Thursday, July 2, 2009

It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Zing: Zingerman's Deli

Over the weekend I decided to do a little culture tour of Ann Arbor, that little city just on the outskirts of what is formally considered "metro Detroit" but which makes a lot of noise on the arts and culture radar. On the advice of one Ann Arborite as well as with my own limited knowledge of the area, I had a lovely little day trip (because, mark my words, A2 is a DAY TRIP--anything that takes an hour to get to is, in my book, a DAY TRIP, and not just somewhere you go for a "quick bite" or a "couple of drinks"), which ended with me at Zingerman's Deli.

Immediately upon walking in, I am greeted with their mammouth cheese counter. It's like porn to me.

I admit, it's been awhile. A long while. And I realize probably great advancements have been made in the field of sheep's milk harvesting, culturing, and pasteurization which have potentially caused an increase in price. BUT. For my favorite cheese--the one cheese I can actually clearly taste on my tongue when I think about it, the cheese that is to me like a heroin fix to a junkie--to go up $10.00 per pound from $14.99/lb. to $24.99/lb.???
Pardon my language, but are you out of your f$%#ing mind????

When the cheese monger handed me my humble hunk of Pecorino di Toscana priced at a very clearly written $14.57, the feeling I had was bittersweet. Yes, this is my favorite cheese, and I haven't tasted it is years. But Christ, $14.57??? For this tiny-ass nugget that I'll eat in one sitting????

And now I'm afraid to eat it because, well, what if? What if it isn't as good as I remember it being? What if, after paying almost $15 bucks I find out that it is not, in fact, made of solid gold? Not to mention that now I feel like it has to be some sort of special occasion cheese, that I can't just bust it out any old night. Now I have to make a big event of it...not that I'm going to share it with anyone because my God, it was 15 freakin' dollars!

Zingerman's, you've changed.

You needn't remind me of the preaching I've done about people who complain about prices and how it's neither appropriate nor accurately informed. I'm well aware of the preaching I've done in regards to this.

But this? THIS??? Inflation on cheese is a 67% increase in five years? I have a hard time swallowing that (and not just because it's so damn expensive I feel guilty eating it).

But let's further explore the goods available at Zingerman's, shall we? A wall full of olive oil from all around the world (they weren't named by Atlantic Monthly Magazine as "the country's leading purveyor of olive oil" for nothing), olive oil so rich in flavor that it puts your Meijer-bought bottles to shame. Hardly any priced under $20.00 and most hovering in the $30.00 range. While you are certainly paying more for quality (and if you've never experienced a truly fine olive oil, rest assured it is well worth the money), still--DAMN.

Moving along. Oooh, Mango Preserves! Oh. $16.00 per jar. And then there's the $27.00 pistachio butter. Not a single box of tea costs less than $11.00. Salt water taffy from France, $25.00. And just so we're clear on this, these are all standard sizes, not bulk. As much as I appreciate the eclectic array of hard-to-find imports available here, another part of me is forced to wonder who in their right mind is paying these prices for these products during these unstable economic times?
Apparently the recession has yet to affect A2.

I am a huge proponent of the Slow Food Movement. I believe in sustainable cuisine. I believe in locally-grown, seasonal, organic food items. I support artisinal products. I just can't help but think Zingerman's might be capitalizing on people such as myself who share these beliefs and appreciate the quality of finer foods but don't quite know where else to find them, or get easily caught up in the self-propelling hype machine that is Zingerman's (this is Ann Arbor, after all: safe, liberal, artsy, wealthy, white). My thing is, if you want saltwater taffy, buy Michigan-made direct from sellers like Mackinac Fudge Shop for only $8.95 for a 10-oz. bag (versus $25.00 for the French 1lb. tin--and a good chunk of that pound is in the tin, guaranteed). Is this the Slow Food Movement or the Elitist Food Movement?

And you wonder why Mercury Coffee Bar didn't make it (one of the owners hailed from Zingerman's, and they charged $7.00 for a bite-sized grilled cheese sandwich in the city of Detroit, which doesn't give two squirts about your fancy Ann Arbor food).

I will give them this, the staff is unflappably perky. (Something I would have also said about MCB.) They'll smile broadly and become your new best friend as they offer you samples of any over-priced item you'd like to try and convince you of the value it would add to your life.

I decided to give them one last chance. I was already there, after all, and hungry. After several minutes of deliberation (during which time I was offered assistance no fewer than three times), I decided on Jay's BBQ Chicken Sandwich--pulled Amish chicken in their housemade BBQ sauce with Vermont cheddar on a soft bun. BTW, no sandwich on the menu is less than $10.00, save for the one exception--our old friend, the $7.00 grilled cheese.

So what does a $10.00 BBQ chicken sandwich taste like? Strikingly similar to a $5.00 one. It was good, don't get me wrong...but it wasn't great. It didn't change my life. This wasn't the sandwich to end all sandwiches. And frankly, the BBQ sauce didn't quite live up to my $10.00 expectations. But I ate it. It tasted just fine. The pickle was good, too.

And now here I am, still trying to figure out how a sandwich, a soda (all-natural sugar cane!), and two small hunks of cheese cost almost $35.00, and feeling like something of a traitor to the local artisinal movement I so desperately want to promote. I've determined that the Zingerman's crowd is almost cultish, and those that don't follow that cult mentality are punished with feelings of guilt and are forced into questioning their own judgment...which is how I feel right now.

No thank you, sir, I don't want any Kool-Aid, I just want my cheap cheese back.