Hamtramck has always served as a sort of Ellis Island for the region's diverse immigrant community. It was first founded by French Revolutionary Colonel Jean Francois Hamtramck, was later settled by German-American farmers, and eventually became a major hub for Polish laborers drawn to the Dodge Brothers plant. Since its heyday in the 1920s, the city has continued to attract waves of people from all over the world throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.View 18 photos from Palma here
Back in the 1990s, it was the Bosnian refugee community that had made its way to Hamtramck, fleeing the instability of the homeland. Many landed jobs in local factories, as house cleaners, or as truck drivers. Sedina Fetic was among the asylum seekers when she arrived in 1997. While she started off along a similar path, she (with the nudging of her husband) eventually found her way to the modest Bosnia Specialties restaurant, set inside a converted yellow house on Caniff.
When Fetic took over in 2011, she had no idea what she was doing in the kitchen. In fact, she had to be taught the basics in cevapi making by the outgoing chef who then left her to make the space her own. The result was Palma restaurant, and it's believed to be the only Bosnian eatery in metro Detroit. Fetic quickly adapted to her new life as a cook/general manager/server/mother of three and regularly clocked in 12- to 14-hour days to cater to the neighborhood's varied Balkan community of Bosnians, Serbians, Macedonians, and Albanians.
Fetic thought she had enough of restaurant life last year and shuttered the space, but when she found herself missing the regulars who frequented the place, she went all in. Earlier this year, she bought the building outright and reopened, and brought her adult children in to help out.
The hard work has paid off. The restaurant has been reopened for only a couple of months, and Palma fans have returned, drawn to the addicting aroma of the cevapi and the at-home atmosphere that Fetic and her family have created. The interior is simple, yet clean, the staff casual and friendly. Customers stroll in and out to pick up takeout orders, stopping at the counter to chat with friends in their native language.
The first thing you'll notice about the menu is its heavy emphasis on meat, with cevapi as the main draw. For the uninitiated, cevapi is a grilled, skinless sausage of minced blended lamb and beef typical of countries in southeastern Europe. You may have seen variations of it served at other restaurants. Here, even though there is no casing, the cevapi's consistency manages to have a bit of a snap, so it's nice and firm. The spice gives a slight kick, though it does not overpower the essence of the meat. It's paired with a side of sliced onions and an optional kaymak, a kind of sour cream or cream cheese dipping sauce, and two heavenly, spongy slices of lepinja bread — warmed on the grill, where it soaks up all the grease. For a heartier cevapi-like experience, there's the Pljeskavica, essentially a Balkan-style burger. Here, the cake-sized patty is stuffed with kaymak cream, and the lepinja is used as the bun.
For lighter offerings (if there is such a thing on this menu), we suggest the shareable appetizer platter with big hunks of fresh feta cheese, along with salty slices of smoked beef and sausages that could rival any trendy charcuterie board, or a delicious chicken soup that tastes homemade. For another, more robust shared option, there's the mijesano meso plate, a meaty feast of cevapi, a small hamburger patty, two kinds of sausage, beef or chicken liver, a chicken kabob, and a choice or soup or salad.
On to dessert, if you have room: there's a rotation of baked goods, like the fried tulmumbes that are soaked in syrup, or a whipped square of sampita — a meringue-like dessert with a drizzle of chocolate on top. Both go superbly with a potent serving of Turkish coffee, brought to the table on a dainty copper set.
Many of the Bosnians who originally settled in Hamtramck have gone on to the suburbs, and therefore the community's imprint in Hamtramck is not as big as it was. Still, no matter where folks have moved off to, they inevitably find their way back to visit the small city and back to the quaint little yellow house turned restaurant that is Palma.