Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lunch at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor

Even though I'm a planner at heart, my favorite part about traveling and visiting new places is those unexpected discoveries that leave you smiling for days. I had one such experience at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

If you're familiar with Zingerman's, you're probably assuming I fell head over heals for their famous corned beef sandwiches. Or maybe it was the deli cases that sucked me in. Or the hip, kitschy atmosphere. Truthfully, that was all wonderful.
Chicken salad sandwich at Zingerman's Deli
I passed on the corned beef and ordered a personal favorite: a chicken salad sandwich. It was awesome. Creamy, but not too much mayo. Lots of tender pieces of chicken and crisp celery. Perfectly seasoned. But it's not what brought a smile to my face.
Patio at Zingerman's Deli
I got to sit outside with a magazine on the sunny patio and read for pleasure for more than an hour. Which also left me very happy and content.

But what will I remember most about Zingerman's? The birch beer soda.

Creamy Red Birch Beer Soda at Zingerman's Deli
You see, when I was kid growing up in Connecticut, we spent many weekend meals visiting my grandparents for lunch or dinner. My dad is the youngest of 10 siblings, and I'm the youngest of 28 grandkids. This meant family gatherings at their apartment (oh yes, I said apartment) were high on the chaos scale. So while my mother was normally very attentive to the amount of sugary drinks my sister and I consumed, we quickly learned that she was far too distracted by the number of people crammed into a tiny space to know what type of shenanigans we were up to when we visited. (Sorry, Mom.)

And if it's one thing you could count on my grandparents to have stocked up, it was birch beer. Tons and tons of this clear, delicious root beer-type of drink. I think my sister and I guzzled it down by the gallon whenever we visited.

Given the number of grandchildren they had (and the language barrier--they only spoke French), my grandparents couldn't always show the type of individual attention or gift-giving that some grandparents shower upon their grandkids. But always having birch beer for us kids and a big, strong hug to greet us? We never doubted how much they loved us.

But between moving to Indiana (where I've never seen it in a store or on a menu), and my grandparents' subsequent passing, I haven't had a drop of birch beer since I was 10 years old. When I approached the soda dispenser at Zingerman's, I was startled to see that my typical choice of a Diet Coke wasn't there. Instead, Zingerman's serves Boylan's Fountain Soda, a specialty line of bubbly beverages. I quickly glanced at my options and when I saw "Creamy Red Birch Beer" was a choice, I think I almost fainted.

While it wasn't the same clear color I remember from my childhood, the red version tasted just the same. I think I sucked down three glasses before taking a final refill to go.

What's that people say about drinking alone?
I was far too embarassed to photograph myself drinking soda in front of all the other diners on the patio. So this was taken in the privacy of my car.

Zingerman's, I don't know if anyone has ever thanked you for offering birch beer. If not, let me be the first. It's been well over a decade since I saw my grandparents, but I sure felt them that day at lunch.

You can read more about my kid-free day in Ann Arbor here.

This post is a part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

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