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Posted on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 10:32 a.m.

Zingerman's Deli: something old, something new, something more than just really good food

By Kim Bayer

Even if you've lived here for decades, I say you're not a confirmed Ann Arbor townie until a hapless visitor driving in rolls down their window to ask, "Can you tell me how to find Zingerman's?"

Zingerman's is now officially the Zingerman's Community of Businesses, aka ZCOB, with nine interrelated Ann Arbor food ventures managed by 18 partner/owners. But the pilgrims seeking to worship at the shrine of the Z are inevitably questing for the Zingerman's Deli hidden on a tiny, cobbled, one-way block of Detroit Street in Kerrytown near the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

With the completion this year of an epic six-year construction project to tie adjoining properties into a single Zingerman's "campus" (and adding new operational and seating capacity for the Deli) I wanted to understand what has changed at the 31-year-old Ann Arbor icon and what has remained the same.


Zingerman's Deli
422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor, MI
  • Hours: Daily 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
  • Plastic: All
  • Liquor: None
  • Prices: Moderate. Sandwiches $6.99-$15.99
  • Noise level: Moderate to loud
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
The acute-angled brick Deli building remains the lynchpin and main entry point at the north end of the colorful Zing compound. At the south end of the property is Zingerman's Next Door. But in between now the Deli is connected to the house next to it (where takeout functions) and to an entirely new two-story shoebox of a building where much of the new operational capacity and seating resides.

From what I could gather, the number of seats has roughly doubled both inside and out. And seating options are legion, from outdoor decks upstairs to a downstairs dining room with a wall of garage doors flung open in good weather, and a cavernous open dining hall in between. The tent is gone from the patio, replaced by green and blue umbrellas over dozens of picnic tables.

Even with all the changes, entering the Deli appears much the same: up a step to the original front door, tiny black and white tiles on the floor, wooden bread counter on the right, and the glass cases with pale cheeses and ruddy meats from around the world circling from the left.

But the retail space has subtly expanded, with more high-end shelf stable groceries, like line-caught tinned fish and traditionally made pastas. A new connector shelved with books now leads to a large holding area where a new deli case filled with familiar sides fronts the open kitchen. Offering words of welcome from their posts at the case, perky young acolytes stand by with Z-pads, ready to take your order.

To get a sense for the "old" (or perhaps I should say "classic") Zingerman's, I organized a tasting party around the variations of a deli staple for which Zingerman's sets the gold standard — the Reuben. Zingerman's offers five different Reubens on its recently updated 600+ item menu.

Most often defined by thinly sliced corned beef with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on grilled rye bread, the Reuben's original birthplace is contested. Whether it was Omaha or New York, our group's "Reuben-o-rama" shed no new light on the creation myth of the sandwich, though we did our utmost to evaluate variations hailing from Georgia and Montreal, and from Brooklyn to Cowboy country.

Each was, no surprise, delicious. They were also expertly grilled, conscientiously wrapped for take-out, and each cut into quarters as I requested. Zingerman's is known for being king of customer service as well as sandwiches after all.

Although tasty, I'm not sure why the #18 Georgia Reuben with turkey, or the #123 TNT Cowboy Reuben with BBQ beef brisket and provolone cheese belong in the Reuben hymnal. The Georgia Reuben is a great turkey sandwich, lighter than a regular Reuben, with grilled rye bread enclosing a small mountain of thin-sliced turkey breast and crunchy purple-spiked coleslaw — but I question calling it a Reuben. Of the juicy and amply endowed Cowboy Reuben, one of our tasters noted, "This tastes like a great sloppy joe." I called it Reuben-esque. My beef is that neither of these sandwiches combines the essential qualities of meat, bread, sauce and kraut that would earn it the name Reuben.

Regarding the other Reubens, there were strong proponents for #48, Binny's Brooklyn Reuben, with excellent peppery pastrami and pumpernickel, rather than corned beef and Jewish rye. And there was a vote for the appealingly smoky #43, Muno's Montreal Reuben with a thick stack of Montreal Smoked Meat on rye.

After sincere contemplation of the various Reuben paths, I remained unconverted. The #2 Zingerman's Reuben is still the one true Reuben for me. It is the Reuben that all others aspire to being; one friend described it simply as "canonical." The Jewish rye is thick and crusty, the stacked leaves of pink, thin-sliced corned beef are juicy and thick as a pocket Torah, and the Swiss cheese adds a little dairy richness. The combination of top quality ingredients and the variety of textures with the incredible house-made Russian dressing and naturally fermented sauerkraut make this the sandwich grail to me. There is no Reuben but the #2 Reuben, which is the best it has ever been as a result of a change that happened last year.

By switching to The Brinery's locally grown and fermented sauerkraut in 2012, Zingerman's made a change to the original Reuben which Chef/Owner Rodger Bowser says had been the same since the day they opened, save for the switch to their own Bakehouse bread. Bowser told me that incorporating the Brinery's products is "one of the coolest things I've done here at Zingerman's because it touches so many different places on the menu." And because the Brinery is now contracting with local farms to be able to supply Zingerman's, Bowser says it's "not just a better sandwich, it's a better community."

Although the sandwich recipes don't change often, according to Bowser, Zingerman's Deli releases a new menu about once a year. Their latest, released in June, includes more than a half dozen new "picnic" options for solo diners and couples, along with four new sandwiches, setting the stage for the investigation of the "something new" part of this review.

The availability of a "cone of meat," made up of slices from the various charcuteries behind the Zinger meat counter, used to be a townie secret. Now it's right out there in large print next to the cheese cone on the new picnic menu. These and a few other items, like the Ploughman's Plate and Game Day pretzel-based options, have been specially designed for people in the neighborhood who aren't in the mood to wait, one of the Zing staffers told me. You order the pre-set meats, cheeses, sausages, breads and condiments to go and can get rung up at the bread counter rather than being shunted over to the new sandwich checkout area. I am a fan of the cheese cone with a selection of four of their best cheeses.


Inside the remodeled Zingerman's Deli - hardly anything has changed until you go around the corner.

Kim Bayer | contributer

As for the newest sandwiches, two in particular have created a rift between me and my one true love of the #2 Reuben. The Banh Mo, named for Zingerman's Mail Order managing partner Mo Frechette, is the Zingerman's version of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. Deli Chef/Owner Rodger Bowser told me he was able to add this sandwich to the menu when the Bakehouse started making a roll he could put it on, and he discovered the Detroit-based Corridor Sausage company's Vietnamese chicken sausage. When he told me that the Corridor chicken sausage is so good it tastes like pork I had to laugh.

Filled with with galangal, cilantro, and other Asian herbs, I'd also have to agree that it's every bit as good as a pork sausage. The brat-sized chicken sausage split lengthwise on a soft toasted oblong roll may not be strictly traditional, but it is crazy delicious. With a slick of mayonnaise and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro, a special highlight of this sandwich is The Brinery's hot pickled carrots. These dime-thin carrots are crunchy, tart, hot and garlicky at the same time. And they add just the right spark of contrast to the rich sausage and mild sweetness of the brioche-like bun.

Another new sandwich, Davey's Deep Purple (named for David Klingenberger, the Brinery's irrepressible owner and "Chief Fermentation Officer") hits all the right spicy, tangy, rich and salty notes. Pepper-hot Cajun Tasso ham is stacked with The Brinery’s purple Storm Cloud Zapper kraut, (with Michigan green cabbage, Michigan red beets, fresh ginger root, sea salt), along with Swiss cheese and mayonnaise grilled on a large paesano roll. It's an inspired combination.

Both of these are examples of how the interplay of humble ingredients into a unified whole can create a spine-tingling experience akin to a harmonizing choir. Most of Zingerman's sandwiches make that beautiful music in your mouth, but some need additional tuning in my estimation.

The other two new sandwiches, #219 Erica's Tea-wich with pimiento cheese and #222 Marshall's Ten out of Tin, a tuna melt variation, didn't really come together for me. The vegetarian Tea-wich's thick layer of spicy pimiento cheese is paired with lots of thinly sliced cucumber and tomato on soft wheat bread and was fine, uniformly soft and mild, good for someone in need of comfort food.

The Ten out of Tin puts a thick slab of a respectable (if boring) tuna salad on pumpernickel bread and layers it with thin sheets of roasted chiles and Swiss cheese. This one tasted flat to me, too much bland tuna salad, even if it was studded with tiny bits of celery. The mild heat of the chiles did little to provide zip; it needed some extra bite from onion or mustard, or a tangy counterpoint of capers and some additional texture. Some zing perhaps.

I was still happy with the overall experience. I'm okay with having a couple of clinkers with the meal when I've had a nice chat with each of three staff who offered in-depth information and gracious hospitality, and when I am sitting outdoors on a beautiful patio on perhaps the loveliest evening of the year surrounded by color and fluttering umbrellas and soft music in the background. I'm among the Zingerman's faithful who is fine with paying $13 for the treat of an excellent sandwich and an evening out because I know it's not just the sandwich that I'm buying.

It's worth it to pay a couple of bucks more to know that not only is the food made to the highest standards (in part because Zingerman's is a leader in buying from local farmers and producers) and every customer is treated like royalty, in addition the employees are treated with respect and dignity including healthcare coverage, a living wage (and intention to move to a "thriving" wage), extensive training, and up to 75 percent off with staff discounts.

I also understand that the Zingerman's 2020 Vision lays out an intention to incubate nearly a dozen more businesses, and that they are working on figuring out how to offer shares for employee ownership. I know that the Zingerman's Community Chest helps out employees dealing with catastrophe, and that not only did Zingerman's start Food Gatherers twenty some years ago, they remain among Food Gatherers main benefactors. And these are just a few examples.

With more than 500 employees, nine businesses (and more on the way) and with food that people travel from around the world to experience, Zingerman's has made Ann Arbor better in innumerable ways. Regardless of the cacophony of complaints about "Zingerman's prices," it's worth a couple of extra dollars for the long list of cascading benefits that having a world leader in the art of corporate citizenship brings to my town.

That and the food just doesn't quit. I heard from Chef/Owner Rodger Bowser that once things are humming with his new kitchen capacity, it's in their vision to roll out "Platesville" dinners of the month using some of their fine ingredients in plated traditional dishes. He said they're already developing recipes for things like kreplach made with their own beef brisket and chicken broth. In October he's hoping to start with bratwurst and sauerkraut, and he also wants to do spaghetti and meatballs, a simple pasta with their own olive oils and parmesan cheese, chicken paprikash, and brisket with fresh ground horseradish.

He says, "We're never going to stop improving the food here."

That sounds fantastic, but please just keep the #2 Reuben and Davey's Deep Purple on the menu.

Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.


Raggety Andy

Fri, Aug 30, 2013 : 2:45 a.m., have ever thought about censoring comments based on their veracity? There are so many libelous half truths and out right lies spewed by a variety of commenters that it makes your journalistic integrity pretty laughable. I don't blame them. People love to spout half baked opinions based in drivel. I, instead, blame you. People actually believe the crap people write in their comments. It's up to you to set separate truth from fiction.


Fri, Aug 30, 2013 : 2:31 a.m.

hey idiots, all your bitching isn't really hurting Zingerman's sales much...


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

I know this article is mostly a fluff piece about Zingermans, but how about a few facts surrounding the campus expansion? I know that the planning process was moved through under a special circumstances rule that reversed the application process and mitigated any effect the HDC might have had in weighing in on the plans. This is a perk that comes with being politically connected. Ms. Bayer, can you tell us how much of a tax break Zingermans got from the City and the DDA, in TIF kickbacks and brownfield grants to facilitate this expansion? I heard it was about 80,000 $10 dollar sandwiches worth.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Hi DJB- Km focuses more on the customer experience in her restaurant reviews. I'll make note of your comment to our business reporters to consider as a topic to look into in the future.


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

Locally, Back alley gourmet blows this place out of the water, good samdwiches atrespectable prices. Regionally, the Star Deli at telegraph and twelve mile crushes thraes sandwiches offerings. I have also recently found out that you can get a fresh made sandwich at Bush's, at least in west Bloomfield . For 5.99

Raggety Andy

Fri, Aug 30, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

learn to spell


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 9:32 a.m.

In other breaking news: the sky is blue! Shocker. I can get exactly the sandwich I want for less than 1/2 the price of Zingermans using freshly sliced local bread and organic ingredients at Arbor Farms Market on W. Stadium. Oh, and I don't have to wait an hour in line to get it. You're paying for the experience and cache of being there, not the quality of ingredients.


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 5:17 a.m.

They just don't have enough veggie sandwich options for me to buy!


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 2:39 a.m.

I'm curious if Zingerman's really gives its employees a 75% discount? I know that In 2010 Zingerman gave managers 20% off - which was not enough of a discount to make their products affordable on a Zingerman's salary. (And yes I do realize that Zingerman's is not marketing to people who earn what their staff earn.)


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 2:28 a.m.

Home of the $17 sandwich. I love that local businesses do well, but Zingerman's is the encapsulation of most of what's wrong with Ann Arbor; "look at our prices, we MUST be like New York City!" I had an opportunity to get $33.3% off my entire order, so my wife and I went there and "loaded" up a bag of some vinegar, olive oil, 2 kinds of cheese, a loaf of bread, and a jar of jam. Lady rang us up and said "OK, that comes to $89.75" Horrified, I still felt halfway decent about the trip, assuming she hadn't applied my discount. So I said "OK, and there's that discount there also." "No sir, I already applied the discount." So, there was a big line behind me, we'd already gone around and asked questions, so I just bit the bullet and got boned. Look, they have great stuff. The atmosphere is wonderful. The sandwiches are VERY good. But nothing there is as good as it costs. Yes, #13 is fantastic. I have it every time I get a Christmas bonus (which is not guaranteed) . But it is a $17 sandwich. What can you do? There are lines out the door every weekend. Maybe I'm stupid. Maybe I SHOULD be spending $100 for 13 ounces of stuff. Maybe a decent sandwich SHOULD cost $17. I wonder how many people who go to Zingermans go back. It must be a lot, right? So is a significant part of A2 wealthy? Will they get less business once we've finally made 3/4 of the city affordable housing?


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 10:18 p.m.

Zingerman's deli is a treat! Their food, service and atmosphere are worth a few dollars more. In my book, Binnies Brooklyn Reuben is the king of sandwiches. A recent visit to Carnegie Deli in NYC was disappointing in comparison to our local gem. The pastrami at Zingermans is of much higher quality, juicier and less fatty, and fixings are far more tasty. Plus, their local philanthropy, esp Food Gatherers, should be acknowledged.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 8:46 p.m.

If you want something that is close to Zingermans but at about half the price, try the Breadbasket on Carpenter Rd across from Meijer. It may not have the atmosphere but the food is excellent. I too am disenchanted and no longer eat at Zingers. Last I checked a bagel for example is 3 times the cost just about anywhere else (don't tell me the ingredients are the difference, Flour is Flour) so enough is enough. The guys who own Zingermans are good businessmen and I congratulate them on their business model. But for those of us who live in this town, many of us have gotten wise.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 1:08 a.m.

We're fortunate to have the Breadbasket, and I go there. But I don't think their sandwiches are at the same level. As for "flour is flour", that's just crazy talk.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

Shame that most student can't afford to eat there, that is until their rich parents come to town... place is a joke to most who actually live in the area.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 1:09 a.m.

I hear the bread at subway is just as good as zingerman's.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 10:35 p.m.

Yes, very true.

Jon Saalberg

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

That's OK. Those of you who don't like the prices, you can go to one of those new restaurants out by Briarwood, once open, to get your fairly-priced dose of the same food, no matter where you are. Also, my understanding is that they no longer use the original corned beef used when the deli opened, Sy Ginsberg's for their reubens, and are getting their corned beef from Niman's Ranch.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 1:10 a.m.

You might be right, Joey. Maybe they switched back?


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 9:47 p.m.

Pretty sure they still use Sy Ginsberg's certified all natural angus and have since day 1.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:34 p.m.

The switch was a very good move. The Niman products are natural. The Sy Ginsberg are not. Go read the history of Niman and you'll see there is a huge difference. Things have apparently been a little more rocky since Niman was sold in 2009.

Glenn Galler

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

I also wonder why the prices are do high. They push the hippie atmosphere but it contradicts the pricing. I just don't go there anymore. When I have gone there I usually feel buyers remorse.


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 5:17 a.m.

lol!hippie atmosphere? How do you figure that??

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 1:11 a.m.

I retract any unsubstantiated claims about living wage, whatever that is.

Atticus F.

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

Nicholas, the myth that Zingermans pays a living wage has been passed on for generations. the truth is that they pay about $9/hr. look it up. As far as the quality, yes they have excellent food. But I've seen the same quality ingredients at the old time deli's in Detroit for about half the price.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Apparently the prices are not too high. Their business has been booming for years. Many folks will shell out more money for high quality.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

The best ingredients are expensive. So is paying a living wage with benefits. Go ahead and try to duplicate the Pastrami Reuben. I'd love to hear how you would do it and what you think it would cost for comparable ingredients. Even McDonalds charges about $7 for a burger-fries-drink-GMO combo.

David Wanner

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

Do you remember when this place was Dicoff's Grocery? When I was in high school at St. Thomas we used to always go there.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

Thanks for this story with the great focus on the Brinery's products. Rodger Bowser has been a leader in local food issues for years and he has really closed the circle beautifully by including these products made locally, from locally sourced vegetables. I'll have to get over there and try the Banh Mo.

Eduard Copely

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

How about the new Dog Park sandwich: Honey roasted self righteous indignation, special over-top sputum, and served on day old Pumpernickel?

Morris Thorpe

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Great to see this hidden gem finally get some exposure on!


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.

HAHAHAHAHAHA.......that was a good one!

Atticus F.

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.


Eduard Copely

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Nice article. I love to take out-of-town visitors to Zingerman's for a treat, but I have to disagree with the price listing: Prices: Moderate. Sandwiches $6.99-$15.99. Routinely when we head to Zingerman's we easily top $22 - $28 dollars per person, that includes a sandwich, side, drink, and dessert and coffee. Keep it real.


Fri, Aug 30, 2013 : 2:28 a.m.

All these people talking about the "nosher" sandwich haven't been there in awhile--that isn't a size these days. The smaller sandwich size is totally big enough for two. And Atticus--I am not a sendentary office worker, I am a former michigan athlete who eats an appropriate diet for my active life style. I think you'd be surprised how many Americans overeat without even realizing they are doing so

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

You really eat all that when you go there? Seems like an awful lot of food for the money. Actually, a good deal.


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

They only $7 sandwich is the vegetarian "Todd's Cheesy Wheezy" ($6.99), followed by Erica's Tea-wich ($8.99). Any other sandwich you order will be $10.99 or (most likely) higher, and that's for the small "Nosher" size.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

"a sandwich, side, drink, and dessert and coffee" Wow. That would be a massive meal, far too much for most people. And while I can easily eat a large sandwich in one sitting, it can just as easily be divided into two very satisfying meals.

Atticus F.

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.

I agree with Eduard. Yes, if you're a 90 lb woman who works in an office, then splitting a sandwich would be an option... But, on the other end of the spectrum, if you're a 250 man who moves furniture for a living, then splitting a sandwich is NOT an option, and you will probably spend $20 or more. each individual is different. For me personally, Zingermans is out of my price range to eat there on a regular basis. Although I do like to go on a special occaision.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

wow, it sounds like you eat A LOT per person. I would argue that that isn't what the average person is getting when they go to Zingerman's, so that's probably why you feel you are spending more.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

Well, sandwiches are $7 - $16. That seems real enough. Pretty much every restaurant listing does the same thing. I guess they assume adults are smart enough to figure out that extra things cost extra.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

At very high prices too.


Thu, Aug 29, 2013 : 10:58 a.m.

I'm not sure what it used to be like there (as M-Wolverine stated), but I can say that these sandwiches aren't very big - especially for the price. I can barely (actually, I simply can't) tell the difference between the "Nosher" and "Fresser" sizes, either when I buy or I have friends buy and I compare. Last time I was there I paid $17.40 for my sandwich...a higher price (by a significant factor) than any other sandwich place in this city.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

disagree. I split one of the sandwiches with my sister every time we go. It's like 6 bucks a person, and it's a lot of food plus a pickle. Plus you're paying for high quality ingredients, it's not like it's not worth it.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.



Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

I agree with Goober!


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

With sandwiches that are about half the size they used to be. They were always expensive. But you used to get a huge sandwich you couldn't finish at one sitting. Now they're even more expensive and you get a sandwich that leaves you hungry.


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

So I take it you like their food then?


Wed, Aug 28, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

Enjoyable article, thanks.