better Made potato chips and bread crumbs from Avalon Bakery are used to create flavors such as Better Butter Crunch and pain au chocolate, they even have a Paczki bon bon! Hand-written tags offer descriptions of each flavor, a single piece of each is displayed on one of their clever, open, boxes. The ladies behind the counter each wear a coral-colored bandanna—–Rosie The Riveter style; to say they are cheerful is an understatement………..could have something to do with being surrounded by chocolate all day!  The shop is well thought out; black bands are wrapped around t-shirts and boxes, declaring the item ‘Produce of Detroit’ or simply Bon Bon Bon; packaging is cute and clever, everything has a hand-stamped, blue-collar work ethic look; pretty cool. Decision making is tough, we manage to narrow it down to five; each one decadent, delicious! Here’s our insiders tip……no matter what else you choose, you must have the #1 Hot Mess. A chocolate bon-bon shell is filled with a warm chocolate concoction from a squeeze bottle; you have about 30 seconds before the whole thing melts, so put it in your mouth quickly and embrace the heavenly chocolate deliciousness. Bon bons run $3 each, the shop is only open to the public on Saturdays……… you’re welcome.

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There’s a gorgeous church over on McDougall that we’d like to visit, being a Saturday we’re hoping to find it open. As we arrive, a wedding party is finishing up picture-taking in front of the Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church; carefully, we dash behind the festivities and go inside. First words that come to mind: fantastic, beautiful, sacred, holy, gold. A long red carpet leads from the back of the church to the front intersecting rows of wood pews on each side. There’s so much to look at; arches, columns, patterns, scenes, all aglow in sunlight. The priest has begun removing white bows from pews, I ask if it’s ok to look around, he welcomes us. Our eyes are drawn to the ornate gates on the altar, we each take a side aisle to the front; along the way are paintings of the Stations of the Cross. Every surface of the arches bear decoration, a zig-zag design rings columns, capitals wear intricate designs. Shiny marble steps lead to the altar, an up-close look of the magnificent gates leave us mesmerized. Angels and Saints cover the walls and ceiling, the large dome is reserved for Christ, the teacher. Along the back wall Mary looks out on all who visit, her arms are open, she is surrounded by gold. Speaking of gold….. it’s everywhere, halos, crosses, trim, it adds a sense of richness and importance to the messages of the church. Delicate chandeliers hang from long chains, window glass is clear, stars cover the barreled ceiling.

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I read the first Ukrainians arrived in Detroit around 1910, they founded their first parish, St John’s, on Detroit’s west side shortly after that. As more and more Ukrainians moved to the east side, near Hamtramck, there was a need to construct another church; the Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church. The parish continued to grow; in 1936 a committee was formed for the building of a new, larger church on Mc Dougall, that is the church we are standing in today. Remarkably, this was not the way the interior looked when it was built in the 1940’s; it was redone in 1962 to resemble a Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Catholic Church. Mychailo Dmytrenko, who did the original paintings, was also commissioned to re-decorate the entire church in icons depicting the life of Mary; his work includes the frescoes and paintings above the sanctuary and ceiling, the church is a work of art, a jewel. Kris tries to capture it all in photos, but it just isn’t possible.

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Above the center aisle, diamond shapes contain representations of original sin, Noah’s Ark and the Burning Bush; the more I look, the more I see. We take the stairs to the basement, large black and white photos capture the Ukrainian culture. The space looks like it is used for social gatherings. When we are satisfied we exit the church, we didn’t have a chance to look around the outside when we arrived, but now we can. The building is a massive, gold brick and stone structure, beautiful paintings cover the space above the entry doors. Intricate designs are carved into the stone, a large cross hangs in the palladium window. The building is surrounded by gardens, pink roses and red gladiola are blooming. 

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Over on Caniff we stop at Delite Cafe & Deli for lunch. Up a few steps refrigerated cases hold Boar’s Head products used to create a multitude of tasty sandwiches. We scan the chalkboard menu, order at the counter then take our seats at a small table near the door. The deli has its own coffee bar, tall stools are lined up against the counter; there’s a wonderful space in back for lounging and eating too. Our sandwiches arrive in the traditional wax paper-lined red baskets; the Pastrami Reuben is served on marble rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing. It’s really good, a nice proportion of meat to toppings. I have to admit the #14 was my favorite; Mesquite smoked turkey breast, banana peppers, Muenster cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato and a Pepper House dressing all pressed on a sandwich press tucked inside a ciabatta roll—-very tasty! As we looked around, the owner of the shop told us the building used to be a music store, it hit me, this used to be Carlow’s Music Center. The former owner, Al Carlow, was a good friend of my dads; the two of us would stop in the store and visit on Saturday’s now and then, it’s where we bought my clarinet for 5th grade band class. Walking down the few steps to the door, I took notice of the entry way; it still looks the same as it did back then; it’s nice to know some things never change.

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Hamtramck is loaded with art, culture and interesting sights as diverse as the the folks who call the city home. Kris drives around neighborhood streets scouting out graffiti; sides of buildings and garden walls are enriched with the abstract, alluring and the avant-garde. Lovely faces of young women donned in cultural dress fill a huge wall, the eyes are so life-like, the piece is gorgeous! Across the side street a powerful eagle resides under a Hamtramck banner, cartoon-like characters look busy on the side of New Dodge. Just down the road is the city border; a bear on a low wall cordially welcomes visitors. Indeed, Hamtramck is welcoming to all who live and visit here.

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2 Responses to “HAMTRAMCK: Poletown Pleasures”

  1. The Detroit Foodie August 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Fantastic post!!! : )

  2. David Oliwek August 19, 2014 at 12:02 am #

    Thanks to a great mayor for making Hamtown the place to be and place to enjoy. Gotta love it!

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