Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s

One freezing afternoon in February, my cousin, her boyfriend and I were discussing where to go for lunch. My cousin Tracy recently moved to Ann Arbor, and everyone told her that she “had” to go to Zingerman’s Deli. I’d heard good things myself, so we loaded in the car and headed downtown.

With blue skies above, the windchill was hovering around 10 degrees, which made standing in the line-out-the-door less than enjoyable. Even though it was nearly 2 p.m., this place was still hoppin’ on an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon.

Once we were able to wait in line indoors, we were treated to a visual and olfactory smorgasbord. Fresh, homemade breads lined one wall, and an extensive deli counter that included a mind-boggling array of cheeses lined another. The very friendly staff shouted over the din to talk about the delectable spread and offer samples.

I was delighted by the large selection of both vegetarian and fish sandwiches, but I wasn’t so thrilled with the prices. I’ll get this out of the way up-front: I don’t gripe about paying for quality, but I’d rather not pay a premium just because that’s what the local market will tolerate. Yes, this is Ann Arbor, but it ain’t NYC. Nearly $20 for a sandwich, pickle, brownie and a “free” cup of water kind of blew me away.

However, Zingerman’s is the sort of place I want to patronize. Selections like local organic eggs, housemade bread and BBQ sauce and cheeses from Zingerman’s own Creamery harmonize with my own desire to choose local, sustainable foods. Likeminded carnivores will doubtlessly enjoy the organic Berkshire pork shoulder from Apple Schram Organic Orchard in Charlotte, free-range chicken, “all natural” turkey and applewood-smoked bacon from Wisconsin’s Nueske’s; the housemade corned beef is supposed to be incredible.

For $13.99, I decided on the #33, “Benny & Zach’s Bagel Over Tokyo,” a sandwich consisting of “Stonington, Maine smoked salmon, wasabi (Japanese horseradish) cream cheese spread, tomato & mixed greens on a toasted sesame bagel from Zingerman’s Bakehouse.” (I ordered it on grilled pumpernickel, however, because I’m an incorrigible menu-changer-upper.)

We ordered with one employee, waited in another line to pay, then braved the cold again to try and find a seat in the building next door. We had to wait for a picnic table in a large, heated tent; once we sat down, we were amused by the busy servers who buzzed between the three main dining areas, trying to locate the patrons whose food they were holding. Since you seat yourself, it’s the staff’s job to find you in the cramped maze of seating once your food is ready.

The sandwich? It was good. Not be-still-my-beating-heart-I’m-in-love good, but really good. The intense crunchiness of the bread made the fillings fall out everywhere whenever I took a bite, but everything in there was top-notch. As for size, they’re not gigantic; all three of us easily polished off our sandwiches (and my cousin is teeny!). The $4.75 prepackaged Zingerman’s Black Magic Brownie that I took home with me was rich and fudgy, but rather stale.

Around since 1982 and now an Ann Arbor institution, I think it’s safe to say that Zingerman’s isn’t going anywhere. I would most certainly go back again, especially if a generous friend offered to pay! (Yet if I was driving east on I-94 and a yen for a delicious deli sandwich hit, I would probably veer off the highway before AA, and happily visit Mike’s Deli in Chelsea. The sandwiches are delicious. Their bread is Zingerman’s, their prices are not.)

If you go to Zingerman’s, be prepared to pay twice what you’d expect elsewhere; that way, you’ll leave feeling happy rather than robbed. But if you’re so inclined, certainly do visit Zingerman’s for the experience, for the chance to ogle the impressive selection of cheeses, olive oils, spreads, coffee, breads, meats, salads and more, to interact with the cheerful staff, to satisfy an East Coast craving for some “Jewish foods” like knish or latke or, of course, for a tasty sandwich.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am an Ann Arbor local…I like to do Zingerman’s on the cheap by making my own sandwiches with their stuff. When you first walk in the door, there’s a basket on the left full of bread in bags. That’s the day old bread. Use that as your start, and then buy the meats and cheese you like from the deli counter. It’s a great deal that way…their breads are wonderful, even day old. I only buy a ready made sandwich from Zingerman’s when I have guests in from out of town….BTW, here’s their brownie recipe…you should never pay $4.75 for a brownie ever again! IT’s a great recipe: Hope this helps you enjoy the Zingerman’s experience more often!

  2. I thought your essay was very well done. As for Zing… like many local attractions almost anywhere, it’s greatest appeal might be that it’s a one-of-a-kind operation and therefore appeals to people’s sense of adventure,

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