All right, this post comes about three years late, but what can I say? I'm a new chowhound (well, new to this site, not to chow or hounding after it). I grew up in Ann Arbor, but now reside in VA, where grad school enslaves me. I've spent much time and money at Zingerman's, and usually darken its doorway right quick after setting foot back in AA. I will give a few points on Zing:
1) The sandwiches are good to great, although quite expensive. A native New Yorker pronounced the Reuben as good or better than anything to be had in Manhattan when treated to one by me.
2) Many great food items may be had there that are hard to get (like piquillo peppers from the Llodosa appellation in Spain), specialities in Spanish foods, of course the olive oils and vinegars, great cheeses, meats, baked goods, bread. Their Paris Brest pastry (both regular and mini-size) can be outstanding, their gelato is good (although I miss the crazy flavors of Italy), good chocolate selection, the Pullman Loaf white bread is a wonderful French toast choice, etc.
3) Ari and Paul, the founders, spend huge amounts of time searching high and low across the globe for great products, promote the Slow Food movement, and stand behind everything they sell, total satisfaction guaranteed. That brings me to my final point,
4) Zingerman's has some of the best customer service I've ever experienced (equivalent to such famous exemplars as Disney), and I worked in customer service or account management for multiple years in the IT field, so I feel I've had at least *some* basis for inside comparison. The workers are knowledgeable, friendly, polite, and are trained with a "servant leadership" ethic (discussed in detail in the Zingerman's customer service book they sell) that I find to be wise both philosophically and economically. When I moved here to D.C., I made a trip to Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, hoping to find a Zingerman's replacement (proxy?). Unfortunately, the snobbery and elitism I experienced were completely off-putting, so much so that I didn't bother giving them my business, nor do I recommend them. Others may have had different experiences-I speak only of mine. However, I would highly doubt there are many people who can say they've experienced similar attitudes at Zingerman's. Perhaps it's the Midwest ambience? I don't know, but when I walk through that doorway in the deli, into the lovely-smelling, warm and welcoming interior, I know I will be served as a respected customer, whether I am spending $100 on wild salmon, or $5 for some olives and cornichons. Zingerman's lives to serve its customers-I have occasionally been dissatisfied with their food (which they've made right), but I've *never* been dissatisfied with their customer service, and I've been going there since the late eighties.
I would encourage anyone to give Zingerman's a try, knowing of course that it is expensive, and perhaps not for any regular shopping (certainly not on my grad school budget), but that it is a business that believes in great food delivered with great service.
I'm curious to try this recipe, being a French toast fan. My current recipe of choice is Mark Bittman's and Jose Andres one for torrijas castellanas, that makes by far the greatest French toast I've ever had. I'm surprised that this recipe calls for a baguette, and not a denser bread (such as real white bread-not Wonder, brioche, or challah). Is that a traditional Brazilian choice? I usually soak my bread for 10-15 minutes and those slices (I cut the slices about an inch to inch and-a-half thick) soak up all the batter, making for that bread pudding/custardy-interior, while frying in olive oil creates the crispy exterior. The recipe uses half cream, half milk, not sweetned condensed. I'll have to head to the kitchen with this recipe in hand...