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Polish food: pierogi, kielbasa, paczki

Polish food with stuffed cabbage, pierogi, and kielbasa from Polish Village Cafe in Detroit.

What: Since the 1870s, Detroit has been home to a lot of Polish people, particularly in the neighborhood of Poletown East and, later, in the adjacent city of Hamtramck, where many Poles settled beginning around 1914, seeking work in the auto industry. More recent waves of immigration from Bangladesh and the Middle East have made these areas more diverse these days, but Poles still account for a small but strong majority. Most important, it’s still where you go for a very good, traditional Polish meal.

Good to know: Though we focus mostly on Polish savory food here, the Detroit-Hamtramck area is near synonymous with paczki (pronounced “poonch-key”)—big, round, deep-fried Polish pastries similar to doughnuts that are filled with custard or fruit jam/puree and topped with sugar or icing. They are out-of-control popular on Fat Tuesday (a.k.a. Paczki Day) as a pre-Lenten treat, when locals line up and buy boxes of the stuff to gorge on all the lard, eggs, and sugar they can. Unfortunately, they’re very hard to find during Lent. At other times, you’ll find them at a handful of old Polish bakeries in the Hamtramck area, including New Martha Washington Bakery (313-872-1988; 10335 Joseph Campau St., map).

Where: We loved the historic and old-world atmosphere—as well as the food—at Polish Village Café (2990 Yemans St., map) in Hamtramck, about 12 minutes from downtown Detroit.

When: Mon-Wed, 11am-9pm; Thu-Sat, 11am-11pm; Sun, noon-8pm. The restaurant is cash only.

Order: Pictured is the Polski talerz ($10.95)—the all-inclusive Polish plate, which is a nice way of sampling from the menu. Included is (beef- and rice-stuffed) stuffed cabbage, topped with a tasty tomato sauce; one pan-fried potato pierogi; a few hunks of juicy kielbasa; sauerkraut; and mashed potatoes with gravy. (You can also add, for $3, a skewer of that tasty Detroit favorite, city chicken.) The soups are excellent here and accompany each entrée (if you wish); we loved both the beet soup and the tangy dill pickle soup (or you might order the more adventurous duck blood soup). You’ll also find herring in sour cream, potato pancakes, crepes, pan-fried chicken livers, among other Polish specialties, plus a few non-Polish but very Detroit favorites, like pan-fried lake perch (on Fridays). Wash it all down with a cold Okocim beer (available on tap) or a Polish vodka.

Alternatively: The two other big (Polish) names in town are Polonia (2934 Yemans St., map), right down the street from PVC; and in Poletown East, the ancient Ivanhoe Café (a.k.a. the Polish Yacht Club; 313-925-5335; 5249 Joseph Campau St., map), which is rumored to be great but has very limited hours (Mon-Thu (closed Mon in summer), 11am-3pm, but kitchen closes at 2pm; Fri, 11am to 8pm, but last reservation at 7:15pm). You can’t go wrong with any of these spots.


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