“Drive to Ann Arbor for a sandwich? That’s crazy,” you say. “Not at all,” I say. “Not when that sandwich is Zingerman’s.”
Well, yeah. That’s pretty much what J and I did today. Sure, we made up other things to do, but I think we both knew the purpose of the trip was to go to Zingerman’s.
Since I started working part-time last summer, days off together have been very, very rare and they usually involve a trip or a commitment. I don’t think we’ve had a day off where we didn’t leave Michigan. Since we went to the Sugarland concert last night in Grand Rapids, J decided to use a vacation day today so she wouldn’t be exhausted at work. It worked out great because I had the day off too.
Our plan of attack was to revisit some places we used to go often when we lived in Lansing. First up, the Tanger Outlets in Howell. That used to be a bi-monthly trip and where we bought all of our clothes. Moving away has probably helped because neither of us could really remember the last time we went shopping for ourselves since moving to Kalamazoo.
After that, we headed towards Ann Arbor. We purposely didn’t eat breakfast or lunch anywhere else because we wanted to go to Zingerman’s.
Zingerman’s Deli is part of the Zingerman’s franchise in Ann Arbor. Besides the deli, they operate a sit down restaurant called Zingerman’s Roadhouse, a creamery, a bakery, a coffee company, a catering opeartion, food tours, a business seminar and consulting company, and a candy manufactory.
The Deli is just off downtown Ann Arbor in the Kerrytown District. It’s a very small, narrow, old brick building on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley Streets. Parking is a nightmare. There are a lot of narrow, one way streets in the area and the only real options are meters. Make sure you bring quarters because you may need the whole two hours.
This was not our first trip to Zingerman’s. One our first trip to Ann Arbor together in the fall of 2008, I took J to what has become one of our favorite spots in all of Michigan. At that point, I had only read reviews of the place and had no idea what we were going to find.
That trip, we got lucky and walked right in to the building and placed our order. This time, there was a line outside waiting to get in. Yes, even at 2:00 on a random Friday afternoon while U of M was playing in the NCAA tournament, there’s a line to get in to Zingerman’s.
As we pulled up to the stoplight at Detroit Street, I asked J how bad she wanted a sandwich. She said we could go somewhere else, but we both knew that the whole reason we drove to Ann Arbor was to go to Zingerman’s. I turned around to find a meter open on Kingsley about a block away and we headed back to get in line.
As I went around the corner to enter the covered waiting area, J went to the front to grab a couple menus and see how long the wait was. The “bouncer” said it should only take ten minutes or so because after you order, you actually leave the deli and go next door to wait for your food.
J joined me in line with menus so we knew what we wanted once we got inside. That wait was probably right around ten minutes. It was like a nightclub where they let a few people in every time someone left. If it weren’t for the super annoying college girls who were still in their pajamas talking really loudly in a tight space, the wait wouldn’t have been that bad.
Once inside, we headed straight for the order line. Zingerman’s is actually a full service deli with an amazing deli case of meats and cheeses you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else. There’s also a bakery window where they have all of their fresh, delicious breads, but the line to order takes up most of the deli so it’s hard to look around. There was a gentleman that was looking for some very specific cheese and the cheese counter employees were working with him to find just the right product for his needs.
It took a little bit longer than I would have expected once we got inside. We had already made our decision but those in front of us decided to wait until they got to the front of the line to decide what they want. There’s no real order counter. There are two employees who stand in front of giant menu boards and write the orders down on a pad of paper. Most of the sandwiches have numbers next to them and you can order either by number or by the crazy name that’s assigned to each sandwich. There’s also a display of their sides in a display case…just to tempt you.
I went with a pretty simply sandwich. It’s actually one of the few that didn’t have a number next to it, so I had to order by name. The sandwich I ordered was called Don’s Rhythm & Blues. A pretty simple pastrami sandwich. J went with a chicken sandwich #62 Jay’s BBQ Chicken. We also fell victim to the temptation of the Herbed Roasted Potatoes. We tacked on a couple drinks and the guy who took our order handed us the ticket to take around the corner to be paid for. Zingerman’s is not cheap. Our two sandwiches, two drinks, and a side cost a little over $35. As I was signing the ticket, J came running up with a bag of sea salt caramels…another $13, but oh, so worth it.
After paying, you actually leave the deli building and go next door to Zingerman’s Next Door which serves as a coffee house, ice cream shop, and a place to eat. The Next Door probably isn’t much bigger than the main building and it’s stuffed with tables. When we walked in, we spotted a two top in a pretty bad position, but it was a table, so we sat down. Less than ten minutes later, a man came through the front door and yelled out J’s name. She threw up her hand to get his attention and we had our sandwiches a little over 35 minutes after we parked our car and made the decision we were going to wait it out.
My sandwich, Don’s Rhythem & Blues is a simple pastrami sandwich on Rye bread from the bakehouse and yellow mustard. Zingerman’s pastrami is hands down, the best pastrami I have ever had. It has a great pepper crust that adds a little bit of spice and a little bit of crunch. The meat is super tender and the yellow mustard is just enough to add a little bit of tang. I keep saying in these blog posts that I’m not a pastrami expert and I’m just looking for a good tasting sandwich…well, Zingerman’s is better than good tasting. It beats even the pastrami I had while in New York.
J’s sandwich, #62 Jay’s BBQ Chicken, is pretty self explanatory. It’s pulled Amish chicken in Zingerman’s BBQ sauce with Vermont cheddar cheese on a soft hoagie type roll. She was going back and forth between that sandwich and a sliced chicken sandwich, but chose the pulled BBQ. The sauce is a bit vinegar-y and the chicken is swimming in that sauce. The large bun is stuffed full of the chicken and the slice of cheddar blends in, but lends it’s flavor to the meat just when you think it’s not even there. Her sandwich actually came with a small side of applewood smoked bacon baked beans which she said were delicious.
The Herbed Roasted Potatoes were a shared plate that we set between us and they were just as good as they looked in the display case. The Yukon gold potatoes are cut into large slices then roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. There was a nice golden color on the top of each piece and they were cooked all the way through. No raw potato taste anywhere in the pile of spuds.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love Zingerman’s Deli. I have never had anything from a Zingerman’s brand that I didn’t like. Is it worth the 90 mile drive from Kalamazoo every once in a while? Hell, yes. Even with gas at $3.50/gal. Sure, we made a day out of it with the outlet mall and an eventual trip to Whole Foods, but it’s something I would do again withe very little arm twisting.
Zingerman’s Deli is not just one of Michigan’s best food destination, it’s the can’t miss stop on that tour.