On Zingerman’s Deli, Ann Arbor, Michigan
It all started on the granite countertop in my oldest friend’s kitchen. I was calmly sipping on a latte when I eyed the stack of catalogs idly waiting to be sorted along with the mail. Sitting innocently at the top of the stack was the Zingerman’s food catalog, a charming character, unassuming and shy about the treasures that lay inside. I picked it up. “Have you heard of Zingermans?!” yelped my friend sitting next to me. I shook my head, only to ignite a sea of praise about the jams, cheeses, breads, meats, baked goods (the list goes on) that hail from Zingerman’s.
Maybe it had something to do with the live enthusiasm from the fanatic sitting next to me, but after browsing through the catalog myself, I was equally impressed. Cheeses from around the world shipped right to my door? Fresh baked artisan breads? Olive oils? Cherry, fig, black currant preserves? It was like a wine and cheese party waiting to happen. The Zingerman’s name was planted in my head, like a seed waiting to be sown.
The problem was, though rightfully so, ordering from the Zingerman’s catalog wasn’t such a money saver. After covering shipping costs, the quality of the ingredients and their costs for importing, I couldn’t quite afford ordering from Zingerman’s. But I still got the catalog, just so I could dream.
Then one day, the next chain of events to lead me to Zingerman’s happened. I was casually talking to a friend who had just come back from visiting her boyfriend in Ann Arbor. She raved about a little deli called Zingerman’s, professing her love for the reuben sandwich. A lightbulb went off, “they have a deli?” I knew I’d be accompanying her on a future Ann Arbor road trip.
Amidst the months of anticipation waiting to go to Ann Arbor (for a football game between Michigan and my alma mater, or at least that’s what I told my friends), I found out that the founder of Zingerman’s went to my elementary school (a very small private school). It felt like a chain of events leading up to my Zingerman’s experience, a sort of connect-the-dots moment to lead me to a certain place.
And a spectacular place at that. Between the line out the door and the abundance of foods from all around the world, I was very overwhelmed at first. I didn’t know where to go, what to order, I wanted to try everything. While I waited in line to order at the deli, a cheesemonger let me sample some of their Comte cheese from France that they had on special. I fell in love with it (so much so that it inspired my contest entry to the Zingerman’s package contest on Serious Eats). It was sharp, soft, creamy, surprising and everything you want in a cheese.
Their shelves were generously stocked with olive oils, jams, preserves and spreads from all over the world. I reminisced over my days of dulce de leche in Argentina and drooled over the dulce de leche brownies. And finally it was time to order. I wound up ordering the Reuben (pictured above) because it was highly recommended as a Zingerman’s favorite. And truthfully I had never had a reuben before. David ordered the Oswald’s Mile High sandwich, a simple corned beef sandwich on rye with mustard and piled high.
It’s a funny thing when we go out to eat. We’re always jealous of the other’s food. I didn’t realize my sandwich would have sauerkraut and a dressing I thought I would hate so I regret my decision to hear about his sandwich that sounded right up my alley. He wasn’t very impressed, until my sandwich arrived, toasted and much tastier than his. I had made the right decision and this time I wasn’t jealous of his food. Don’t get me wrong, his sandwich wasn’t bad. I would have been perfectly happy with it if the Reuben didn’t exist.
So, here I am writing about Zingerman’s deli (and hey, Amateur Gourmet wrote about 2nd Ave Deli in NY yesterday!). Years after discovering the mail order catalog, I was able to see the place where foods of many different nationalities meet. And I had a damn good Reuben while I was at it. Not a bad combination!