Travel around Metro Detroit long enough and it’s near impossible not to run into bagel shops and delicatessens. They’re as much a part of the Metro Detroit landscape as bustling freeways and Detroit Tigers caps.
Historians trace the the origins of the local Jewish community back to the late 1700s, when merchants like fur trader Chapman Abraham, Detroit’s earliest known Jewish settler, first arrived on the scene. In the mid-19th century, German Jews began coming to the city in large numbers, and in 1850 a number of them founded Temple Beth El, Michigan’s oldest Jewish congregation. Thirty years later, Detroit’s small Jewish community had grown to about 1,000 people. At that point the majority came from Eastern Europe, though a sizable number still had roots in Germany.
By 1900, there were 10,000 Jews living in Detroit. As the early 20th century took hold, there were more religious options for the faithful; Beth El was joined by four other congregations. Numerous Jewish charities, clubs and social organizations sprung into existence. Jews were more apt to work in retail, wholesale or office work than other fields. Because of cultural differences, however, the Jewish community often became the target of slander and discrimination, as evidenced by the anti-Jewish broadcasts of Father Charles Coughlin of Royal Oak who drew millions of radio listeners in the 1930s until he was eventually forced off the air.
Between 1914 and 1940, Detroit’s Jewish population skyrocketed from 34,000 to 85,000 people. At first, the heart of the Jewish community could be found along Hastings Street in what is now Detroit’s New Center area. As the 20th century rolled on, however, they migrated northwards to the city’s Dexter Davison neighborhood.
It’s a fairly diverse population too. There are numerous branches of Judaism, including the Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform traditions, as well as a sizable number of folks who identify as Jews but don’t actively participate in religious life. Because the Jewish people have been scattered around the globe for thousands of years, Jews also come from many different parts of the world.
Jewish cooking has been shaped by both of these factors. Food that follows Judaic dietary law is called kosher. But there’s a culural dimension too; many well-known Jewish meal items like bagels, kugel (noodle pudding) and matzah ball soup (dumpling soup), can be traced back to Eastern and Central Europe where many local Jewish families have roots.
Harvard Row Kosher Meat & Poultry
Harvard Row holds a special place in the hearts—and on the tables—of many Metro Detroit Jews. The butcher shop has been providing the region’s Jewish community with high quality kosher meat for more than 55 years.
Although it’s currently located in West Bloomfield, the market originally made its home in Southfield. John Katz, a kosher butcher, who’d previously plied his trade in Detroit’s Dexter-Davison neighborhood, opened his own butcher shop in Southfield’s Harvard Row Mall in the early 1960s. In 1994, following the migration of many local Jews, he relocated to West Bloomfield but chose to keep the name Harvard Row.
“The people that we spoke to thought that we should keep the same name, so that if someone was looking for us they would find us,” says Katz’ daughter Susie Shacket, who now owns the business. “The name was kind of synonymous with the kosher food.”
Harvard Row offers a wide range of meats: beef, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb. While some of it comes in pre-cut and kosher-approved, other items are cut on premises. That process is overseen by an on-site rabbi affiliated with the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit.
In addition to that, Harvard Row also offers a healthy selection of kosher prepared foods.
“We have kosher corn beef,” says Shacket. “We have brisket. We have chicken wings. We have rotisserie chicken. We have stuffed chicken, which are a specialty with great kosher challah bread stuffing.”
The market also offers a number of tasty soups made with all-natural ingredients: pea soup, mushroom barley with and without meat, chicken carrot and chicken noodle, vegetable and even a chicken pot pie soup. Soup-craving patrons can also order Matzah balls on the side, if they’re so inclined. Spaghetti and meatballs, hot dogs, hamburgers and meat or potato knishes are also on the menu for those who want something tasty to nosh on.
The store gets a blend of Jewish and non-Jewish customers, with some coming from as far away as Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ohio.
“We’re one of the few places you can get prepared kosher foods,” Shacket says. “It’s a good product. If you want some delicious good food, you can stop by!”
Unlike a lot of delicatessens in the Detroit area, the Star Deli in Southfield isn’t a dine-in place; it’s strictly carry-out. It’s essentially a takeaway sandwich shop and market where patrons can pick up a tasty assortment of Jewish-American food items.
A Chicago transplant whose family came to the United States from Poland, Neuman bought the Star with his late wife Rose in 1973; he now runs it with his son Harry. Although he didn’t have a food industry background when he got started, Neuman knew the food and thought opening a deli would be a great way to make a living.
It’s worked out well for him. The deli has served presidents, senators and governors and shipped its food as far away as Norway and Israel.
Customers certainly have their pick when it comes to bread, meat and cheese options. The house bread is rye, which is offered in both single- and double-baked options. Carb-craving customers can also choose from white bread, wheat bread, pumpernickel, challah (a traditional braided Jewish egg bread) and kaiser and onion rolls.
There are a wide variety of meats too, not necessarily all kosher, including several different types of salami, roast beef, turkey, corned beef, pastrami and chopped liver. Those with a craving for fish can pick up lox, sable, whitefish or salmon.
Visitors to the store can take these items home individually or have the deli’s staff whip up a sandwich for them. The Star also carries traditional sides like pickles, coleslaw and a variety of salads, as well as traditional Jewish-American fare.
“We’re a Jewish deli,” Neuman tells Metromode. “We have seven-layer cake. We have sour cream coffee cake. We have rugelach. We have matzoh ball, kreplach, and chicken noodle soup.”
“Everyday we make different soup and different cakes,” he adds. “A lot of good stuff.”
Those looking to cater an event are in luck too, the Star caters offers a variety of different deli trays at a reasonable rate.
Although the population of Southfield has changed over the years, the Star still draws from all over the place, and still attracts a sizable Jewish clientele.
With over 40 years in business, Neuman proudly considers the Star “the best deli in the country.” Its success is no secret to him either. Although you might find a cheaper sandwich somewhere else, when it comes to great deli food, he says there’s no comparison.
“We got the best food in town for the lowest price,” he tells Metromode.
The Bake Station
If you’re hankering for a truly memorable piece of seven-layer cake, stop by one of the Bake Stations three locations. They have three flavors to choose from—chocolate, vanilla and caramel—all of them tasty. But, seven-layer cake is far from the only item they have in stock; the bakery chain also carries a wide assortment range of breads and goodies, all of which are kosher as well as nut-free and dairy-free.
So what’s on the menu?
Other breads include rye bread, pumperknickel, honey wheat, multi-grain and French. There are rolls too, poppy seed and kaiser. As for pastry offerings, they also make brownies, cookies, doughnuts, danishes, flan, struedel, lemon bars, canolis and a variety of cakes and cupcakes. There are even a few gluten-free options.
The Bake Station’s story began in 1997, when a friend of Steve Katz asked him to help run his bakery. Katz learned the essentials of the business and grew to like it, so much that when he had the opportunity to buy his own bakery in Southfield he jumped at the chance.
Like Harvard Row, the kosher aspect of the bakery is supervised by the the Council of Orthodox Rabbis, also known as the Vaad of Detroit.
“We’re certified under the Vaad of Detroit, so that means that all of our products are parve,” says Addy. “We don’t have any dairy in any of our products. We’re neutral, and it can be mixed with with an egg-and-meat plate or a dairy plate if you keep kosher in your home.”
The Bake Station’s regular clientele is a mix of Jews of all stripes and folks who come for the nut-free bread and pastries. The Oak Park and Southfield stores tend to get more Orthodox customers, while the Farmington Hills location sees more Conservative and Reform Jews and more people interested in nut-free food.
The success the company has enjoyed over the last 17 years now has them thinking about the future. Although the Bake Station has no immediate plans to open new stores, they are interested in the possibility. The big news right now, however, is soon-to-be-completed new factory at Eight Mile and Beech Daly in Southfield, which should be ready by the end of 2016.