People are freaking out over this Hamtramck sandwich
Metro Detroit in general, but especially the city of Hamtramck, is home to a plethora of options when it comes to kebab, shawarma, gyro, chevapi and other pita-adjacent cuisine.
Something new in town really has everyone talking, though. The döner kebab at Balkan House cafe on Caniff in Hamtramck is a savory, peppery sandwich that has Hamtramck residents, visitors and my fellow food writers across the city raving.
Open since March, Balkan House is the latest in a string of restaurants during the past decade to occupy the small restaurant, which is the lower-level of a multifamily home right on Caniff Street between Jos Campau and Conant.
The Balkan House has classic diner food such as chicken noodle soup, cheese sticks, onion rings and fries, but also Eastern European and Middle Eastern dishes like chevapi (beef sausage), baklava and Turkish coffee.
It's the döner kebab, however, that is making Balkan House a talker around town, especially within Hamtramck and food-centric circles. I feel like every week another friend on social media is posting about the filling, traditionally Turkish treat that is often inhaled at late-night cafes and food stands all across Europe.
And that's because, at $9 a sandwich, it's an incredibly satisfying lunch or dinner that's just a little different than other sandwiches around town. The Balkan House's version uses very thinly sliced meat, a mix of lamb and beef, that is stuffed into a soft, house-made loaf.
It's topped with lettuce and cucumber for a nice crunch, tomatoes and a yogurt-based "döner sauce," which is a secret recipe that owner Juma Ekic obtained from her nephew's döner shop in Berlin. She offers the sauce in spicy and mild and tops it with a dusting of reddish-purple sumac spice.
From the first few bites — which are saucy and crunchy with hints of flavor from the somewhat spicy meat — to the bottom of the grease-soaked bread pocket where you'll find another dollop of sauce, this sandwich will cause a chorus of "mmmms."
Due to the popularity of this sandwich, Ekic has added a döner bowl for $10.99.
"I've been making it daily now," she said. "It's basically the same thing but one is a sandwich ... a lot of people have been asking me for a whole meal that comes on a plate. So it has Iraqi rice on the bottom."
She said her mother-in-law taught her how to make Iraqi rice, which she says has less moisture than other rice dishes and isn't sticky.
Another recent update at Balkan House is the expansion of their homemade burek offerings. The flaky pastry was previously only available on weekends but now is served all week stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or potato.
Balkan House, 3028 Caniff in Hamtramck, is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun. Dine in, or call in a carry out at (313) 262-6234. Balkan House is also available for a delivery fee via Uber Eats.