So, on a long weekend visit to Ann Arbor, I decided to try and find some Iraqi food in the Dearborn-Detroit area. Given recent events, and the lack of any such cuisine in NYC, I wanted to try and find a restaurant serving authentic Iraqi cuisine. I did some research online and found four restaurants that seemed interesting:
Iraqi New Kebab
15736 West Warren Avenue
6425 Schafer Road
6431 Miller Road
Well, starting our trip down Warren, we noticed that Iraqi New Kebab had changed its name to Al-Asram or something similar. It also appeared to be a dingy-looking spot so we trudged on to the other two. We found Baghdadi restaurant to have also changed its name, although it was clearly out of business. (Additionally, its windows had been egged, not an uncommon sign in this area on businesses of Middle Eastern origin.) The same treatment (sans eggs) was found at Khan Mirjan, and I was at a loss for words... would I be having Iraqi food at all? I don't know any Arabic, and the English translation of a few sentences of text on many restaurant signs yielded a simple "Restaurant - Kebab".
We decided to regroup at New Yasmeen Bakery, a clean, friendly Lebanese (I think) bakery on Warren. We sampled some yummy baked goods (fig and almond bars, some other random goodies stuffed with pistachios, honey, etc.) and stocked up on British Mars bars and orange Kit Kats from Canada. Unfortunately, the coffee at this place left much to be desired.
Frustrated and running out of time, we decided to head back to the successor to Iraqi New Kebab. A gruff storefront with several people sitting around, smoking cigarettes, watching Al Jazeera and European tennis. I stepped up to the counter and ordered an Iraqi kebab. My friend tried to order, unsuccessfully, the meat tiikeh, the chicken tiikeh, and the chicken kebab before settling on the Iraqi kebab as well - as they seemed to be out of everything else. This pleased the cook much, who proclaimed "They very good. You like eat." Sounded fine as we were pretty much starving at this point.
After about fifteen minutes, two plates of ground meat (I believe lamb) kebabs were brought out to us, along with a plate of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, lemons - and a healthy serving of pita. Well, the kebabs, which numbered four to a plate and were quite a generous serving for $6, were fantastic. Perfectly grilled over charcoal (at least the singed ends tasted like that), I think they rival the fantastic kebabs at Cafe Kashkar - a Uigher restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. They were simple, tasting a lot like a doner kebab, but were somehow greasier, yet less oily. Hard to describe, but they were very tasty. And I could only finish about 2 and a half of them, leaving enough for a tasty lunch today.
So, although I wasn't able to try any of the dishes I had really wanted to sample, it proved to be a worthwhile trip. But my concern for the Iraqi (and other pan-Arab) businesses in the area lingers - have people closed up shop for reasons of fear (and lack of patronage since 9/11), or have many Iraqi ex-pats moved back to their country? Are there stronger enclaves of this cuisine? A friend mentioned Michigan Ave. had many such businesses, post-trip unfortunately, so did we miss a lot there? Or is the fact of the matter that there is just a dwindling number of such businesses and restaurants in this area. I had come into Dearborn hoping for something similar to Atlantic Avenue or lower 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, or Steinway Street in Queens, but was left with what seemed like a vibrant community which has taken a turn for the worse. Perhaps the many advertisements offering a chance to "Immigrate to Canada" sum it all up.