leave your inhibitions at the door
I think I’ve found the best sandwich in Ann Arbor, and it’s not who you think it is. I t’s not the multi-million dollar specialty food juggernaut who’s name begins with a “Z” and rhymes with “Lingermans.” How’s that for a riddle?
While the Z-Deli, rightly so, has grown through the years to take over the entire block, Ginger Deli is a walk-up window that opened in April with a couple tables around it. The Z-Deli has an incredible selection of meats and cheeses around the world which they use in their vast collection of sandwiches. The G-Deli only has four sandwiches. And of the course the biggest difference – a G-Deli sandwich costs $6 and a Z-Deli one will force you to decide whether you want to make your car payment this month.
The reason why Ginger Deli only makes a small variety is that they aren’t really a deli. They are actually a Vietnamese food stand that makes Banh Mi sandwiches, Pho (noodle soup), and a few kinds of spring/summer rolls. So really the comparisons to Zingerman’s aren’t really fair to either.
One thing that the two delis have in common is that they make their own bread daily. Ginger’s baguettes are made in their main kitchen blocks away every morning from scratch and delivered to the walk-up window. The bread only contains flour, water, and yeast – as simple as it gets. Because they don’t add other ingredients, their bread has a shelf-life of half a day before it starts getting stale. And since they only make bread in the morning, this limits their operating hours. So they’ve decided to only open for lunch and early afternoon. It’s an interesting model. By the way, any unused bread is tossed or donated and a fresh batch is made the next morning.
The bread has a perfect crust, but you don’t buy a sandwich for the bread do you? Ginger’s bread is small and thin, adding enough texture and support to let the fillings shine. I’ve had three of their four types of Banh Mi – beef, pancetta, and the vegetarian. I haven’t had their chicken yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. All of them have pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeno, cilantro, and cucumber. My daughter went for the vegetarian version which had marinated radishes, aioli, and tofu. Not bad at all but, c’mon, it’s vegetarian.
The first time I went there I had the steak, which was excellent. It was lightly marinated, but still had great flavor and texture.
I’ve since returned twice and had the pancetta, which is the best of the bunch. Real pancetta is the Italian version of bacon – pork belly that’s cured and spiced with pepper and other flavors. Ginger’s pancetta is a marinated pork shoulder that’s braised. I’ve never had anything like it – it was very reminiscent of corned beef but still retained it’s natural pork flavor.
The summer rolls are the best I’ve had in Ann Arbor. The ingredients were really fresh and I liked the balance between them. Too often, the restaurants stuff them with noodles and cilantro but the shrimp portion was, well, shrimpy.
The pho was very good as well, with its nice earthy broth and fresh ingredients. When ordering to go, the noodles and the meat are in separate containers. This allows the flavors to remain distinct and not muddled up. Nice move. The only downside is that because of their restaurant format they don’t have the various garnishes – cilantro, bean sprouts, lime, etc – in separate bowls. They are all in there, but it’s nice to be able to customize it to taste.
They have an awning that encloses the few tables and there was plans to put some heaters there for winter.
I haven’t been back since the weather turned, so hopefully they’re there. Otherwise, I can foresee having to vacuum crumbs out of the car. Because the sandwiches are way too good to wait until I get home.
Have you been to Ginger Deli? Any good banh mi by you?