My middle-west: Gatsby Day in Ann Arbor

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time. I can’t even remember the first time I read it, but I think it was in eighth or ninth grade. I know I never had to read it in school. I *think* Uncle Tom told me to read it (this would be around the same time he told me to read On the Road – Uncle T. has pretty great taste in books). I’m pretty sure my first copy which has long since went missing came from Gran’s basement.


I hadn’t read the book for a few years when we moved to Connecticut in 2007. A late-night conversation in Hanafin’s Pub with several literary-minded friends (Kevin Doyle or Amanda Lester or Scott Rottinghaus) inspired me to re-read it then. To a midwesterner living on the Long Island Sound, Nick Carraway and his musings on the east coast being a different place suddenly became a little more relatable.

Gatsby infatuation reached a frenzy in our crowd that year when Kevin started throwing his annual Gatsby parties. Held on/around the solstice (“the longest day of the year”), the Gatsby party was the opportunity we all wanted to wear (in some cases extravagant) costumes, experiment with mixing prohibition-era cocktails, and play yard games such as bocce ball and croquet – Kevin’s yard was a bit small for Tom Buchanan’s beloved polo ponies; also, we weren’t actually rich enough for polo.

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

Gatsby 2009. New London, CT

(By the end of these nights, the boys would be wearing the sequined headbands, we’d be drinking rum and cokes or vodka tonics, and the croquet contingent would have moved on to beer pong – still, we were classy up to that point.)

When we moved back to Michigan, I made two attempts to re-imagine the Gatsby party here, but it never quite translated – simply put, a Gatsby party is an East Coast garden party, not a Midwestern bar party. Not that they weren’t fun in their own ways; they just weren’t quite right.

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Gatsby 2011, Ypsilanti, MI

Despite reading the book multiple times and attending/throwing multiple themed parties, I had never watched Gatsby on film. Part of this is because Mia Farrow kind of creeps me out (I can’t explain it) and partly because Robert Redford just seemed a little bland. The movie itself seemed like it would be a little bland. I just never had any desire to watch it (though when in Newport, I did visit Rosecliff, the house where several scenes were filmed). 

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Rosecliff, Newport, RI

Then, a year or two ago, people started talking about a new Gatsby, this time helmed by Baz “Mouling Rouge” Luhrmann. Baz + Gatsby sounded anything BUT bland.

I kept tabs on the movie for the next year and a half or so. The main cast was announced. Leo as Gatsby! (That could work, I thought.) Tobey as Nick! (That seemed weirdly perfect, actually.) Carey Mulligan for Daisy! (This one sold me; I loved her in An Education.) I got hyped up for a Christmas 2012 release date…only to have it pushed back to May. (This was ultimately a good thing; otherwise I would have spent Christmas day holed up in a movie theater watching Leo wear the heck out of his pastel suits in two movies – Django Unchained was released the same day and I’m a huge Tarantino fan – instead of with my family.) 

Gatsby day drew closer. I re-read the book (I actually hadn’t read it since 2008). I started to get nervous. Would it be TOO cartoony? Would Tom Buchanan be too much of a buffoon-y racist? Would the Gatsby/Daisy romance be treated as something much more innocent and romantic than it actually is? Reviews were not helping (they never do, though, do they?).

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

Ralph also re-read the book, though he fails to see what all the fuss is about.

No matter how I ultimately ended up feeling about this movie, I was determined to see it. I gathered up some girls – girls, who I might add, have been very supportive of my obsession with Gatsby/Fitzgerald/cocktail-mixing/costume-wearing/theme parties/etc. – and we headed downtown to the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor’s beautifully-restored 1920’s movie palace and the only place in town I could fathom seeing this film (sorry, Rave Motion Pictures and your stadium seating). 

The Michigan Theater marquee

The Michigan Theater marquee

While I didn’t go full costume (I would have had we gone on opening night, no doubt), I did deck myself out a feathered hair piece, several long, tasseled necklaces and an absurd amount of makeup for 4:00 p.m. (Actually, we all showed up in a lot of makeup and blingy headbands – lingering after-effects of the previous years’ parties, I guess.)

(This next portion contains plot spoilers – if you’re not familiar and want to be surprised, I’d suggest you stop here just to be safe.)

The good parts of The Great Gatsby were indeed great: it was visually stunning; I loved the stylized depictions of Long Island and New York City and the miserable valley of ashes. One of my favorite scenes from an aesthetic standpoint was when Nick walks in to the Buchanans’ house and into the room where Daisy and Jordan are languishing on the couch: the flowing white drapes, the breeze, the laziness of the women in white dresses, the bejeweled hands draped over the couch…that was Fitzgerald’s slightly magical description somehow brought perfectly to life.

The casting was spot-on. Gastby himself has always been a hard character for me to formulate visually in my mind; I thought Leo nailed it. Young-ish, handsome but not TOO perfect-looking, capable of the occasional crazy eyes, the ability to appear extremely vulnerable AND extremely confident…loved him. (Although having recently seen Django, I did sort of expect him to invite everyone into the parlor for WHite cake.) Jordan Baker looked exactly how I wanted her to look – she even looked a little sneaky, though the movie largely avoids those small mentions of her character. Carey Mulligan was a wonderful Daisy – she has such an interesting face and expressive eyes. However, my favorite from a casting perspective was far and away Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. I think I gasped when he walked onscreen with that pervy little mustache and those fantastic riding boots. The looks were right and he nailed the character – he’s a bigot with a mixed-up moral code, but he doesn’t veer into cartoon territory.

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan

The bad…well, the framing device (Nick in the nuthouse; Nick writing a novel) was totally lame. The typed words appearing on the screen were beyond cheesy. I get that we want – even need – Nick’s first-person narration; this just seemed like such a cop-out way to provide it…not that I have any better suggestions. Also, some things were a bit too literal…do we really have to show Gatsby physically reaching toward the green light?

I thought Daisy’s hard edge was softened a bit. A favorite scene of mine in the novel is when Nick describes seeing Tom and Daisy sitting at the table eating cold fried chicken and talking quietly together after the big hotel blowout. To me, that scene sums up Daisy: she loves attention and she loves drama and she probably does love Gatsby a little bit, but she can walk away from anything. The scene (sort of) appears in the movie, but it doesn’t translate the same way it does for me in the book. However, the Gatsby/Daisy romance is not simplified/overplayed the way I feared it would be, so overall I was pretty happy.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the movie’s use of modern music – it’s distracting at first, but once you settle in to the style of the film, it works. You just have to go with it. (If anyone remembers that Heath Ledger monstrosity A Knight’s Tale, this is wayyyyyy less jarring than when David Bowie starts playing at the ball.)

Overall impression? I liked it. A LOT. Maybe even loved it. I’ll probably (read: will) see it again and find more things to both swoon over and pick at. It’s over the top and a little melodramatic, but hey, so is the book.

Also, if you see this movie in Ann Arbor, go to the Raven’s Club after viewing – the lack of signage, dark room and bulbous light fixtures will make you feel like you’re in a speakeasy and the cocktail menu and glassware will only enhance that feeling. You can order the “Old Pal” (if you like whiskey, that is) and refer to it as the “Old Sport”… but just so you know, your companions/waitress will think that gets old fast.

The Old Sport - I mean, Old Pal

The Old Sport – I mean, Old Pal


Rock (well, roll) Lobster

I’ve claimed to be done with blogging, or at least with blogging about food and beverages. I was feeling uninspired, there were too many people doing the same thing, my writing was getting repetitive and stale, my phone camera (which I rely on for food photos when out and about) is super-crappy (yes, I’m still toiling along with that BlackBerry, AKA the VCR of cell phones)…my handful of excuses all amounted to pretty much the same thing: boredom. My food blogging days were done.

Done until I tasted the Frita Batidos version of a lobster roll, that is.

I could wax poetic about both lobster rolls and Frita Batidos at length – in fact, I’ve done so here and here. The idea of combining the two was almost unfathomable. It was either going to be the most wonderful or most horrible thing on the planet. I knew it would be – there could not possibly be any middle ground with this one.

To recap for those not inclined to click backlinks and read my old posts: a traditional New England lobster roll is served one of two ways: A) hot, meaning the only condiment is lots and lots of clarified butter or B) cold, meaning the lobster chunks are combined with mayo/other ingredients into a lobster salad. Both versions are served on a hot dog roll. This is not the same thing as a hot dog bun. The hot dog roll is split open on the top rather than on one side. The exposed bread on the sides toasts up splendidly. It’s genius, really, and I’m not entirely sure why we don’t get rid of the stupid bun all together.

As usual, I digress.

I have an aversion to mayonnaise that generally makes a cold lobster roll a less-appealing option. I like the sweet meat dripping in butter and not much else. But here in landlocked (or at least freshwater-locked) land of the Mitten, I was willing to take what I could get.

Hot lobster roll at Captain Scott’s during 2011’s CT Labor Day visit.

I really knew nothing about Frita’s version going in other than the fact that it existed (thank you, Facebook – finally, “liking” a bar or restaurant has actually paid off). I placed my order and then immediately placed an order for a mojito to calm my nerves as I waited. (That proved to be an excellent idea in itself. Frita Batidos makes a mean mojito – just enough sugar to take the edge off the rum and tasting more of fresh lime and mint than anything. I highly recommend it.)

The Frita Mojito

I was approximately halfway through my mojito when my meal arrived. After intense visual scrutinizing, I came to the following conclusions:

  • This was not so much a “roll” as a sandwich. It was served on the soft egg brioche bun that Frita’s serves its Fritas on. The interior of the bun was toasted.
  • We were looking at a “cold” roll; AKA a lobster salad situation. However, the goop of the salad was an orange-ish color, which I deduced was most likely the sweet chili mayo that comes on many a Frita and as a dipping sauce for the fried plantains. (Have I mentioned Frita Batidos plantains? The delicious, garlic-y, cilantro-y double-fried plantains? These are a MUST try.)
  • The lobster salad was topped with Frita’s tropical coleslaw, which I knew from experience to be very crunchy with fruity, fresh flavors.
  • The bun was overflowing with chunks of lobster meat – a great sign.

Once the visual inspection was complete, I smelled it (my 201o holiday stint at Zingerman’s Mail Order left me with what some consider the rather peculiar habit of smelling all my food before I eat it). I smelled the chili mayo and a sweet; subtle seafood-y smell (not too strong or fishy – a good indicator that the meat was pretty fresh); and a very slightly fruity smell, most likely from the tropical slaw.

Lobster Frita

It was finally time to take a bite. There would be no going back. Was I setting myself up for an incredible taste experience or the biggest disappointment of my life?* (*That might be a bit of an exaggeration.)

My teeth sank through the soft bun and before hitting the pleasant crunch of the toasted interior followed by the slaw,  immediately contrasted by the slightly chewy meat held together by the not-quite-goopy mayo mixture. I crunched through the bottom layer of bun and pondered the flavor combination as I chewed through the pleasant variety of textures. I noticed that the salad was not quite cold – almost room temperature, possibly warmed from the heat of the bun. It was actually a great temperature and really let the flavors shine through.

And what flavors they were.

Lobster meat has a bit of natural sweetness to it, so adding a little heat from the chili mayo and the fruitier elements of the slaw were actually quite complimentary. It had a kick from the mayo without being “hot” – just flavorful. The bun itself had sort of an egg-y, buttery flavor – extremely subtle and mild, but more discernible than regular processed white bread/buns. There was nothing abrasive in the taste of the sandwich – just very harmonious elements combining for a fresh, slightly sweet mouth explosion.

The lobster Frita – I’m not sure I should call it a lobster roll – is on the messy side – but then again, so are most of the sandwiches at Frita Batidos. They are literally bursting out of the buns. As long as you aren’t particular about things like licking fingers or picking up chunks of food with your hands, this is NOT a problem – just something to note.

I asked our server about the availability of the lobster Frita. She told me it was originally something that the chef (Eve, I’m assuming) wanted to try out for a limited time, but that the reception has been excellent. In fact, it sells  out most nights. Our server indicated that the restaurant might be toying with the idea of keeping it around, but she wasn’t sure.

I hope they do. In the meantime, call, check Facebook, do whatever you need to do to find out if the lobster Frita is being served – and if you find that it, go get it immediately. It’s not a New England lobster roll, but it might just be the most delicious sandwich in Ann Arbor.

A good Mani is (not) hard to find

Sometimes I annoy my friends by doing this:

That would be me, taking pictures of food in a restaurant. Luckily, most of my current group of friends is either A) used to this behavior and able to ignore it; or B) prone to doing the same thing. (Honestly, cabin girls, what did I do before you?!)

And when you are eating food as enjoyable as our recent pre-wine tasting meal at Mani Osteria and Bar, why wouldn’t you want to take pictures?

Mani is a new restaurant on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. While originally attracted to the idea of a good wood-fired pizza place, the small plates are what really caught my eye while looking over the menu online. The girls – my usual partners-in-crime Melissa, Riki, and Diane joined by the lovely Sandi and Sarah – were on the same wavelength, so we ordered a variety of small dishes for the table.

The first dish to arrive was a very generous portion of mussels in a white wine and garlic broth:

I swore after almost four years slinging mussels during happy hour at the Earle that I would NEVER order mussels in a restaurant again. I started down my slippery slope of mussel-ordering while dining at Dev’s in New London, CT. Candace and her crew made some mean mussels, and I realized that I really do enjoy eating them. *Sigh.* Mani’s were no disappointment, and were accompanied by some charred bread for dipping in the delicious broth.

Crispy pork belly soon followed;

We barely tapped this with a fork before it fell apart, it was so tender. It literally melted in the mouth, which was a great contrast with the crispy skin. The meat was so flavorful that the apricot relish served with it wasn’t necessary (but it was welcome).

Riki gasped in delight when she saw arancini on the menu:

The rest of us were unfamiliar, but the Rikster did not steer us wrong: these fried balls of rice, prosciutto and cheese served up with a tomato-ey sauce were a table favorite. We actually had to order more.

Fried artichokes came next. Unlike other fried artichokes I’ve had, they were not heavily battered – just lightly crisped and served with a lovely creamy lemon sauce:

Roasted olives came highly recommended by one of Melissa’s friends, so we ordered them. The presentation was adorable – they arrived in a small canning jar on a wooden serving board accompanied by more charred bread.

The olives were a revelation. First of all, they were warm – which was awesome. They were fragranced with herbs (rosemary, according to the menu) and were just rich and delicious.

Calamari seemed like a boring choice, but we like it so we ordered it anyway.

What a treat. Once again, very light batter, and instead of rings we were served a bowl of crispy tentacles (the best part). It was served with a sort of relish-like substance (tomato) which was a nice departure from a creamy sauce like you would get most places.

Almost as an afterthought, we ordered a pizza, a basic margherita.

It had a nice crispy crust and a slightly charred flavor. I could have used more basil, but the overall flavor was quite pleasant. I’d love to try more of the pizza varieties.

We enjoyed the atmosphere of Mani as well – lots of light wood, steel, and big windows in the bar area. We did note that as it filled up, the restaurant could get quite loud, but that’s a common problem.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that there is also a very creative specialty cocktail list featuring many things I am not at all familiar with. We ordered Roman Holidays, an extremely refreshing blend of an Italian sweet vermouth-type liquor (I can’t remember the name, and the drink menu isn’t on the website) mixed with fresh lemon juice and fresh mint. Like iced tea – only way better.

I’m anxious to get back to Mani and try more pizzas and pastas, but really, I am most excited to have such a nice small plates place in Ann Arbor. Good job, Mani – we can’t wait to come back.

Everything’s coming up rosés

I’m back in Michigan after my spur-of-the-moment half marathon decision, and still feeling pretty good. I was actually able to run five miles two days after the mini, and log a couple three mile runs through the rest of the week, so I’m considering myself officially NOT beat up from this year’s race. Yay!

To make things even better, we’ve had some great warm weather this week. The kind of weather than makes you want to sit outside and drink  something refreshing. Something spring-y. Perhaps something pink.

The Produce Station (which is quickly shooting up the ranks to become one of my favorite stores) had the perfect solution to this dilemma: rosé.

I first discovered the Produce Station’s monthly wine tasting events when I attended the 2 Lads tasting back in March. Held at the Alley Bar, they cost $10 are offer an opportunity to sample five wines arranged around a particular theme. The theme for May: The misunderstood, explained — Rosé.

To say I was excited may be a bit of an understatement.  Rosé has been a favorite of mine for a few years now. I’ve had the opportunity to taste many good ones, thanks to people like the crew at Thames River Wine and Spirits in New London, CT, and my cousin Julie and her wine-drinking friends (they hosted an all-rosé tasting last summer). It sets my teeth on edge when people confuse rosé with white zinfandel, although I can see how that can happen (I guess).

Rosé comes in such a wide variety of styles that I truly believe any wine drinker should be able to find one that appeals to them. Personally, I tend to seek out some of the same flavors in rosé that I go for in Sauvignon Blanc – a little chalky, flinty, tart characteristic underneath lighter strawberry tones. Provencal-style wines containing Cinsault are some of my favorites. On the other end of the spectrum, my mom really likes  beautiful dark, almost purple rosé with more dominant cherry and black fruit, so I tend to take her Rhone-style wines containing Syrah or Spanish rosés with Garnacha.

Styles ranging from dark to light

(Not that we both don’t enjoy the other’s preference – we just have our favorites!)

Going to a tasting such as those hosted by the Produce Station is not only a great way to try before you buy, but to learn about things like what styles are indicative of what region, and what grapes produce the flavors most pleasing to you. Jorge explains things really well, but he keeps it brief and friendly – no wine snobbery from him! He also loves to chat with guests and answer questions. A lot of my (limited) wine knowledge has been gleaned from tastings like these – check it out if you get the chance.

I almost forgot to mention one of the bonuses of attending a Produce Station tasting – discounts on the wines tasted! Jorge and Andy pass out order forms that list the wines you tried in the order you tried them. You can place an order for the wines you enjoyed (to be picked up at the store later that week) and you get a ten percent discount on the wines. It’s a great deal because you aren’t committed to any volume (as far as I could tell – I DID order a whole case of rosé, though!) and can purchase what you enjoyed while it is still fresh in your memory. (Also, from a marketing standpoint it’s fantastic – gets people into the store – nice move, guys!)

That means that yesterday during my lunch break, I made the short drive over the Produce Station and was rewarded with THIS:

A case full of happiness

Oh, yeah.

The next Produce Station tasting is titled “Summer in a Bottle” and will feature a line-up of my personal favorite grape on the planet, Sauvignon Blanc. I can hardly wait!

Up Our Alley

(Part two from Thursday night – see part one here)

When I lived in Michigan before, the Alley Bar was a slightly different establishment than it is today. First of all, when I came to know it, it was called Babs’. It looked, in my opinion, exactly how a bar called “Babs” should look – red walls, beat-up booths, and SUPER smoky. The manager – Babs – then moved on to open Babs’ Underground Lounge around the corner, and I think that’s when the former Babs’ became the Alley Bar, although we continued to call it “the old Babs’.”

Fast forward a few years – the Alley Bar – while still having no visible signage and retaining the red walls – has cleaned up a LOT and now has a reputation as the place to go in Ann Arbor for craft cocktails. I’m not talking about appletinis and junk like that – I’m talking about classic cocktails (Manhattans, Negronis), creative spins on classics (cucumber gimlet), and a great selection of whisky. Oh, and PBR in a can.


The cocktails are made with fresh fruit, herbs, and mixers and the bartenders take the time to make sure it’s done right. One more point – the bartenders are not snide and snobby like you might expect a “mixologist” to be (and I did not hear either of them refer to themselves as mixologists, FYI – that was a bar patron who called them that).

While waiting for the wine tasting (part three – coming tomorrow), I ordered the cucumber gimlet. Bartender Robbie muddled up some fresh cucumber in the glass, which really put a crisp, refreshing edge on the gin and fresh lime. Yum. Jess ordered the pear martini, which at another bar might just be cheap pear vodka and mixers but here was made with Grey Goose Poire, actual pear puree and fresh lemon. It tasted like a pear, not like sugar syrup.

Alley Bar Cucumber Gimlet

We didn’t order a second round because the wine tasting started, but we were very pleased with our first. I love the combination of the dive bar look/feel with the really well-made cocktails. Alley Bar – we’ll be back!


My friends and I always seem to be looking for things to do, and lately those things have taken the form of events, specifically fundraisers. I’m not sure if it’s because we now have money to spend on charitable causes or because we feel like we need an excuse to consume alcoholic beverages (“I didn’t want to drink five martinis, but it was for a good cause”), but this is how it’s been playing out.

Luckily, in Ann Arbor, a lot of good causes seem to team up with good food and beverages, so it’s kind of a win-win situation. I spend money on food and booze – which I would do anyway – and someone or something (rather than just me and my tastebuds) benefits.

Last Friday night, the Ann Arbor Art Center hosted their third annual Artini Martini Crawl.  Eight bars and restaurants created a signature martini for the event. Your admission to the event got you six tickets, which could be “spent” on these martinis at the participating establishments. Attendees were also given a voting card. The idea was to try six different martinis and vote on the best, although I’m sure some participants used multiple tickets on one or two favorites. The bars were all located in the general Main Street area, so you could “crawl” easily from one to another.

Rose, Diane, and I – and Diane’s friend Erik, to whom we accidentally communicated that there would be other men attending with us – thought this sounded intriguing, so we happily contributed our tax-deductible ticket price to the Art Center and hit the town for some martinis.

Our first stop was the Black Pearl, which was featuring a hot chocolate martini. I’m not a fan of chocolate drinks, but I tried to put personal preferences aside for judgment purposes. I suppose it was a tasty beverage; however, the hot drink in the martini glass just seemed off somehow. It was also very rich, and, our group agreed, probably not the best martini to start a crawl with.

The Black Pearl thoughtfully provided glow sticks.

Stop number two was Melange, where they were serving up something blue. It was generally refreshing, but maybe a tad too sweet. Melange’s loungey, basement atmosphere was fun, though, and it felt very appropriate to be drinking a martini there.

Hard to get the martinis in the pic at Melange

We hit the Jolly Pumpkin third. By this time, Artini was starting to hit full-steam, so it was a little more crowded than our previous destinations. Jolly Pumpkin was a bit disappointing right off the bat because their martinis were being served in plastic cups rather than martini glasses. We definitely understood from a practicality standpoint, but it did take some of the fun out of things. (They were garnished, however, with amazingly cut and curled carrots.) The martini itself was a mixture of mango, pepper vodka, curry, and probably several other things. We were put off by it – the texture was too thick, and the curry made it seem like something that should be on a plate rather than in a glass.

Fourth stop was Cafe Felix, where we were treated to a truly delightful concoction of cucumber and mint flavors. It was clean, crisp, cool…basically, any “breezy” adjective you can think of. We considered having two of the Felix martini, but a swarm of incoming attendees took over the bar and it became too difficult to get a second drink.

In the words of Neil Diamond, "so good, so good."

Last stop for us before dinner was Cafe Habana, a Cuban-themed restaurant. We were actually able to snag some seats at the bar, which was great after walking around for the past couple hours. The martini looked like a cosmopolitan – pale pink in color with a lime garnish – but actually gained its color from pomegranate juice. Other flavors were ginger and mint. We considered it a high note and worthy of being the last martini of the night.

Not a cosmo

All in all, the event was fairly well-run. We didn’t hit huge clusters of people until our third stop. Most of the bars had a designated area set up to deal with the crowds. Cafe Felix was the only place where we had any kind of wait to get our beverages. We had a great time, and probably spent less on tickets than we would normally spend for a night on the town, and got more variety to boot.


Perhaps being part of the old, lame fundraiser crowd isn’t so bad.

Zingin’ in the Rain…err, Snow

I don’t think there is anything that I could write about Zingerman’s Delicatessen that hasn’t already been written in some form or another. Also, I really have no business writing anything about Zingerman’s as I have just wrapped up a holiday season under their employ (though I worked at their Mail Order operation and not at the deli itself).

I suppose I could note that I used to be a hater, but since my hatred was mostly based on lack of funds and knowledge (and I’ve solved at least the knowledge portion of that equation), I don’t even have an interesting turning point or redemption story to write about. Bottom line: I enjoy Zingerman’s. Yes, it is very, very, very, very expensive, but once again, better defenses of their prices have already been written. It is up to you to decide whether or not you are willing to pay them.

I am. (However, for this trip we didn’t have to – Noe and I each received a voucher for showing up for all of our holiday shifts.)

I can hardly contain my anticipation.

I ordered the #74, Dave’s Open Road (I just wasn’t in a pastrami or corned beef mood today). Big, moist chunks of Amish free-range chicken mingled with thick-cut Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon and homemade ranch dressing and some mild but nonetheless tasty muenster cheese. A crispy green piece of lettuce rested delicately atop this pile of food, carefully sandwiched between two grilled pieces of thick, fresh challah baked at Zingerman’s own Bakehouse.

Dave's Open Road

I was fairly certain that I had died and gone to sandwich heaven until I noticed Noe’s #11, J.J.’s Pastrami Special. Juicy pastrami smothered in high-quality swiss cheese and (the best part!) oven-roasted onions. I adore onions in any form, and the slight sweetness that comes from roasting them paired excelently with the pastrami. The fact that this deliciousness was sandwiched (ha ha) between slices of my very favorite Zingerman’s bread, the Jewish Rye, caused me to wonder how I had missed this sandwich when placing my own order.

J.J.'s Pastrami Special

Despite the dazzling array of choices in the salad case, we played the side dishes relatively safe with garlic potato salad. Delightfully goopy without being TOO goopy (goop generally grosses me out), this salad tastes of much more than mayonnaise. Huge pieces of perfectly-cooked redskins were enhanced by lots of garlic, black pepper, and sherry vinegar. The whole thing had a pleasantly acidic tang that I really enjoyed. Noticing my selection, an employee informed me that, in her opinion, garlic potato salad was the “only potato salad that matters.” I had to agree.

All this was served up with a Zingerman’s pickle. I thought I didn’t like pickles. I have, since this afternoon, changed my mind. Why on earth would I think that I did not like pickles?! I enjoy cucumbers, salt, and vinegar. The “old” pickle that accompanied my sandwich was sour to the point that it almost burned my tongue, and I LOVED it. Noe’s “new” pickle had a more fresh, cucumber-y taste. It was good, but we preferred the old variety.

With sides and pickles

We poked around the retail section for awhile after eating, pausing to taste lots of olive oils, fig vinegar, and multiple cheeses before heading back out into the snow, which by that time was starting to get pretty heavy. I can not think of a more delightful way to have spent a partial afternoon. Hopefully I’ll make some serious cash in the near future so we can go back for more!