Our Cured/Smoked Meat Adventure

Recently we travelled from our casa in New Jersey to Hamtramck, Michigan. Looking back on all the sights and experiences, the title "Cured/Smoked Meats" would be a good choice for a theme to the culinary side of that adventure.

Mind you we were not looking for this "cured meat" thing, it just unfolded that way.

When we travel we always prefer to stay at Bed and Breakfast overnights. At the halfway point on our trip we lodged at the Candleford Inn in Volant, Pennsylvania nestled in the quiet verdant countryside of Mercer County.

Amish country. In fact, our first sight when entering Volant was an Amish horse drawn covered carriage. Then, after a most satisfying dinner at the nearby Neshannock Creek Inn, we had to pause as an open wagon with two young men dressed in camouflage quietly but briskly rolled by, pulled by a perky spirited muscular horse. We were told the boys were probably doing some "spotting" on a hunt. Clickity clack. What a great honest sound. We all waved hello. Simple country pleasures.

And speaking of things Neshannock, props to the Neshannock Creek Inn. While there we shared a cod fish dinner. The fish was battered style and brought to our table piping hot from the fryer. This place says it's the "Home of the Giant Cod". You betcha. Looked like a fillet of half of a fish. No complaints from this Kitty. Potatoes with your main course? The choices were vast. Regular or sweets. Either variety could be served up baked, mashed, pan fried in wedges or as French fries. Scalloped potatoes seems to be a local fave; we stopped our server there, but we're not sure that if we waited a bit there might have been a few more choices rattled off. The potatoes were perfectly done with lots of their own flavor and covered with a simple cream sauce. Perfect with the fried fish. We were told the next day was the Oktoberfest in town and the Amish would be selling their donuts which are famous for being as big as 45 RPM records. If you don't know what that is, look it up.

So how does this relate to cured meats? It's just a side board on the way. Admit it. That was a nice little story.

The next morning our gracious hosts Carolyn Moss and husband Howard served a gourmet farm style breakfast with world class coffee, a choice of fruit juices, homemade banana walnut muffins, sliced fresh pears in orange juice, thick bacon and a frittata with a generous portion of large cubes of locally cured ham. Ham is big in those parts, and the folks in those parts know from tasty ham and how to cure it that way.

Leaving early the next day, and missing Octoberfest and those giant donuts, we gassed up down the road and, low and behold, our second cured meat sighting. Slim Jims. In all their permutations. With a supporting cast of other spicy meat sticks and beef jerkies.

I you don't know Slim Jims, get your butt over to any convenience store in this good old US of A and grab a few. Best with ice cold beer. A Slim Jim is a spicy meat stick snack treat. When in the US Army for Basic Training a friend of ours, one David D. Wronski, reports that after a miserable day of being put through the paces it was Slim Jims and 3.2 beer that lifted his spirits at the canteen after the daily grind. Also, non filter Kool cigarettes. No filter. Staight up. Multo macho.

That David was a Kool Kat back in the day. Also, like most things, Slim Jims don't seem to be what they used to. Nevertheless, a singular taste experience not to be missed if only once in a lifetime.

And, speaking of the US Army, we also met one Mr. Frank Smith at that filling station. He is a good soul and a US Army Viet Nam veteran, serving in 1967. Salute!

The next stop for an extended stay was The Sitting Room. Another excellent Bed and Breakfast in an impeccably renovated 1885 farm house just off old Mound Road in Warren, Michigan. If you travel to Detroit or thereabouts consider staying there. It is located within easy and quick reach of everything Detroit and environs has to offer via city roads and highways.

The Sitting Room is owned and graciously hosted by Julijana Khunhenn. She renovated, remodelled, and decorated the place herself.  The remodelling kept faith with the original architectural details, but modernized for comfortable modern living. The decoration and furnishings are a very tasteful eclectic mix of period and contemporary. A good eye.

The quaint farmhouse adjacent she also renovated, even doing the heavy lifting (literally) of resetting the sagging house back to level on its foundation. She's also just purchased another property down the road next to the cemetery. (The neighbors there are very quiet we are told.) She also lends a hand at her family's Kuhnhenn Brewery across the road. But, that's a whole other story. Read on. Julie plays forward on a winning women's rugby team, the Detroit Tradesmen Womens's Rugby Football Club. That's her in the photo.

They call it "play rugby" but our Hostess with the Mostest showed up one morning after an away game in Chicago sporting a souvenir of her team's victory.

And, in her spare time, she's the mother of four darling girls. Oh, and she's not only smart, capable and good looking, she can cook too. A really good cook. Please notice that stack of crepes on that square plate. It takes a tough mother rucker to make a tender crepe.  
First breakfast at The Sitting Room was farm fresh, carefully scrambled eggs with thick cut bacon, smoked sausage, accompanied by fresh blueberries, strawberries, and sliced bananas. Good deep strong coffee. Another time we had waffles, bacon on the side with an assortment of fruits, berry compotes and fruit syrups. Whipped cream!

Because of our schedule we didn't breakfast at the inn every day. For Sunday breakfast we had crepes. Thin and rich tasting with Marscapone and Feta cheese. Fresh berries and fruit syrups. Smoked sausage on the side.

For our farewell breakfast Julijana went all out. She's comes from Macedonian ancestry. Don't ask for "Greek" coffee. We were served breakfast Mezze style. It's to food what Gangnam Style is to tap dancing. We had stuffed phillo burek custom ordered from a family friend; one with spinach and Feta cheese, the other with pumpkin. That latter, a nice seasonal touch. Smoked dry sausage, a delicious fatty cured pork neck meat, Feta and a soft plain cheese. Macedonian deviled eggs. Accompanied by a homemade thin yogurt. It's thin because as it is with all daughters, and mothers and grandmothers hers is not as thick and good as mother's. (We were lucky enough to take some of her epic yogurt back home with us. The starter is who knows how old. You had me at "who knows how old". It is so clean, sour, and deeply complex flavored. Multi gratzi's. First batch turned out . . . you guessed it . . . not as good as hers. That yogurt may be good, but there's a Macedonian twist somewhere in there: The culture strain known as "notsogoodasmommaslactobacillismacedonicus")

Oh, almost forgot. We have to back up a bit. On the way into Detroit on the Ohio side we stopped and stocked up at Beef Jerky Unlimited. Gangnam Style best describes this joint. If you can think of a type of meat jerky, they got it for you.

Then, back in Detroit we visited that traditional precinct of Polish culture, Hamtramck. It is a city almost entirely surrounded by Detroit, with Polish immigrants going there originally to mostly work at the nearby auto plants. It had been so Polish that Pope John Paul II was ordained by Heaven to make a beeline for Hamtramck on his one and only visit to America. Right there in a small park located on the main street, Joseph Campau, is a larger than life sized statue of our favorite Polish Pope, arms jubilantly outstretched. His gesture was so welcoming and universal in fact that now there is a sizable Muslim population thriving in Hamtramck. If it be Allah's will. Indeed, it is. Good family people, and neighbors.

Also on Joseph Campau there are many Polish stores specializing in Polish style cured and smoked meats. Kielbasa. Not just Kielbasa, though. There's coarse grind and fine grind. All pork, pork and veal. Regular and double smoked. And every shop has its own spin on flavor and seasonings. Our friend David Wronski's parents were forever searching the city for the best Kielbasa maker. He continues that tradition. If there is ever a spot on the Wall Street Journal as Kielbasa Editor, our David has the proper resume. Maybe with a sidebar specialty in Pączki, that other iconic Polish staple. For the uninitiated, pączki are yeast raised donuts filled with all types of jellies, also Bavarian Cream. It's another story though, so if you want, this will get you to a post covering the topic as much as you would care to read. There are still a few Polish bakeries around those parts. Pączki central. One in fact, the New Martha Washington Bakery, only makes them to order or for that day of pączki days, Pączki Day. Traditionally it is held on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent. Go nuts on pączki. Some folks hold it to be Fat Tuesday. Whatever. Pączki are great. Best early in the morning from the bakery. At the New Martha Washington Bakery they had what looked like pączki. No, we were told, those were jelly donuts. So be on notice, there's a difference. You don't have to be Polish to love pączki; you do have to be Polish, however, to make them. Witness . . .

At Srodek's Market we bought Kielbasa, coarse pork and veal style, and thin dry sausage sticks, called Hunter's Sausage. They were righteously spicy and rich, making those aforementioned Slim Jims slim pickins by comparison. Those sausage sticks were to meat snacks what Gangnam Style is to pussy footin'. At Bozek's on Caniff Street we bagged some more of those dry sausage sticks. Entirely different flavor profile, less spicy hot, but darn good. Beer optional, but recommended.

Needing to mention at Srodek's we were served by a lovely young woman, the classic Polish blond. Think Claire Danes in the 1998 movie Polish Wedding, filmed mainly in Hamtramck.

Very sweet and friendly service. There were heirloom tomatoes on the counter. We asked, what the price? Free to take. We took two, the young lady added another. How's that for service!

I know this is a rambling piece, David Wronski (of Wronski's Wramblings infamy) is our editor and he don't give a dern about digressions, diversions, disvertisments, and diverticulations. In fact, he's a proponent of the form.

So, speaking of beer. We mentioned that Julijana's family is in the brewing business. The Kuhnhenn Brewery in Warren, Michigan is a must stop when in the Metro Detroit area. In fact the joint is so popular people travel from all over the country, even the world, to sample its libateous ferments. Talk about synergy. You drink your fill at the brewery and then walk across the road to stay at The Sitting Room. A one stop family, the Kuhnhenn's are.

The back story is that Kuhnhenn et fils were originally in the hardware biz. But at some point in that store's recent history the big box stores began to erode their hardware sales. They had been selling brewing and wine making supplies already, and there was an interest in those crafts anyhow. So, the next step was to start making and selling beers, wines, and meads. They are currently gearing up to bottle their beers. Once that is in operation, look out Samuel Adams. That's to say we wish them every success. But, they are true craftsmen there, and the quality comes first. So, look for it soon near you.

And, for the hat-trick, there's talk of producing distilled spirits. It must be that Detroit "shot-and-beer" ethic creeping in. Best wishes, there too.

There's a lot to tell, just to say a few things for now. The service at the Kuhnhenn Brewery is top notch. Friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the product line. The products, one example: DRIPA. Double Rice India Pale Ale. Served in a round tulip goblet with slight chimney top; a perfect beer glass.

Photo Source: Two Beer Dudes Blog

The nose on that brew: Wow! The taste . . . Wow! Every quaff a Wow! Clean, fresh, herbal, citrus, floral, with a friendly hops bitterness. It's in the balance though that their DRIPA stands out. Refined and complex. In fact, it has been judged the Worlds Best India Pale Ale in 2012. Cooky Cat certifiably agrees.

Then there's the Crème Brûlée Java Stout and the Sunflower Mead. The latter made with honey collected from sunflowers. You also can do a sampler "Panel" of five of their house selected varieties, or choose your own from a multi-page menu of drinks.

The Kuhnhenn Brewery has a small but well selected snack menu; and free popcorn. A food truck sometimes cruises up, or you can bring your own. Hint/suggestion: some of those Polish dried stick Hunter sausages. But careful though, you want to focus on the flavor of the drinks first. After you become a regular, then branch out with foods. A great idea for something to bring with you to Kuhnhenn Brewery would be a takeout of Buddy's Pizza.

If you don't know from Buddy's Rendezvous, well you should. Since 1946. It serves one of the 5 best pizzas in America as voted by Food Network. It's a square pan pizza, and the one to order is the pepperoni and cheese. Double cheese, please.

The cheese is a Wisconsin brick white cheddar cheese that caramelizes to perfection on the edges of the crust. No mozzarella? Heck no! This is Motown. "By day we make the cars, at night we make the bars." You want your mozzarella, go to New Jersey. Which is nothing to sneeze at either. Some of our best friends are Italian.

With this pizza there is no ambiguity about eating that crust. Every bite without exception is a winner. As with those aforementioned beers, the word for Buddies Pizza is balance. Just the right proportion of crispy bread, rich sauce, melty cheese and pepperoni. (See! So we're back to the cured meat theme.)

But, now . . . back to beer. Speaking of beer, at Buddy's Rendezvous they serve what is called a Boomba. If you ask. It's a generous heavy glass goblet. We like it with a good dose of tomato juice. With your pizza, Wow!

And, last but not least there's the venerable Kowalski Sausage Company. Since 1920. Back in the day in our David Wronski's youth Kowalski operated several retail stores specializing in all kinds of prepared specialty meats. Ladies in crisp white uniforms and white lace hairnets served their loyal customers. Kowalski has closed its own retail operations, but sells its meat and other prepared food products through other retail outlets and online. Here is a photo of the Kowalski hot dog sign at their factory in Hamtramck. Just outside the front entrance where this picture was taken you could smell the delicious aroma of meaty hardwood smoke.
Photo Credit: MicheleDesigns 

Since we're treating the subject of Hot Dogs, pray not to omit Detroit original "Coney Island" Hot Dogs. When our friend David was a lad, Downtown on Lafayette street there were a bunch of Coney Islands. Today, in that location there are only two, American Coney Island, and Lafayette Coney Island. We dig the latter. More old school. We don't know (or care much) where the moniker came from. Detroit Coney's are classically a snappy grilled wiener/frankfurter/hot dog in a steamed soft white bread bun topped with chili con carne (no beans), raw chopped sweet onion, and yellow mustard. Period. In Detroit now Coney Island Hot Dog joints are as numerous as Taco shacks are in Phoenix, or Pizza parlors in New Jersey. But, there's only one place to go, and that's Lafayette Street Downtown. If you go to Coney Island in Brooklyn New York, they have hot dogs, but no Coney Islands. That is a Detroit original. And, if you try to imitate, we'll send some Teamsters over to your place to talk things over.

Last item. Ms. Kuhnhenn steered us to the Ethnic Bakery, on Van Dyke Road just north of the Detroit city limits. It's a store with all foods Macedonian, specializing in baked goods and cured/smoked meats. A double smoked ready to eat sausage made its way with us back to home turf. Also, smoked pork ribs, the kind you braise with some good old Kapusta. (Look it up. We don't spoon feed on this foodly blog.) What a find. Really great quality. Home made pickled sweet peppers $1.29 per pound. A generous apple strudel, $2.99. Made with house-made phyllo dough and just picked local apples. On Saturdays they have roast whole pig and lamb for sale by the pound.

So, that's the story. Every cured/smoked meat known to man. Every one that we care to mention, anyway.

Not so fast you say, what about ribs and such. BarBQ. Didn't see a lot of BarBQ's in Motown in passing. They are there; but BarBQ, it's a whole quest in itself. Meantime, here's a good review on Michigan BarBQ. 

Yet, just as we missed the platter sized donuts in Amish country, we missed the Oktoberfest doings at Kuhnhenn Brewery where a reported 4 boxes of lamb shanks were slow wood smoked for the delectation of all the revelers. We hear the Winter Solstice there will be BIG. Whole roast ox? Why not.

PS    All this talk about fermented things. Not only have we made several jars of homemade yogurt from that starter we mentioned we brought back with us, now even as this is being typed there are several items under fermentation using the whey from the freshly made yogurt: 


The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Look it up, it's definitive.

Recipe links from Online search; not tested. Just to get your going.

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