Note: Part I of this post can be found at A Tale of Two Detroit Bakeries: Greektown.
Polonia describes the Polish diaspora, the people of Polish heritage living outside of Poland. In Detroit, waves of Polish immigration swelled in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the promise of factory jobs and political stability. We can still see the infrastructure of the communities established then if we drive around the west side of the city and on the east side in Hamtramck, the still-bustling Polish-American neighborhood where you can get delicious pastries like these at the venerable New Palace Bakery:
Much of my family originally settled in the Michigan Ave-Junction area on the west side; it’s just north of the area now called Mexicantown. My grandmother went to school at St. Francis d’Assisi (above, with the Polish eagle) and my grandfather St. Hedwig (below), where they were later married. This part of the city is rather bleak and shuttered, unlike Hamtramck, where there’s still a thriving community.
I discovered on the plane back home, flipping through June’s Food & Wine, that there is some gentrification happening along Michigan Avenue near these old churches — someone’s opened up a chic coffee shop and a barbecue restaurant. I was patting myself on the back for having a photographic eye because they and I both took a picture of this building:
Unfortunately, THEY did not have a mom driving who does not share a keen appreciation for run-down buildings with letters painted on them, one who didn’t want to stop the car, forcing THEM to snap an action shot from a moving vehicle. It was actually pretty funny, because she was concentrating on trying to find particular houses and understanding the layout of the neighborhood, while I was trying to take pictures of individual locations and cool grafitti and such. So I keep yelling, slow down, Mom! Stop for just a second! WAIT! And she’s totally ready to just leave me on the street so she can drive around the block to see what’s there.
I did manage to get a few good shots in, including this one of the lot where my grandpa once owned a gas station, Michigan Ave. and Wesson:
Regardless of our divergent adventuring styles, we did agree on the need to eat Polish food. We went happily over to the east side to check out Hamtramck, where we dined like Polish princesses on dill pickle soup, borscht, city chicken (cubes of pork shouder and chicken breaded and baked on skewers), fresh kielbasa (one of the highly underappreciated stars of the sausage world), pierogies, and potato pancakes.And I was reminded of the many years my grandma worked in a Polish bakery when we entered the New Palace Bakery that I mentioned above. It’s a place where paczki (Polish donuts) are made daily, and the cooler bursts with trays of cookies and pastries and cakes, including a thin layer cakes called Seven Brothers and Seven Sisters. I bought a donut and a loaf of seedless rye, my favorite bread in the world. And I felt thankful for Polonia and the city that hosts it.
To see more baked goods, including paczki and chrusciki (angel wings), click the thumbnails in the gallery.