Dear Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw, masterminds behind Zingerman’s Deli,
My name is Siena Witte and I have a confession to make. I have a huge crush on you.
It wasn’t long ago that I was a bright-eyed freshman, stuck on North Campus — Baits II, represent — and asking for directions to Angell Hall. I learned quickly that you don’t talk about Ann Arbor without talking the greats: Michigan football, Rick’s American Cafe, and Zingerman’s. Well, I was already at the University, I had my season tickets nestled safely under my mattress, and I was too young (both literally and spiritually) for the underbelly of student nightlife that is Rick’s. So to Zingerman’s I went. And I must say, it changed my life — and for the better.
Before my arrival to campus, I’d been to the Zing’s a few times before. I’m by no means a regular, but I know my way around an Abra’s Nutty Yard Bird and a side of macaroni and cheese. But I must say, each and every time I go, it’s a strangely harrowing experience. By the time I get face-to-face with that glass case of cured meats and bagels, my palms are sweating, I can’t breath, my heart is racing, and, oh my god, why are there so many people in this tiny room? The act of choosing a Zingerman’s sandwich — a.k.a. the finely curated piece of art that will grace my palette with its sweet succulence in a matter of minutes — is almost too much.
But then I stop. And I breathe. And I think, “What would Ari and Paul eat?” And suddenly, everything goes black. Like a prophecy flowing down from heaven above, it comes to me: something savory but not too heavy, with a touch of something crunchy and a little bit tangy, something creamy and rich, but light enough that it sails off the tongue and into your stomach like a beautiful crescendo at the end of a symphony. A simple white bread with just a hint of something — maybe rye? And of course, a light browning on both sides.
But over the years, I’ve learned it’s not just about the food. I mean, it is, and it isn’t. Get between my server and me when they call my name and it will be one of the most regretful decisions you’ve ever made. There is no amount of heartbreak or failing grades that a big ol’ bowl of your steaming hot matzo ball soup can’t fix. And let’s be honest — you can bring more people to a party with Zingerman’s old pickles than you can with a full keg of light beer and red solo cups. We all know that the food is superb. But this isn’t what I’m here to talk about.
I’m here to talk about the witty sandwich names, the exotic samples (pickled mozzarella and jalapeño peaches anyone?), the drool-worthy cheeses and snacks on snacks. I’m here to talk about how you blow me away with your wall of chocolate, and your Bacon of the Month club. It’s like you’re taking me by the hand and saying, “I don’t care who you are or where you’re from — there is something here that you will love.” And that feels awesome.
And the people! How could I forget the people? Each and every time I walk through those doors — no, come within a two-block radius — there’s someone on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley hooting and hollering about the latest special, their thoughts on the olive oil I’m sampling, and the crazy thing someone said to them that day. Someone is blowing my mind with the prospect of putting peanut butter on the chocolate sourdough. Someone is making me laugh so hard with a joke about the soup they spilled on their apron that I start crying. These in between moments of potential-best-friendness are what keep me waiting over an hour in seven-degree weather for a God damn sandwich. They make me proud to say we’ve shared this city, even if only for a little while.
I’m here to tell you, Ari and Paul, that I want to grow old with you and your culinary masterpieces. You’ve made me a better person. You’ve made me want — no, deserve — the crème de la crème, the Grade A and the Amish chicken. You stand for all that is right in this culinary world, and, for that, I salute you.
Peace, love and pastrami,