“Let them eat cake” hasn’t exactly been a catch cry for social harmony in the past, but one Michigan city’s sweet tooth is helping to promote cultural awareness.
On March 1 an expected 1,000 people will attend the Sterling Heights 2019 Cultural Exchange
, to enjoy ethnic music and dance, educational and cultural displays from area groups and cuisine from city restaurateurs. African-American, Bulgarian, Chaldean, Filipino, German, Indian, Italian, Macedonian, Polish, Scottish, Slovakian, and Turkish cultures will all be on display during the evening. But most people are in it for the food.
Kozeta Elzhenni, from the Sterling Heights Ethnic Community Committee, says each group offers attendees a taste of their traditional cuisine, giving participants a chance to appreciate other cultures.
"The event is really a great chance for people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to celebrate their similarities more than their differences," says Elzhenni.
While one of the main attractions at the annual event is undoubtedly the cuisine, the celebration of flavors in the region is not limited to one night. The sweet shops that dot the city stand testament to the diversity in Sterling Heights, exposing visitors to a host of exotic pastries and cakes. We visited the city’s best ethnic bakeries to sample some of the treats available.
Andrew Kattula shows off the doughnuts at Street Sweets.
2237 18 Mile Rd
This tasty shop combines Arabic and American culinary styles to bring us the best of both worlds. Liquid Nitrogen ice-cream, dessert pizzas and doughnuts are among the crowd-pleasers here, as are their “build-your-own” options.
Owner Andrew Kattula says the business has grown a lot since opening in 2017 in the former Sugar Babies bakery, and says his customers love getting to try new flavor combinations.
“New is always exciting,” he says. “We are able to introduce a lot of people to something new.”
George Maatouk will soon move his popular family bakery to bigger premises. Mid-East Pastry Delight
2097 15 Mile Rd
The colorful cake display in this small shop is dazzling, and co-owner George Maatouk has good reason to be proud of his creations. The bakery is regularly voted as one of Michigan's best for it’s "baklava", a rich dessert made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts (usually pistachios or walnuts) and honey.
Maatouk’s parents, Malek and Caroline, established the bakery in 1964 after Malek learned his trade from his own father (and master baker) in Lebanon. It’s grown into a bit of a neighborhood stalwart since and is looking to expand to a bigger location on the corner of 16 Mile and Dequindre Road this year.
Baghdad Towers Sweets
36870 Ryan Rd
This cake specialist originally started in—yep, you guessed it—Baghdad. The Sewa Kasha family was forced to flee in 2004 because of the conflict in Iraq but kept the baking tradition going in Sterling Heights.
“I wanted everyone here to taste fine Middle Eastern sweets using the same natural ingredients that my father used back home,” says owner Ghassan Sewa.
“We are famous for our Iraqi cake named "mkhumer" [a confection made with dates and nuts], done the original way.”
37230 Dequindre Rd
Owned by Mohamed Farhat, this bakery started out small and has grown to now ship to 50 states across the country. The cafe is an excellent spot for a crepe fix, as well as an "Atayef" treat (a type of Middle-Eastern pancake, traditionally made with ricotta cream and pistachio stuffing).
Elzhenni votes this shop as a firm favorite for her. “It’s one of the best sweet and ice cream bakeries in town,” she says.
3605 E 15 Mile Rd
Using all-natural ingredients, this place takes the Middle East sweet cravings to a whole new level with baklava-flavored ice cream. Like many of the Sterling Heights bakeries, you can get some of the unique Arab dessert "Kanafeh" here too—a sweet made with syrup-soaked stringy pastry (or, at a pinch, fine semolina dough).
The shop is a relative newcomer to the sweet scene in Sterling Heights, located in the former M Shatila Cafe.
4107 15 Mile Rd
With a touch of French flair, this shop specializes in boutique-style wedding cakes. The store began in 1987 and while it is known for its cupcakes and macarons, its themed birthday cakes are sought-after for festive occasions around the city as well.