Eating Gluten Free at “Zingies” 

 Gluten free buttermilk fried chicken...yes, please!

Gluten free buttermilk fried chicken...yes, please!

“Zingies” is a nickname that’s found its way to our house, which can refer to the Delicatessen, the Roadhouse, or even the Bakehouse at Zingerman’s. Whatever your family calls it, if you live in the Ann Arbor area, you can expect that family or friends will want to eat out at this delightful dining destination. “Making food that’s safe for our guests” is one of the mottos of the many-faceted food palace, and it’s good to know in advance what will be safe for you.  

Two words I’d use to characterize the Zingerman’s brand are “fun” and “mysterious.” Fun is everywhere, from their advertising to the premises upon which they sell their products. Mystery begins the moment you hear the name and read their cartoon advertisements. Read on with me as I give a bit of a “reveal” so that gluten free (GF) folks can also enjoy the fun and mystery that is Zingerman’s.  

Right from the get-go, you should know that employees there can train to become “certified GF workers.”

Right from the get-go, you should know that employees there can train to become “certified GF workers.” Really! They take a course and then spend a number of months “learning, shadowing, and demonstrating the standard operating procedures.” They also take a test, and no one gets certified unless they pass that written test with 100% correct answers.  

Let’s begin with the place of introduction for most of us: Zingerman’s Delicatessen (Deli). Located in Kerrytown, near downtown Ann Arbor, it’s easy to walk to when you’re doing most anything in town. They have scads of GF products for purchase that are also available online (search GF on the website: www.zingermansroadhouse.com), however most people go there not to buy groceries but to eat a meal.  

As soon as you step up to place your order, they ask you to tell them your GF status. When you tell them that you are GF, an informed and certified clerk appears, guiding you through the whole process of ordering, preparation, and presentation. The food handler will immediately change gloves, and any GF orders are put into a red basket. Alternatively, any Zingies sandwich can be served on a bed of leaf lettuce or their own GF bread, which I’ll tell you more about later.  

There are many more things to order here besides sandwiches. I’ve tried the vegetarian hash, a stir fry of sweet potato, yellow potato, spinach and herbs, which I found very tasty. Eggs here are very fun, having been inspired by hours of trial and thought; take a quick look at the cartoons that go with these and other Deli products.  

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The taste is great in that it doesn’t demand more, or faster, ingestion. No, it gently asks you to eat slowly, savoring each small bite.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse is located at the intersection of Maple Road and Jackson Road and, unlike the deli location, there’s plenty of parking. Zingies will GF-alter almost any item on their menu, but if you have an allergy you should know that this kitchen has everything in it, so there is chance of contamination. Still, they do make an effort to use dedicated toasters and segregate GF food in red baskets. That being said, there are three menu items which are purposely created for the GF customer.  

The first of these three items is the fried chicken, which is very moist inside a dry, crispy crust, and not at all greasy. I can attest that this is maybe even better the next day cold from the fridge. They use little in the way of seasoning and leave salting to the consumer.  

The chicken was a good contrast with the second of the three GF offerings, macaroni and cheese. This was perhaps over salted, perhaps not, but beware: this is not your mama’s macaroni and cheese; it’s also not Kraft from a box. The cheese (and there’s plenty of that) tasted like a combination of varieties, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kinds are in it, but it was sharp and full-flavored.  

The third menu item marked GF is waffles. Yes, waffles! And in a fun, new shape: round. These four little discs are no bigger than an English muffin but are very filling and delicious. Don’t expect light and fluffy; this is comfort food for adults. Zingies serves them two ways depending on your mood: savory, smothered with bacon and cheese; or sweet, served plain with a side of butter and maple syrup so you can add them yourself. However, they’re tasty enough that you don’t need anything with them. I found them so satisfying that I didn’t want anything else. (And I had to get a box.)  

The bread is available fresh Wednesdays and Saturdays after 5 pm. Other days it may be available frozen. They recommend phoning in advance to reserve your loaves.

Other dedicated GF items are French fries, sweet potato fries, and their BBQ pork (with any sauce except for the red rage sauce). Of these, I’ve only tried the sweet potato fries and they were wonderful.  

A trip outside the circle of highways around Ann Arbor takes you to the always growing and changing Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Not easy for everyone to find, it is located off the curved road, Airport Boulevard, between State Street and Ellsworth Road at 3711 Plaza Drive. A recent change which makes finding it easier is that Zingerman’s has painted the eaves of their buildings a nice orange color; this makes it so they’re easily set apart from the rest of the big, box-shaped buildings on Airport Boulevard that all look alike.  

The Bakehouse is transitioning right now, so the sales counter is in a very small space while they’re redecorating. In addition to their GF bread, Zingies offers a few dedicated GF items here, including vanilla and chocolate macaroons and the well-known “Townie Brownie.” The latter is sold alongside all their other brownies, in sealed plastic, so you must either read the labels or ask about their GF status to ensure you get the correct item. I find it easy to remember that the GF brownie is named for Ann Arbor’s annual kick-off to the Ann Arbor Art Fair: the townie street party!  

Well what a party, and what a brownie! Many people who care nothing for GF status prefer it. The taste is great in that it doesn’t demand more, or faster, ingestion. No, it gently asks you to eat slowly, savoring each small bite. The chunks of chocolate are random and may cause a tiny, private moment of personal ecstasy.  I once ate this brownie over the entire second half of an ARK concert. I don’t know about you but the more mindful eating I do, the more I feel satisfied. And also the less guilt I give myself over eating a brownie at all! 

The vanilla and chocolate macaroons are both tantalizing. Make sure you eat only one, however, as the sugar content (and it’s only my intuition here) might be so high it may one day be illegal. Promise yourself to only have one. Better yet, split one! You’ll have the same amount of pleasure.  

The GF product sold here that’s of greatest interest is the bread used for all orders of GF sandwiches at the Deli and the Roadhouse. Earthy, solid, and substantial, it is crafted from rice flour, organic brown rice flour, sorghum flour, buckwheat flour, xanthan gum flour, potato starch and tapioca starch. To bake this bread, they begin by washing the entire kitchen from top to bottom to get rid of all contaminants. Then it’s made when no other flours are present. The crust is golden-brown-beautiful, is a bit chewy, and has an unusual flavor. 

It’s good to buy a loaf and work with it at home before ordering a sandwich ready-made. Try it toasted lightly for warmth, dark for some crunch, or medium for some of each. Then try it un-toasted. You decide. It’s a very personal preference. The bread is available fresh, Wednesdays and Saturdays after 5 p.m. Other days it may be available frozen. They recommend phoning in advance to reserve your loaves.  

In addition to the baked items, there is also candy from Zingies that is GF! The hand-made Zzang! original candy bar and the Raspberry Wowza each make for a delicious treat. It is worth noting that these, the macaroons, and the Townie Brownie are available in a GF gift box, making it easy to lavish these delicacies on your GF friends and family. 

A final perk for shopping GF is that, with the push of a button, any Zingerman’s clerk can instantly get you a list of ingredients on the checkout machine. It’s no trouble at all to have it printed for you to take home or tuck in the bag when buying a gift of food. All mysteries and ingredients revealed!  

Zingerman’s consistently making such good tasting food creates a hush of mystery, but the good news is that now you can create this fun and mystery yourself! Buy the book that recently came out, Zingerman’s Bakehouse. Along with the story of Zingerman’s, it contains recipes which are unique to this region and favorites sold at Zingerman’s. That’s right: you don’t have to buy these delicious products; they don’t mind if you make them in your own kitchen! And if that’s not a mystery revealed, I don’t know what is.  

Dawn Swartz has been happily gluten free for almost two years.

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Posted on July 31, 2018 and filed under Food & Nutrition, Issue 69.