Quality vs. Quantity (and Quality)

Zingerman's (left) vs. Maize and Blue

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – During a swing through the Midwest, I had to answer a burning existential question regarding the University of Michigan.

Are Wolverines fans happier because their school hired Brady Hoke as head coach or because of the misfortune that has befallen Ohio State’s program?

No. Not that one. This one.

Should I be a Zingerman’s person or a Maize and Blue person?

Like Lakers vs. Celtics, Ford vs. Chevy or Beatles vs. Stones, the answer probably says more about the person as a whole than that person’s preference of deli/NBA team/domestic pick-up truck/British Invasion superstars. A Zingerman’s person and a Maize and Blue person might work together, but they probably don’t move in the same social orbits. If someone took a swing at you in a bar, you’d probably want a Maize and Blue person to have your back. If after that bar fight you got arrested, you’d probably want a Zingerman’s person to represent you.

When I walked into Zingerman’s on a recent Saturday night, I stood in line behind well-dressed – but not conservatively dressed – patrons who eagerly picked the brains of the employees about the sources of the breads and meats lining the walls. When I walked into Maize and Blue on a recent Sunday afternoon, I brushed past a guy carrying a to-go box and wearing a shirt that proclaimed “Beer is the only reason I get up every afternoon.” That about sums it up.

Eating at Zingerman’s feels like dining inside a Prius commercial. If I’d thought to ask, I’m sure one of the strategically pierced and tattooed employees would have been thrilled to tell me the name of the farmer who grew my $6 side of jalapeno peaches. At Maize and Blue, I asked the guy at the register whether I should order white or wheat bread. “Wheat is supposed to be healthier,” he said. “But white tastes better.”

Each half of that last paragraph probably evoked a certain emotion. If you read the part about the peaches and thought, “I wonder what kind of fruitcake mixes peaches and jalapenos,” then you’re a Maize and Blue person. If you thought, “I wonder if those peaches are organic,” then you’re a Zingerman’s person.

Why have I spent so many words describing clientele and ambience? Because those will have to be your arbiters; the food is fantastic at both places.

Zingerman’s is a pleasure garden of carbohydrate and protein delights. While waiting in line, customers pick at samples of gourmet pretzels and dunk sourdough in gourmet olive oils. I ordered a large Jon and Amy’s Double Dip. That’s a corned beef and pastrami with Switzerland Swiss and Wisconsin muenster cheeses, hot and regular mustards on pumpernickel and rye breads. Between the sandwich, the peaches and a large dark chocolate gelato, my bill came to $30 before tip. The food was delicious, but if I’m going to spend $30 at a deli, the sandwiches had better be comically huge like the ones at the iconic New York delis. Either that, or I’d better leave drunk. The sandwich was delicious – perfect corned beef and pastrami and just enough mustard – but never once did I have to unhinge my jaw like Diana in the original V miniseries. As I ate my gelato, a group of college students perused the dessert case. “Man,” one said, “this place is mad expensive.”

Maize and Blue is a tiny hole in the wall a few blocks from Michigan’s campus. Unlike Zingerman’s, it doesn’t serve Boylan pure cane sugar sodas from a self-serve fountain. It serves Coke products from a fountain behind the counter. Its greatest claim to fame is that when Michael Phelps trained for the Olympics at Michigan’s natatorium, he liked to carbo-load using Maize and Blue sandwiches. Quantity would not be an issue at Maize and Blue.

I have a general rule at restaurants. If the place names one menu item after the restaurant itself, it means the proprietor considers this item the quintessential representation of the restaurant. I usually order this item, and, fairly or unfairly, make value judgments about the rest of the menu. At Maize and Blue, I ordered a 16-inch – not a typo – Maize and Blue Special. That’s roast beef, smoked turkey, cheddar, Jarlsberg cheese, honeycup mustard, lettuce and mild peppers. (For the curious types, honeycup mustard is a vaguely erotic term that describes spicy honey mustard.) The sandwich came sliced in four sections. It looked as if it had eaten two Zingerman’s sandwiches while training to become my sandwich. The honeycup mustard gave an ideal sweet-and-spicy kick to the smokiness of the turkey and roast beef. And the dude behind the counter was correct – the white bread just tasted better. That leviathan of a sandwich and an M&M cookie the size of my face cost about $18 before tip.

So who am I? Am I a Zingerman’s person or a Maize and Blue person? My younger self almost certainly would have embraced Maize and Blue, but now I’ve got a decent job and a different perspective. I shouldn’t feel guilty for dropping 30 bucks on a scrumptious, farm-to-table-friendly culinary creation. Should I?

Yes. I should. While I’ve gained an appreciation for the occasional dipping of the toe into fancier waters, I was born a Maize and Blue person. I’ll die a Maize and Blue person. If given the option of smug, semi-full satisfaction or an unhinged jaw, I’ll take the unhinged jaw every time.

Pre-meal Workout: Before Zingerman’s – None. Don’t judge me.

Post-meal Workout: After Maize and Blue – Five-mile run through Michigan campus.

Featured workout tune: Down for the Count – Girl Talk (Yes, the one that samples Belinda Carlisle.)

So do I, Zingerman's. So do I.

-30-

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About Andy Staples

Eating anything that doesn't eat me first.
This entry was posted in Fancy Pants, Sammiches, Side Dishes, Value and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Quality vs. Quantity (and Quality)

  1. This project of yours is full of win. But I should never read this posts before I have eaten.

  2. Scooter says:

    Those sound great but Jersey Giant in Ytown is where its at!

  3. Ryan says:

    I had half of my wife’s Zingerman’s reuben sandwich 8 years ago, and it is still the standard by which I compare all sandwiches.

  4. ZingermansgoodMan says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Although I do prefer Zingermans, as a student Maize an Blue was a weekly or 2x weekly visit. I also completely support te Girl Talk song, probably my favorite on All Day

  5. brewonsouthu says:

    You resolved the issue perfectly. Zingerman’s is a RIP OFF. Great stuff, but everything is double the cost it should be. Next time go have an ice cream down at Washtenaw Dairy, old , kind of funky, over on the west side.

    • dwg says:

      That’s just tripe–not the tripe they sell in the case at Zingerman’s, either. Their stuff is expensive, but if you want Kroger’s, go to Kroger’s–that’s about 1/2 the price of Zingerman’s. Think that’s the right price for the best pastrami on the planet? For 14,000 kinds of the best cheese you’ve never heard about? I don’t think so.

  6. Chris says:

    I like Maize and Blue fine, but let’s not kid ourselves — the quality of everything is lower. Cheap ingredients = lower price. It’s not so cheap as to be terrible, and who could afford to eat at Zingerman’s all the time, but the roast beef is much better there, the bread is better, on down the line.

  7. AA says:

    If you are ever in North Jersey and want to try/review some Italian food…look for Frank Anthony’s (in Verona) or E&V (in Paterson). Love your stories.
    AA

  8. Seeing as how I bleed Zingermans our opinions will vary. Having spent 10 years in Ann Arbor I’ve had several occasions to form my opinion. Quality costs. You can get quantity anywhere. If you are interested, check out my perspective from my recent visit.
    http://www.sallyroeckellphotography.com/?p=900
    Next time check out the Zingermans Road House and try the all you can eat sweet potato fries with spicey mayo. Yum!

  9. Reed says:

    That’s some tasty work, here Andy. I don’t think one has to choose. Both are open all week, and since they’re nowhere near one another, go to whichever’s closer. When I was a student, of course, Zingerman’s was only when the parents were in town.

    And if you want to see another side of AA culinary culture, you gotta head over to Blimpy Burger and get yourself a quint. Then a nap.

  10. Fake Name says:

    Interesting bit of information to note.
    Maze N Blue Deli is operated and probably owned by the same family that owns and operates Sottini’s Sub Shop.
    If you love Maze N Blue and want to check out it’s twin brother…

  11. Scott says:

    Gotta admit I love Zingermans and have not yet been to Maize & Blue, but will do so when I watch the Domers get crushed.

    If I am understanding your preferences correctly, why have YOU not been to Krazy Jim’s yet?

  12. Meg says:

    Despite going into my junior year at Michigan, I have yet to be to either, but this makes me want to try Maize and Blue Deli. There is no way I can afford Zingerman’s and Kerrytown often makes me want to vomit, just a little bit.

  13. Dennis says:

    Any recommendations for eating before a CU game in Boulder???

  14. smoky says:

    After working for zmans for a bit, and being best friends with someone who has worked within the business for 5 years, I realized that u r not buying a sandwich at zmans, but a lifestyle. This article reflects that–zmans customers r people who want to spend $, regardless of the actual product. Alot of the products that zmans carry r delicious, but if u realized the markup (and their tendency to not tell u the whole truth about their origin) you would b better served buying the materials and making the sammie at home. why give them triple the price for Sy Ginsberg corned beef–just get your own. I have spent 10 years in ann arbor–# of times I have eaten at zmans = 3, maize and blue = 50+
    “u can taste the difference” is not their real motto. markup as high as u can, cuz there will always b idiots out there to buy into your lifestyle.

    • stats says:

      Not that the I disagree with the lifestyle comment, but the mark-up reference is probably inaccurate. I can’t speak directly for the Deli, but I know (via a good friend who worked there) that the Zingerman’s Bakehouse mark-up is significantly less than industry average. That is, Zingerman’s makes a lower percentage profit on a loaf of their bread than Wonder (or Pepperidge Farm, or Archer Farms…) makes on a loaf of theirs. Believe it or not, supporting legitimate farm-to-table production (with the occasional foreign specialty ingredient) costs just that much.

  15. Darren says:

    Zingerman’s also deserves a nod for their customer service. At the deli, the creamery, the coffee shop or the bakery, they take care of you. I once stood in line with my daughter and suggested that to her that we split a sandwich. The order taker overheard, and our food showed up in two baskets and the soup was in two bowls.

  16. jason says:

    Check out Mike’s Deli in Chelsea, MI… Enough said

  17. bgriff says:

    Maize and Blue Courtneys Conversation has been in my life since I stepped on campus in 1995 and now as I practice in A2! Zing is good eating too but Im a Maize n Blue guy!!!

  18. 30 ducats for a sandwich? Yeah, that’s waaaaaaaaaaaayyyy overpriced. It had better knock a person’s socks off. UM students are getting robbed, lol.

    • dwg says:

      It’s not $30 for a sandwich. In fact, I bet the sandwich itself was less than the $18 “bargain” from M&B. It’s the dessert and whatnot add-ons that add way up. Want to match prices? Lay off the gelato. You prolly should anyway.

  19. skeeter says:

    Are you insane? Yes, you are. You are beyond insane. Zingerman’s is world class. Maize and Blue is great for a little deli and super top notch, but dude, you’re comparing a Rolls Royce to an Honda Civic. Both great cars, but you can’t REALLY compare them. (One issue I do have with Zingerman’s however is they are a little light on the meat.)

  20. Momma2cwea says:

    The first time I ever ate a Zingerman’s sandwich was after giving birth. Not sure if it was the sandwich that was so good…or if I was so hungry after that marathon labor that a shoe dunked in mustard would have been delicious. But I still drool over that meal and it’s been 4.5years!

  21. Rob Pollard says:

    Very good column and a very fair summary.

    As indicated by the “well-dressed” customers at Zingerman’s, it’s not really a student hangout (though plenty go there with their parents, particularly the East Coasters/Oakland County folks) b/c of the insane prices. Maize and Blue is the place you go regularly, e.g. to soak up the after effects of your Saturday night.

    Also, I like your Rolls Royce vs fully loaded F-150 comparison, but an even better one would be a Lexus CT 200h vs an F-150. Zingerman’s is an upscale Prius that’s costs way more than a car that size should, but for a certain type of person who likes things a certain way and has an environmental bent, they’ll easily float the extra cash. It satisfies a need in them that goes beyond hunger.

    For me, see you at the Maize and Blue!

  22. Nate says:

    I’d take Amer’s reuben over either of these.

  23. Dave S. says:

    Great assessment of the 2 delis! I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for 3 years now and enjoy the cheeses and occasional fresh bread from Zingermans, but don’t do their sandwiches. Next time your in town, if you want a real “townie” experience and a deli sandwich that’ll knock your socks off, try Dimo’s Deli on the west side of town. The bohemoth sandwiches are cheap and delicious, and the owner is a character who’s a mix between the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld and a beloved high school football coach. You won’t be disappointed!

  24. My daughter teaches at University of Michigan, so I’m only recently acquainted with Zingermania. On my visit last weekend, I bought Ari Weinzweig’s book: Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More. Ari is a food snob of the highest order. Having said that, today alone I made his egg sandwiches, simple pasta, strawberries with balsamico, gazpacho, and fleur de France vinaigrette.

    I also tried the taste test he suggested for olive oils. He is wrong. Mere mortals like me cannot taste the difference between $6 olive oil and $20 olive oil. I’d be upset about this, but I need to plan tomorrow’s risotto (page 88, using a big hunk of Zingerman’s $14.99/lb parmingiano-reggiano).

    Loved your blog. Just pressed “follow” and look forward to many more!

    Kay

  25. michigan fats says:

    Probably the best kept culinary secret are the deli’s in Detroit. Equal or better than Zingerman’s (and less expensive, too), the Star, Bread Basket, Plaza and Stage all rival the new York Delis. But in all fairness, I still have a sore wrist from eating a combination at the Carnegie.

    My bet for something similar to Maize and Blue is on the subs at Pizza Bob’s.

  26. guest says:

    That Maize & Blue sandwich is enough to feed a family of four in most countries.
    A shame that Americans feel the need to glorify quantity over quality when there are so many starving people in the world!!

    • Andy Staples says:

      I have a great idea. Since this seems so important to you, why don’t you move to Somalila and start a foundation that gives sandwiches to poor people? Or you could just sit on the internet and pee in our Cheerios. You know, whichever is easier.

  27. I had no idea this blog existed, and I’m grateful for a Twitter friend posting the link to this story. Without having been to Maize and Blue (yet, because I now must go), I agree with everything you wrote about Zingerman’s. Looking forward to following your writing.

  28. Daniel says:

    Maize and Blue is definitely the way to go. I was recently in Ann Arbor with family and they wanted Zingerman’s; it disappointed me all over again, just as it had when I went there as a student. Just because I have more money now, doesn’t mean I have to spend it foolishly.
    Zingerman’s: Dry bread, light on the meat (and also a bit dry), and quite expensive.
    Maize and Blue: I’ve never had a bad sandwich.

    Btw, got here from SI.com, and I’m loving it. Looking for more recommendations in my new home, NYC (I can say that contrary to the blogger’s opinion, I prefer Carnegie to Katz’s).

  29. dwg says:

    Zingerman’s kills all those NY “institutions,” with the POSSIBLE exception of Katz’s. And I’m a NY’er. And dude, two things: (1) you make it sound like Zingerman’s sandos are actually small–they’re not: they’re just not massive; and (2) if you’ll die a M&B guy, why’s the picture at the end of your post from Zingerman’s bread case? I think you know better, you’re just trying to seem all down-to-earth and whatnot. Give that up–the contest isn’t even a close one. Unless you need to feed your 42 cousins from the towns surrounding Ann Arbor, it’s Zingerman’s every time. And even if you do have to do that, get M&B for them and Zingerman’s for yourself.

  30. WellTraveledFoodie says:

    The venerable JP Graziano of Chicago’s West Randolph district has the best Italian anything, including sandwiches, west of Italy proper. No Jewish soul food, but I and my cardiologist can live with that.

  31. Steve says:

    I never ate at Zingermanns when at U of M because it was too dang expensive. My wife and I are coming up for the ND game. We had planned on going to Z’s, but now we might just hit up Maize and Blue instead!

    Fun read, and I enjoyed the description of the patrons.

  32. Andrea says:

    The Madonna something or other at Maize & Blue is my favorite sandwich ever! Primary reason I like going on nostalgic trips to Ann Arbor with my Michigan-alumn husband.

  33. Cynthia says:

    I found this post exceptionally funny because I’ve been dragged to both Maize&Blue and Zingerman’s by my corned beef-addicted boyfriend and your assessments pretty much sum up their sandwiches. I’m a moderate, though, so I have to cast my vote for Breadbasket Deli (there’s one in Ypsi, on Carpenter). The prices are acceptable, the corned beef tastes like angel guts soaked in unicorn tears, and they make their own pickles.

  34. This blog rocks. You owe Mandel a percentage of the revenue for directing me here and adding to my subscription list. Though I struggle to understand why, when in Indy, you went to Mooresville. [shaking head]

  35. Pingback: Andy Staples: Mouth-watering Top 25 serves as ultimate college football dining guide

  36. JV says:

    Great post. For a deeper dive into M&B, Blimpie, and the culture around them, check out this Man v. Food episode: http://youtu.be/qEpTuOhkm9M

  37. Pingback: Andy Staples: The Ultimate Foodie’s Guide To College Hoops: Preseason Edition – Block I Report – Illinois Fighting Illini

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