Tag Archives: polish food

Hamtramck: History And Holidays

25 Nov

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Today we’re in Hamtramck for the Polish Art Center open house; the shop is an emporium for all things Polish. The front windows face Joseph Campau, decorated for the holidays they feature beautiful city scenes. On the right are four entries for the Szopki contest, the winner will be announced today. Inside we enter a winter wonderland, small white cones strung together dangle from the decorative tin ceiling creating an indoor snowfall; the mood is festive. Everybody seems to know each other, greetings come in the form of smiles and hugs. A line of customers extends from the register to the back of the store, their arms overflow with merchandise.

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I hear someone playing a harp, we negotiate our way to the other side of the shop, a man sits in the center of the room, the most beautiful music fills the air as his fingers pluck strings effortlessly. We are surrounded by attractive Boleslawiec Polish Stoneware; bowls, cups, tureens, goblets and more all hand-painted in pretty patterns. T-shirts and hats have cute Polish sayings and designs, colorful Polish Folk aprons hang above. The crowd has gathered around the food table, a variety of dishes such as roast pork with winter vegetables, meatballs, bruschetta, smoked salmon with all the toppings, fruit and cheeses are offered to open-house guests; everything is delicious!

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We browse past pretty-painted wooden boxes, serving pieces, figurines, greeting cards, napkins while sipping on champagne and eating homemade truffles. Back in the first room coloring book author Catherine Macaro is busy coloring and signing books. The Christmas ornaments are lovely; snowmen, dolls, snow-covered houses and trees to name a few. Here we have a large selection of Polish cd’s, soup mixes, jams, dried mushrooms, hard candies and my favorite, chocolate. While we wait for the check-out line to die down we check out the Amber jewelry, they have a huge variety from necklaces to rings, the antique wooden display cases are almost as pretty as the jewelry.

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We have made our purchase, earlier I noticed the Hamtramck Historical Museum is open today, that’s where we’re going now. The museum is being renovated in stages so each time we come it’s different; it’s gotten much bigger since our last visit. The building was actually the first department store in the city in the 19-teens, many remember the space as the old barber college, its last incarnation before the museum was a dollar store. All aspects of the city’s history are represented, they have thousands of items ranging from documents, photos and memorabilia to films, medical records and household items. Shelves hold vintage packaging from the Holbrook Ice Cream Company, Swan soap, needles and threader, I like the name of the home permanent: Bu-Tee-Wave, kinda catchy don’t you think?

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Kris automatically gravitates to the Dodge Main display. When the Dodge brothers opened their assembly plant in 1910 immigrants from Poland flooded the area. Dodge Main occupied 67 acres, it was made up of 35 separate  buildings, it included a medical facility, test track and fire department.  Some of the cars built here include Charger, Coronet, Polara, Lancer and Monaco. Display cases are filled with photos, emblems, name badges, key chains, articles, patches, mementos and an actual brick from the factory building. By the mid-20’s factory workers made up 85% of the heads of households in Hamtramck—whoa.

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I wander past photos of the old Village Hall, concert posters, record albums, sheet music, wedding and communion photos, commemorative plates. Business advertisements are found on matchbooks, ashtrays and trinkets. I check out the antique stove, next to it a Westinghouse Electric Roaster, this was a staple in every Polish household back in the day! A cheerleader uniform from St Lads (hey, my dad went to school there), bowling pins and Hamtramck Beer are reminders of the good ol’ days.

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After reading letters, placards and newspaper articles I realize Hamtramck has always welcomed immigrants; from the early days when Detroit Stove Works and the Dodge brothers attracted men from Poland, Syria, and Lebanon continuing to this day.This 2-square-mile city is Michigan’s most internationally diverse. Families from Poland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Albania, live side by side in peace. 27 native languages are spoken by school children. Polish Catholics, Ukranian Orthodox, Iraqi Chaldean Christians, Muslims, practice their religions in the same neighborhood. Hamtramck has hosted Presidents, the Pope, movies, famous people, the Food Network; it’s home to Kowalski, GM, Detroit City FC and, of course, Paczki. 

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Hunger has gotten the best of us, today we’re eating at Polonia Restaurant on Yemans. This charming restaurant has been around for over 40 years. The decor features art by Polish artists, artifacts, hand painted mural, old-fashioned tin ceiling and indirect lighting, giving it a homey feel.The menu is filled with traditional Polish and Eastern European specialties. Our food arrives on large white plates, the Polish plate is a combo of pierogi, golabki, kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy; all of it quite tasty. The mushroom nalesniki are outstanding; paper-thin crepes stuffed with flavorful mushrooms smothered in creamy gravy and a drizzle of sour cream–wow! It’s been a wonderful day and a great way to kick off the holiday season. na zdrowie!

HAMTRAMCK: Pierogi And Fancycakes With A Side Of Theatre …

8 Mar

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It’s the weekend, time to play. During the winter months we do more indoor things; today we are having lunch and seeing a show, the pleasant 64 degree day is quite unexpected. We are just north of the Hamtramck border on Jos Campau, we are going to the “other” Polish restaurant, Krakus Restaurant & Bar, serving authentic homemade Polish food. The yellow brick building resides at the corner of Jos Campau and Meade, we park on the side in the designated lot. The interior looks as if time has stood still–a good thing in this case. 4-top tables wear tablecloths, framed paintings hang on the wall, paneling covers the lower half of walls. Our attentive, friendly waitress greets us with glasses of water and menus, we quickly place our order.

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Two cups of soup arrive, Kris has the mushroom, a creamy, velvety concoction of mushrooms and noodles, it’s out of this world. I’m having the dill pickle soup, the broth resembles chowder, there’s enough tasty shredded pickle for every spoonful. Just as we finish the Polish plate and potato pancakes are set on the table with two empty plates, we’re eating family style. The golden brown potato pancakes are crispy outside, tender and moist inside, we like ours with sour cream. The Polish plate comes with stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, sausage, mashed potato and two dumplings (all for $9.75 including the soup and bread basket). Each Polish restaurant in Hamtramck has its own family recipes, every dish has its own distinct flavor and personality. Here the stuffed cabbage is served in a gravy style sauce instead of tomato sauce, potato pancakes are deep-fried, the sauerkraut is mild. It reminds me of  when I was growing up, we have many Polish relatives and each cook has their own way of doing things, all of them delicious.

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We drive over to Planet Ant Theatre on Caniff. The faded purple-painted building with the ant face painted on the side began as Planet Ant coffee house, it became a theatre in 1996. In time they created original theatrical and comedy works, formed the Improv Colony and opened a training center focused on teaching long-form improv comedy and comedy writing. Most importantly, the place is super cool! The performance space is small, I mean nano small; the first row of seats is just feet from the stage. A doorway with a curtain separates the lobby from the stage, the restroom door is barely off stage… that kind of small. We are seeing an original drama called The Aliens, the mood is serious, the emotion intense. The audience is drawn to the characters, we are caught up in the story unfolding before our eyes, it’s almost as if we’re eavesdropping. Planet Ant offers a very personal theatre experience, you should definitely check it out. If you are into comedy, check out Improv Mondays, it takes place each Monday at 8 pm for more than 15 years now.

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Every excursion deserves a sweet ending, New Palace Bakery on Jos Campau is just the place. A parking space is open right in front, the large window is filled with pastries, the aroma of bread, cookies, butter and sugar hangs in the air. In addition to the main front window, glass cases hold shelf after shelf of delightful pastries. I ask for a chunk of the poppyseed roll, it’s the best I’ve ever had, as the young lady is doing that I join Kris as he stares at rows of Maryann’s, shortcakes, snowballs and chocolate castles. The variety of treats runs the gamut from butter cookies to custard filled french fingers and marshmallow horns to cheesecake, donuts and the infamous chrusciki (angel wings). We leave the shop, smiles on our faces, with our poppyseed roll and caramel Maryann, life is sweet indeed.


Bay City: Time Travel…

14 Oct

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Today we are about an hour and a half north of metro Detroit in the waterside town of Bay City. The annual River Of Time event is taking place this weekend, we’re here to check it out. For three days re-enactors from around the Midwest show up dressed in period costumes to live as people did in earlier times. Spanning 300 years of history, period camps are set up along the bank of the Saginaw River in Veteran’s Memorial Park creating a time-line history. From the Native Americans through the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, we get a glimpse of both everyday life and American history through music, skill demonstrations, church services and skirmishes.

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Making our way to the west side of the river, we park the car on a grassy expanse and walk to the park. The first thing I notice is the amount of white tents scattered throughout, I pick up the scent of logs burning on an open fire, a woman in a hoop dress passes by, a man in a Civil War uniform seems in a hurry to get somewhere; so much going on. Individual camps are roped off, there are no signs or placards with descriptions of the camp or era it represents, just men, women and children going about their business like they would have at the time. It is noon, almost time for the mid-day meal; fires dance under cast iron cookware, steam rises from pots, tables are being set. A costumed player is telling stories to folks gathered around, I see what appears to be ancient medical instruments spread out on a table, by the looks on people’s faces, I’m not so sure I want to hear what he’s saying. A group of men representing the 1st New York Regiment wear Revolutionary War costumes, it’s nearly 80 degrees outside but they don’t seem to mind. An asphalt path leads us through the park, the river is on one side, grass on the other; camps are spread out on both sides. On the left, a huge variety of food covers a table, Indians with face paint and mohawks look anxious to dig in. Every camp has something cooking; kettles rest on metal grates, bread bakes in a clay oven, a deep, oversize cast iron pot is stuffed with simmering meat, potatoes and vegetables, all eyes are focused on the stew.

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A young man stops among the crowd and begins to play his fiddle, a gentleman smoking a pipe taps his foot to the music, a woman in a rocking chair carves something out of bone. The Folk Music Society of Midland plays under a canopy along the Saginaw River, Weeping Willows dot the shoreline, the water is as smooth as glass, the sky flip-flops between powder blue and a grouchy gray. From their hats to their shoes, soldiers look so formal, everything appears authentic, right down to the buckles. A metal worker has built a makeshift chimney, roaring flames heat wrought iron that will be formed into hooks and tools, we all watch with fascination as he works. Many have sat down to take their meal, others have finished and trade lively conversation around the table. The World War I, II and Vietnam camps are expansive; here the tents are green, military vehicles are randomly parked, bed rolls, rifles, helmets and rations are displayed. Off to the side a man is sitting in a foxhole reading a book, he seems happy enough…. Soldiers answer questions, a group of men sporting different uniforms have pulled up chairs and share stories. 

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One thing that becomes clear very early in our visit is how simple, yet difficult, life was. Before there was refrigeration, running water, electricity for goodness sakes; food was prepared as it was needed, washing was done in the river or in a large bowl that was filled with by a pitcher, clothes were cleaned in a tub on a washboard and hung to dry, you had to hunt for meat, grow your vegetables; this is big news to the current generation. The Trombley House is open today, the oldest surviving building in Bay City, it was built about 1836. A crowd has gathered near the Log Cabin, on the porch Abe Lincoln is about to deliver the Gettysburg Address, how cool is that? The Fife and Drum Corps is approaching; fifers, drummers and flag bearers perform authentic songs written before 1800, Sutler’s Row offers goods for sale: animal pelts, antlers, beads, pouches and the like. We continue to zig zag through time; bacon cooks over an open flame, a woman spins wool into yarn, a young girl plays the bagpipes, visitors are walking to the cannon….

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We follow the crowd to find the cannon pointed toward the river, men work together stuffing something down the barrel, when they cover their ears, we cover ours; I jump about a foot in the air when it goes off, Kris just laughs….. I’m glad that’s over. We take a stroll on the River Walk Pier, from here we can see all the activity on both sides of the river, there’s a lot of building happening on the east side, new construction too. As we get back to the park a Colonial skirmish is taking place, it’s very intense, one does not want to get in the way. We move in the opposite direction for one last look around. They say this is Michigan’s largest living history encampment, it is definitely unique, from the people to the cannon and canoe, the costumes, housewares, instruments and campsites, indeed, it is history come alive.

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The sky has returned to a lovely shade of blue, walking back to the car we notice the elevated River Walk, looks like fun. An elegant white crane stands in the shallow water, ducks paddle along at a leisurely pace, the boardwalk leads us to Middle Ground Island. A party is taking place under the pavilion, friends gather on benches in the park, we admire the panoramic view. We make quick work of the walk back, it’s time to eat!

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Kris and I are both fond of restaurants that have been part of a city for generations; Krzysiak’s House on Michigan Ave is just that sort of place. Started in 1979 by husband and wife team Don and Lois they have been serving authentic Polish and traditional American cuisine for decades. So popular, the building has been expanded 5 times; their website states they serve 700-900 customers per day, wow! Walking in the front door we find ourselves in a little retail space selling an assortment of items, the hostess greets us and takes us to a table in the dining section. Krzysiak’s is known for their outstanding buffet, today is Sunday so it is filled with Polish specialties in addition to an assortment of salads, soups, side dishes, desserts; it’s really quite remarkable! As tempting as the buffet is, we order off the menu instead.
As we wait for our meal to arrive we take a look around; hand painted murals cover most walls, one features family members, the cathedral wall reflects photographs taken in Poland, the scenery is quite lovely. Everywhere I look photos and mementos cover the walls, pretty stained-glass windows made specially for Krzysiak’s are aglow in the sunlight; it is apparent the heart and soul of the family has gone into the restaurant. I dig into a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the homemade noodles are outstanding. Huge platters of food follow; the Polish plate comes with Golabki, Pierogi, Polish potatoes (fried with cabbage and other tasty things), Polish sausage and Kraut, you could feed a whole family from this plate alone! The potato pancakes are large and delightful, sour cream is the perfect addition. The food is authentic, made from scratch, hearty and delicious. The experience of eating here is a treat.

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Before we head south we take a drive through downtown, Bay City is definitely on the move, new stuff is happening all over town. We park on Saginaw St and notice a new artisan cheese shop has opened. Artigiano sells cheese, wine and craft beer, not to mention specialty items and condiments from local businesses. The shop adds an urban flair to general feel of Saginaw St, very nice. Across the street we stop in at Brewtopia to get a couple of coffees for the road. Sticking with the urban flair, the shop has exposed brick and a white painted tin ceiling, large windows give it a light and airy feel. Coffee beans are roasted in house, they provide a nice selection of teas, fruit smoothies, muffins, cookies and desserts. At the counter we meet the new owners, friendly and ambitious they are excited about the positive momentum in Bay City; so are we.

Vintage Hamtramck

27 Nov

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Located within the city of Detroit, is the city of Hamtramck, only 2.1 sq. miles  in size, it is Michigan’s most internationally diverse city. Known mostly for it’s Polish heritage, Hamtramck has many facets. Our plan for today was to check out the vintage shops in town. We parked in the centrally located parking lot behind the shops on the east side Joseph Campau, the mild temperature made it a nice day for walking. 

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There was a great deal of activity down one of the side streets; trucks, cables, and huge lights, a now familiar sight around the Detroit area, which means they are filming. Rumor has it GM is making a commercial for the Volt, which is built at the assembly plant right in Hamtramck. Using the city as a backdrop and featuring local residents, the commercial is supposed to air on Superbowl Sunday. Our first stop was the Record Graveyard on Caniff, dealing exclusively in vintage vinyl records, this is a vinyl collectors nirvana. I know nothing about vintage records, yet I find this place fascinating. The album covers immediately grab your attention, with just one look you can usually identify the decade the the album was released. The records are organized by genre; the male vocal selection is dominated by Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, Country Western section, if you like Jazz, you’ve come to the right place. As I walk around and see names like Glady’s Knight and the Pips songs start playing in my head.(Are you humming Midnight Train to Georgia now?) I recognize the names of artists from my parents generation; Steve and Eydie, Frankie and Annette, Boots Randolph,I even saw Pat Boone. Movie soundtracks are always fun to look through, I find myself saying “Oh yeah, I remember that movie”. Lining the top portion of the walls is a collection of the more risque covers featuring scantily clad women in seductive poses.Back in the day it seems that the cover art was as important as the record inside and is now recognized as such. This is a great place to come and browse, you may even find a piece of your past that you want to take home. The building Record Graveyard now occupies is currently for sale, but the owners are committed to staying in Hamtramck, therefore it is a good idea to call before you make the trip! 313-870-9647.

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Detroit Threads specializes in vintage items and new clothing by local merchants, along with records, CD’s and DVD’s. Every inch of the store is packed with merchandise, aisles are narrow and items are displayed floor to ceiling. I like to take my time, there is so much to see I usually have to walk through twice. New t-shirts and hoodies in all sizes and colors feature both Detroit and Hamtramck. The quantity of used clothing is vast; snazzy sport coats for men in tweed, shark skin and metallic  lame, dressy coats for women in leopard print, wool and even fur.They have great accessories for both men and women including hats, shoes, purses and neck ties. When film crews are in town they often stop in when looking for vintage items.  If you look carefully you can find cool items from Detroit icons like Vernor’s , Stroh’s and Kowalski.  Detroit Threads is also well known for their extensive collection of LP’s, they have it all from local techno to disco and import records, local DJ’s are regular shoppers. They have a little bit of everything and each time you go there’s something new to see. 

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A couple of doors down at 10022 Jos. Campau is a shop called Lo and Behold. Only open for a few months now, the selection is quite random; old furniture, records, posters,knick-knacks, books, clothing, kitchen items, even an old saxophone; the plan is to transition more into records and books. It’s always fun to shop in a store like this because you never know what you’ll find. I always like it when there are several resale type shops grouped together, I can park once and browse for hours.

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Keeping the vintage theme going, we had lunch at Polonia Polish Restaurant on Yemans. Serving up some of Hamtramck’s best Polish and Eastern European food for over 40 years, it has a loyal following. The inside is quaint, a mural depicting life in old Poland covers the back wall, tables and booths line the dining space, authentic Polish dishware is displayed on shelves, Polish music plays in the background. The front of the menu is a Polish Short Dictionary, it includes: Good Day, Please and Thank You, and of course, Kiss Me and I Love You. The phrase is first written in English with the Polish next to it, now if I only knew how to pronounce it……. The combination plate gives you a bit of everything; pierogi, kilebasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and golabki, it’s so good! My mouth waters just thinking about it. We love potato pancakes so we ordered those too. Fried to a crispy brown outside, tender and moist inside, slathered with sour cream of course, delicious. Back in 2009 Anthony Bourdain filmed a segment here for the Travel Channel and introduced a whole new audience to the restaurant.

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On our way back home we made one last stop at Bozeks Market on Caniff, not that we needed anything, it’s just fun to look around. The store specializes in central and eastern European foods, especially Polish. The selection of chocolates and sweets is huge; the packaging is pretty, pictures on labels aid in determining what each item is, I’d like to try one of each. Fresh produce, meats and breads are all reasonably priced, everything looks good. Many of the shoppers speak their native language to store employees, the language sounds soft and kind. Besides food you can find cosmetics, magazines and newspapers written in Polish along with liquor packaged in attractive bottles. Before leaving we revisited the candy aisle and indiscriminately chose a candy bar to share, I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it sure was good!

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More Hamtramck: Polish Village, Polish Market, Bakeries

27 Apr

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Having grown up with a great many Polish relatives, a good Polish meal satisfies both my stomach and my soul. Our favorite restaurant in Hamtramck  is Polish Village Cafe on Yemans. Enter through the ground level door of this former hotel and make a left down to the basement. Pull the door open to reveal this tiny gem of a space cranking out authentic perogi, golabki (stuffed cabbage), potato pancakes,  nalesniki (crepes), and many other dishes. The room exudes charm with it’s dark wood wainscoting, and Polish mementos, miniature lights line the beamed ceiling, the  colors change with the season. Ever had dill pickle soup? If not, quiet that voice in your head that just said “pickle”? and try it. The line can be long , afterall, Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II have eaten here, not at the same time of course….A seat at the bar and a nice Polish beer is a great way to wait for a table, recently a second floor was opened so the wait time is shorter. Polish Village Cafe does not make reservations, and only accepts cash. Seriously, try this place!

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Joseph Campau is the main street running through Hamtramck, it is lined with restaurants, shops, bakeries, and bars, lots and lots of bars. The Polish Market   is a pleasure to browse through, with halogen lighting and wide aisles, it doesn’t feel like your ordinary market.  All sorts of Polish food products can be found here, along with other European foods. It’s entertaining to check out brand names you’ve never before seen and probably can’t pronounce !?  Fresh produce, baked goods and meats line the perimeter of the store, while  groceries are are beautifully lined up on shelves throughout  the middle section. 

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You can’t leave town without visiting a bakery, Martha Washington and New Palace are both located on Joseph Campau. New Palace is larger and specializes in Polish and European style baking, while Martha Washington specializes in cakes for birthdays and weddings. You can find traditional items like Paczki and Chrusciki (angel wings) at both. The interiors look as though they haven’t changed since the doors opened, it is as though time has stood still, and it is a good feeling.