Your Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers and the Detroit City Football Club are partnering up to highlight a local small business every week with the Detroit Small Biz City series. This week’s business is a local favorite that brings European cuisine to Hamtramck.
When a friend invites you to their home for a meal, the sharing of food likely creates a new kind of relationship based on the dishes you ate together, the kind of conversation you had over the table and the warmth of coming together inside someone’s personal spaces.
That is what it feels like to have a meal from Hamtramck’s Balkan House. Whatever your first impression of the restaurant’s house-like exterior and simple interior may be, you will feel like you’ve been invited to a favorite friend’s home and given five-star service – along with some of the most tender, well-seasoned foods you’ve eaten in a while.
The Balkan House specializes in eastern European foods, including its much-celebrated Doner Kebab, chevapi, homemade bread and sweet, dessert-style crepes. There also are Bosnian burgers, also known as Pleskavica, chicken and steak kabobs along with bean soup, more commonly referred to as Grah.
What makes The Balkan House stand out immediately is that home-like setting. The restaurant has two locations: Hamtramck and Ferndale. The Hamtramck location is set along one of the city’s busiest streets – and that’s saying something for a place that is just over two square miles but contains more than 21,000 people.
Hamtramck bustles with an energy sparked by a constant stream of pedestrians, religious services with bells and calls to prayer ringing through the air as well as lots of business traffic as people travel to and from their destinations. It is the prototypical Metro Detroit city – home to the mosaic of people and cultures like nowhere else in the state or the Midwest for that matter.
Balkan House sits right in the middle of a row of houses, unassuming in its size or attitude. Walking to the front door, you’ll see an outdoor patio aimed at helping people eat well during the coronavirus as well as simple indoor seating for other times. On a recent visit, the waitstaff immediately greeted customers right as they walked in and went out of their way to be welcoming. As it was a first visit, the staff talked through the order and explained the restaurant’s specials – in this case, a Thursday night deal that includes free seasoned fries and a drink with every Doner sandwich order.
What you’ll find inside its takeout boxes is homestyle cooking at its finest. The pita bread is warm and still pliable, the perfect accompaniment to the array of ingredients found inside. The meat is unbelievably tender yet still has a texture that is pleasing throughout the sandwich. The Doner sauce is like nothing else in this food region – creamy, smooth and comforting. The fries are seasoned well. The soups and salads are full of meat and veggies, so much so that you’ll likely have enough leftovers for another meal.
What also makes the food memorable is the bread. The pita and the signature homemade bread that comes with most dishes is a lepinje bread, a regional flatbread that is traditional in the Balkans. It is light, slightly sweet and completely melts in your mouth. That alone would make a standout meal because of how fulfilling it is to eat alongside a bowl of soup or a plate full of kebabs.
Most importantly, the Doner Kebob deserves its new-found fame in Metro Detroit, and its reputation as a sandwich you have to try is well deserved. It ranks up there with Better Made chips, Coney Island hot dogs and Sanders chocolate – a dish that symbolizes home, family and hearty appetites.
Because of the warm customer service and the soulful food, it is easy to see why The Balkan House has such a quick, loyal and vocal following. People who eat there feel like they indeed have been welcomed into a kind of community where food not only honors the region where it originated but also spreads the joy of eating, especially alongside newfound friends.