Monday, August 17, 2009

The empire

I would like to have incontrovertible proof that there is a God. I'm not sure what that proof would be. A thunderbolt maybe, or the parting of Lake Michigan, with God leading us all across the silty lake bed to Gary. But in the absence of a personal appearance, I look for Him in other places. Some say God is in the details. I think He might be in sandwiches.

And I'm not talking about the peanut butter sandwich I made last week. I'm referring to the Georgia Reuben, arguably the most popular sandwich at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's a turkey, swiss cheese, coleslaw, and russian dressing bonanza, all on grilled Jewish rye. I married the Georgia Reuben back in 1986, and haven't strayed since, even though Tarb's Tenacious Tenure (turkey, avocado spread, Wisconsin muenster, tomato, and Zingerman's russian dressing, on grilled farm bread) could warrant a traitorous one-night stand.

Back in 1982, Zingerman's was just a tiny deli with fabulously creative sandwiches. With its distinctive font, quirky art direction and curious names, the menu was a funny, cheeky ode to sliced meats on great bread. Sandwiches like Pat & Dick's Honeymooner (smoked turkey breast, Wisconsin muenster, and sweet-hot honeycup mustard, all grilled on challah), and over 50 more like it, took on a halo'ed glow, and Zingerman's became a phenomenon.

Then the expansion began. The Bakehouse was born, along with the Creamery and the Coffee company and Zingermans' Roadhouse, the "restaurant," where Zingerman's could fulfill its destiny of becoming the Empire of high-quality, locally sourced American cuisine with midwestern roots.

Zingerman's even started selling itself with Zing Train, which provides a variety of training seminars so others can learn how to build their companies and organizations into empires the Zingerman's way.

I have taken all three meals in a day at Zingerman's. I have gone to the Bakehouse in the morning for an almond croissant, then returned to the deli at lunch for a Georgia Reuben, a bag of Zapp's potato chips and a black magic brownie (deep, dark chocolate, no nuts). Then, for dinner, I've hopped in my car to drive the ten minutes to the Roadhouse, where I've had the buttermilk fried chicken with skin-on mashed potatoes and gravy, and mustard coleslaw. For dessert, the peach pie is made with Michigan Red Haven peaches, and is pretty darn good.

But strip away the cute illustrations and genius marketing and cheese seminars and you still have the best sandwich ever. All hail the Georgia Reuben! All hail Zingerman's!

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