More than kielbasa
A quick and dirty guide to eating Hamtramck
Published: March 2, 2011
Because of this week's Blowout, we're presenting this handy shortlist of Hamtramck's humble culinary destinations. They're uncommonly cheap, sometimes open late, and are often off the beaten path. But at any given hour of the day, these joints are there to lay the foundation for a night's drinking, quell late-night hunger pangs, or nourish away that morning hangover.
Al-Qamar Halal Pizza 10240 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-875-5592; $: Even though Al-Qamar is known specially for its halal pizza, the menu isn't limited to that alone. A huge variety of subs, shawarmas and gyros are also a popular hit among the customers. Keeping up with the authenticity, Al-Qamar even has great Mediterranean dishes. The best part is you won't have to spend much on a delicious meal, because the prices are very affordable. Falafel sandwiches are only $2.50 Set up as more of a fast-food restaurant, your orders are cooked quickly, so you won't have to wait long to eat. If you don't feel like leaving where you are, Al-Qamar also provides a delivery service.
Aladdin Sweets & Café 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050; $: Last year, this was just a small, neighborhood place, lacking cloth doilies and polished steel cutlery, serving food on plastic plates and beverages in polystyrene cups. But what Aladdin lacked in china and stainless steel it more than makes up for in flavor and authenticity. And now, after an expansion last year that doubled the dining area and added an outdoor patio, it's bigger than ever. The food, however, has mostly retained its quality. Instead of complex preparations, try the simple choices on the menu, such as chick peas and spinach, to see how these humble beans and greens come to life when expertly spiced. Don't miss the excellent and hearty naan bread, including the bread with potato baked into it. This small, lively spot is much more than a sweets shop, and whole families regularly cram into its small booths, which often makes the shop lively on the weekends, in a kid-friendly sort of way. No alcohol is served.
Amar Pizza 11608 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-366-0980; $: Hamtramck's Bangladeshi strip is heating up with all sorts of interesting food choices. There's even a Bangladeshi pizzeria. Yes, it's true, and they serve it up round, square, even deep-dish-style. They even have a naga sauce they'll put on the pizza, reminiscent of jalapeno but spicier and more fragrant. They'll sell you an impressive Chicago-style pizza or a Detroit-style deep-dish for just $5. Be prepared for a wait of about 45 minutes if you want the Chicago-style, or at least 20 minutes for Detroit deep-dish. They also serve plenty of hearty fare, including fried chicken and other American specialties.
Bosnian Specialties 3028 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-875-2722; $: Bosnian Specialties is unpretentious in the extreme, with seven round, well-spaced tables up a flight of steps, trying for a homey effect. Little rustic crosshatched roof effects adorn the windows and the corner table sits in a wooden bower twined with plastic grapevines. The food brings to mind Greek and Romanian dishes; gyros are on the menu, as are Greek salad and various shishes. The national food of Bosnia, though, and the most popular dish at Bosnian Specialties, is chevapi, beef ground with "secret ingredients" and made into sausage. It can be served on its own or between slices of lepina — a round, filling bread, sort of like a huge grilled English muffin, but spongier. Another interesting dish is the burek — layers of phyllo pastry filled with ground beef or cottage cheese. The cheese version is comfort food, mild and bland and very filling. Portion sizes are impressive for the affordable prices.
Café 1923 2287 Holbrook St., 313-319-8766; $: Built in 1923, this former corner store has been lovingly restored with the period details that now make it such an appealing coffeehouse. However, the way Café 1923 differs from most coffeehouses is the price. Coffees and other specialties are affordably priced; nothing on the menu is more than $5. Art exhibits are showcased along the walls featuring local artists. In fair weather, their back yard is a sun-splashed delight. In foul weather, enjoy the street views in the front or retreat to the book-filled rear. It's a great place to get some work done peacefully, since Café 1923 offers free wireless Internet.
Campau Tower 10337 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-873-7330; $: They've been a fixture in Hamtramck for as long as anybody can remember, as a ghost of the old White Tower chain, a tiny building that looks like it had to wedge in between those on either side of it. And, day after day, this slider joint serves the few characters who always seem to be waiting for a burger. But at night, when the bar crowd rolls in, the handful of stools in front of the counter fills up with night-clubbers and bar-hoppers, still eager to fill up on Campau's sturdy fare. In fact, owner Sandy Bakic, of New Martha Washington Bakery next door, says she's ordering extra sliders for Blowout; at $1 per burger, they're sure to draw a throng. But don't worry if the seats are all taken; Campau Tower offers carry-out service.
Grandy's Coney Island 1200 Holbrook St., Detroit; 313-875-3000; $: OK, so you've just seen five or six bands, you have a car full of juiced-up pals, and you just want to grab a load of hooch-sopping comfort food before descending into the freeway for points distant. You could do much worse than Grandy's. The little drive-through just outside Hamtramck (and right near the entrance ramp to I-75) is one of those places with more than 100 things on the menu, ranging from coney dogs to subs to BLTs and on through to more elaborate choices, including cod, smelt, gyros, catfish and a 21-piece shrimp basket. OK, so you won't need that, but their burgers are very good, the service is friendly, and, best of all, they've never gotten our order wrong! Closed Sundays and holidays.
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