Reviews


Sandwiches get a bad rap.

“Oh, I can’t be bothered to cook, I’ll just make a sandwich.”

Sandwiches rarely find their way onto dinner menus of any kind and are often overlooked in favor of something more exotic. Their cousins: wraps, calzones, tacos, and even burgers, usually sound far more appealing than “just a sandwich,” not to mention anything else you could order at a restaurant or prepare yourself.

But can sandwiches be classy? Will they ever be considered a top-tier meal choice? What is class anyways?

You say wine, I say box of. You say caviar, I say onion dip. You say catered affair, I say take out and a movie. You say poetry, I say beat boxing. You say art gallery, I say subway graffiti. You say opera at the Met, I say underground rock show.

You say fancy restaurant, I say deli?

I’m not going to argue that any of the above are better or worse than the other, as I like each and every item mentioned, but folks often approach class with a certain fervor. Whether you refer to it as ‘hoighty-toighty’ or a ‘way of life’, class is in our everyday vocabulary, or at the least, even if we’re not talking about it, class surrounds us and influences our actions towards each other and our environment.

Rat Heaven.

As humans, we like to categorize, and we like to judge. Some of us may be better at hiding it than others, but it’s in our nature to rank objects, ideas, and values. From personal beliefs to lifestyle choices, from food to fashion, from sports to the arts – we rank these within a hierarchy of respect, likability, and preference; and we judge those (harshly or not) that don’t follow the same hierarchy we have created for ourselves.

I had jon and amy’s double dip, #67.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen sells sandwiches, and I would defend them as classy until the bitter end. Are they pricey? Yes – arguably overpriced. But are they pretentious? No.

Class is so much more than fancy frivolity or an expensive price tag next to a designer logo. Class is elegance: effective, superior, but most importantly – simple. True class is decidedly anti-frivolous. Class doesn’t hide behind a chic appearance and never pretends to be something it isn’t.

An individual with class need not state it. If someone does tell you they’re classy, it’s safe to assume they are not. Do let them pick up the check, however. Their ego and your wallet will both thank you.

Zingerman’s runs its business with the utmost of seriousness and sincerity but isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. Their employees are professional, courteous, and helpful, but at the same time down-to-earth, funny, and both able and willing to engage you in a conversation about anything.

Check out the Queen, Wallace, and Grommit.

Corporations hire the services of ZingTrain, the program Zingerman’s has always used to train its employees. Their training for deli employees has been so effective that it developed into a separate business that trains the employees of major corporations around the world. That’s class.

The double dip.

Zingerman’s savvy practices and commitment to both quality and service have spawned a literal empire that remains local yet has worldwide renown, from its humble beginnings as a deli on 422 Detroit Street in 1982, to the 10+ businesses it currently owns and operates.

My kind of sandwich.

So – can sandwiches be classy? Absolutely. Will they ever be considered as a top-tier meal choice? Probably not. But hey, who said an underground rock show can’t be as entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally fulfilling as an opera at the Met?

Talent is talent, taste is taste, and class is whatever you want to make it.

Say what you will about the latter, but Zingerman’s has the former pair in spades.

My kind of brew.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen

422 Detroit Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-663-3354

Learn about Zingerman’s other businesses here.

Zingerman's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Who likes to go grocery shopping when they’re hungry? Me! I do! So much fun right? But oh so dangerous. While hungry, the most ridiculous things get placed in the shopping cart. Items one would never buy on a full stomach happily bounce around the metal (or plastic) cage, waiting to see what horribly unhealthy or unnecessary box will next accompany them.

A few poor choices here and there aside, shopping when you’re hungry supercharges the food fantasizing portion of your brain. I probably spend more time thinking about food than any other subject (yes, even that subject). the anticipation of eating grows to fruition in your mind as well as your stomach.  The more you think about it, conjecture as to its texture, aroma, and flavor; the more satisfied you’ll be when you finally get to eat. Hunger is 99% mental baby, and I’m food crazy!

So when I first heard about a restaurant called Chow Baby! in Atlanta, Georgia, I wasn’t simply intrigued, I transformed into a little fat girl – my inner child, if you will. Now, before you go getting any ideas about how I generalize or categorize people by gender, weight, or this that and the other, picture this:

A hot summer day, a day not unlike today, a little girl plays on the front porch of her house. She’s a little plump, but not too big, like a ripe tomato – firm, bright, and just right.

The sun influences the little girl’s hair towards its favorite color during the summer time, and unfortunately, does the same to her skin.

“Put on your sunscreen!” Mom always says. It smells bad, like, real bad, but mom can’t be wrong right?

The girl rests back on her arms and looks up at the sky. Not a cloud. She squints and counts how long she can stare at the sun before her eyeballs explode. At least four seconds; the best answer obtained while retaining vision.

Eventually, squinting turns into closing and resting back turns into lying down. Sprawled out on the deck, she falls asleep under cover of nothing but the sun.

Her clothes turn a few shades darker in a few choice locations, mainly under the arms, and begin to stick to her skin. Birds chirp, trucks pass by, and Mr. Eli, her next door neighbor, mows his lawn (he’s retired and wears bifocals). She sleeps through it all.

The daily newspaper bounces off her forehead…still, nothing. The delivery boy raises his hands to the sky in triumph as he rides away on his blue Schwinn – he’s a good shot.

Then, like a cat who hears the whir of the can opener, her ears twitch and perk just before her eyes shoot open – wide and awake in less than a second. The music playing in her ears sounds like heaven on earth.

“MOM! ICE CREAM!” she yells with an uncontrollable enthusiasm, pure as vanilla.

Mom doesn’t argue when she sees the gleeful lust in her daughter’s eyes. How can one deny such passion?

The little girl grabs the change from her mother and careens back outside only to see the ice cream truck roll over the hill at the end of the street, heading away from her house.

As the source of her ultimate happiness drives off into the horizon, heartbreak settles into her little chest. But she does not accept defeat so easily.

Her short legs rotate like a combine as she dashes down the street. A stitch cuts across her abdomen and nearly causes her to buckle over, but she presses on. Surely he must see her by now, waving her arms and jumping high in the air every other step.

“Mister!” she tries to yell with authority, but it comes out like the gasp of an emptying balloon.

Spots begin to appear across her vision. Her head swims through the air like whipped cream; light, fluffy, and devoid of all substance. She collapses. Tears begin to swell up within her, carried along by a rapid rate of hyperventilation. But before they can reach fruition, a long shadow looms over her.

“Sorry I didn’t see you there,” the ice cream man says. He’s young, early twenties, home from school for the summer. The truck is his uncle’s, who let him borrow it so he could travel overseas. Win, win.

“How about a free cone, on the house?” he asks, rhetorically, as he hands her a waffle cone overflowing with strawberry ice cream.

The girl tries to thank him, wants to thank him, wants to kiss him and have his babies, but a combination of heavy breathing, surprise, and ecstatic jubilation prevents anything other than a grand smile. The boy returns it in kind and heads back to his ice cream dispensing truck of joy.

As soon as the ice cream reaches her lips, all the pain and suffering she ever knew disappears into thin air. What few worries occupy her mind, like what to put on her next birthday list, or if Johnny will push her into the pool again (he will), or if she’ll ever get a puppy (she won’t); they all suddenly became inconsequential. The only thing that matters in the whole entire world rests in the palms of her hands.

She attacks it from the top, she attacks it from the sides, she nibbles on the cone here and a little bit there. She bites the bottom of the cone and sucks the sweetness inside-out of the waffle and outside-in to her stomach.

Ice cream, oh ice cream. A science, an art, a way of life.

Then, the world ends. The ice cream falls out of the cone and hits the hot pavement with a tiny ‘plop’. Shock. Disbelief. Pain. Horror. Torment. Defeat. Her tears join the rapidly melting ice cream on the sidewalk. The pool they create soon grows to two parts tears to one part ice cream.

A declaration of “I wish I was never born!” rings loud and clear through the air.

That’s me. I get so excited about food, I invest all of my being into it, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It has the ability to excite me beyond belief (and I’m not normally excitable), but it also has the ability to make me cry and wish I was never born.

I’ve dropped food on the floor (that I hadn’t swept in a while) that I’d been painstakingly preparing. It was an emotional experience to say the least. On the other hand, I love to chop really strong onions. Go figure.

But I digress. Long story short (too late!), Chow Baby! is a create your own stir-fry restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. You get two bowls, the first of which you fill with your favorite rice, noodles, and all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The second, you fill with various meats, fish, and even tofu. They also have a generous selection of sauces and spices to top over either bowl before you hand it over to the chefs who stir fry your very own creation right then and there.

Nobody tells you what to put in your bowl, nobody tells you how much, nobody tells you that you can’t combine a ginger lime basil sauce with a Thai barbecue sauce; it’s all up to you (and the confines of the porcelain). That kind of control and freedom makes Chow Baby! a unique experience worth waiting in line for, like a kid in a candy store with a no limit credit card, except much healthier.

The moment they bring out your stir fry, the ‘shopping’, anticipation, and quality food itself culminates into an incredibly exciting meal.

At Chow Baby!, you live and die by what you create. There is no blaming the chef at Chow Baby!, there is no complaining about the menu options at Chow Baby!, there exists only your imagination, creativity, and eating the ensuing consequences at Chow Baby!.

Oh, and you can go up for seconds.

I did.

Chow Baby! has two locations:

1016 Howell Mill Road Suite A
Atlanta, Georgia 30318
&
One Galleria Pkwy Suite 1B1
Atlanta, Georgia 30339

The Real Chow Baby on Urbanspoon

I apologize for the lack of photos, my camera suffered from a battery leak and for the time being needs to be plugged into an outlet to use

***

The train tracks greeted me with a bang. The large dirt parking lot across from Maggie’s Diner sat next to a connector station on the outskirts of downtown Tuscaloosa, Evergreen cemetery just up the road. As the next car rolled down the rail, quicker than the first, I dug my heels into the ground and locked my arms at my sides. When the second car collided with the rest of the train, the earth shook and my ears turned inward for protection. I felt the shock wave of sound rush over me like a cruel winter wind that even a gore-tex coat can’t protect you against.

After attending what might as well have been a rock concert, third row center, I crossed the street and entered Maggie’s Diner. I’ll never forget what awaited me just inside the door: the most glorious (and gigantic!) cinnamon rolls you have ever seen. About the size of my head, which is quite large, the glaze dripped and ran down their sides, still hot out of the oven. If that didn’t entice you enough, a caramel topped pound cake towered over the cinnamon rolls like royalty looking out upon its lesser pastry subjects.

I diligently tore my eyes away from the desert table, placed oh so cleverly at the entrance, and looked beyond to what brought up mixed memories of elementary school: the cafeteria. For the most part, I lived those early days as a sack-lunch boy, complete with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a handful of Doritos, and an apple of the red variety. Yet every so often I brought my $2.50 and played Russian roulette at the school cafeteria, and I’m damned sure they played with a fully loaded gun.

At first glance, the full-menu selection laid before me didn’t entice any more than the food served K-5, but Maggie herself stood behind the counter with a welcoming aura that begged you to look deeper. My second and third glances remained just as unconvincing as the first, but home style cooking laid in unfamiliar territory for me. I decided that just like how you can’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a food by its presentation either. The “ohs” and “ahs” emanating on either side of me entered the air with genuine excitement and a touch of nostalgia that affirmed my hesitant approach to come from personal history rather than some sixth food sense.

The counter held numerous country style options for entrees and sides, many of which I didn’t recognize. I panicked, as I usually do, when it became my turn to order. At any restaurant I do not frequent regularly, I squeeze every second available to ponder at the contents of the menu. My fellow diners chit and chat amongst each other, their menus placed casually to the side, as I struggle to make a decision. My responses and contributions to the conversation become curt as the waiter draws near, yet when he asks if I would like another minute, I never say yes. I order something on the spot and immediately regret it. Why didn’t I get the chicken!? Whatever choice I made, even if it ends up being delicious…the other option would have destroyed it.

Held up in a cafeteria style line, trapped in front of starving and secretly impatient peoples ready to pounce on the indecisive individual and send him to the back of the queue, I quickly ordered my entree and two sides: a baked chicken breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and creamed corn with a biscuit on the side. I immediately regretted it, but not for the usual reasons. I played it safe, too safe. Baked chicken? Mashed potatoes? Creamed Corn? Come on Dan! Boring!

After paying the wonderful Maggie, I carried my tray to the dining area. All manner of art covered the walls, from oil paintings, to brass work, to lamented foam-board cutouts of baseball players; Maggie’s doubled as a hodgepodge gallery. I began with the mashed potatoes, which tasted about as I expected, but the gravy surprised with a subtle peppery kick. My past experiences with baked chicken have often left me seeking out another form of moisture to expunge the dryness left in my mouth, but Maggie’s chicken, while not succulent, held enough juice on its own.

But the stand out? The creamed corn. It didn’t look very pretty as I poked each kernel around on my plate – they sloshed together, fraternizing in a pool of cloudy liquid. I almost got up to exchange my fork for a spoon, but did my best to scoop up the slimy bits of corn along the lip of the plate. Surprisingly, the texture my eyes saw differed greatly from what my mouth experienced. The corn went down smooth, sweet as candy corn, but quite the opposite in taste, i.e. good.

I soaked up the remaining juices of gravy and corn with my buttery biscuit, cleaning up as best I could without lifting the plate to my face. Satisfied by my work ethic, I earned a ticket to the dessert table, but discovered that the caramelized topped pound cake vanished into the mouths of much luckier individuals than I just minutes before. The few remaining scraps taunted me with their rich and creamy frosting, laughing at my misfortune of missing out on their sweet buttery goodness. The thought of settling for a mere cinnamon roll, even if gigantic, spelled defeat. Then, as quickly as my nightmare became reality, a divine angel, aka a friend, saved me from having to settle.

“We can eat the scraps right?” she asked.

“Sure, go ahead,” said one of Maggie’s beautiful assistants.

And so we did. I thanked my friend casually, even while my inner child jumped and screamed for joy, instantly loving her forever. If you come to Maggie’s for nothing else, come for the desert. Even if the home style cooking, wide variety of art, and Maggie’s warm and opening atmosphere isn’t enough; perhaps not quite your style, as I initially suspected, you will be blown away by the very first thing you see, and the very last thing you taste. Do whatever it takes; walk ten miles, bike thirty, or bum a ride from a friend. If you have to, jump on the next train, it will drop you off right in front.

***

Maggie’s Diner can be found at:

1307 Ty Rogers Junior Avenue
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
(205) 366-0302