Corned Beef Contender
The Bread Basket Deli opens on Carpenter
by Sally Mitani
Lovers of Jewish delis, prepare to swoon, especially if you live on the east side. The Bread Basket Deli, Al Winkler's vision of corned-beef heaven, has spawned an Ann Arbor outpost. Unlike the five Bread Baskets in the Detroit area, which are owned and operated by Winkler himself, the new one on Carpenter across from Showcase Cinemas is a franchise--an experiment cooked up by Winkler and one of his most loyal customers, Gus Avgoustis.
"I worked in the auto industry for thirty years as a mechanical engineer," says Avgoustis. "I used to eat at the Livonia Bread Basket all the time. [Winkler] would always say: 'You should open one of these places, Gus.' And I'd say, 'I've been working for the same company for thirty years. Give me a good reason why I should quit.' But the opportunity came. I took a buyout and called up Al and said, 'Guess what?'"
Winkler believes in Detroit-made food. Corned beef and pastrami from Sy Ginsberg's United Meat & Deli are the foundation on which most Bread Basket sandwiches are built. The Bread Basket website claims it cooks and slices 20,000 pounds of Ginsberg corned beef a week. Bread comes from two bakeries in the Detroit area, Superior Bread and the Bake Station. Detroit company Topor's supplies the pickles. "Even the potato chips are local," Avgoustis says. "I wanted to buy Lay's because they give you a better deal, but no, had to get Better Made, the local brand."
To many, deli in Ann Arbor means only one thing, and Avgoustis himself forces the inevitable comparison. "What do you think of in Ann Arbor when you think of deli?" he asks. The Z word, of course. "OK, well, our large sandwiches have ten ounces of meat--that's cooked meat. How many does Zingerman's have?" (Avgoustis actually didn't know, but we checked--a Zingerman's large corned beef sandwich has six.) "And is Zingerman's more expensive?" Almost twice the price.
But enough about Zingerman's. Anyone familiar
with Detroit delis will ask if Avgoustis has the full Bread Basket menu. He has most of it, though a few favorites are missing. No cheese blintzes (the size of a bell pepper, and three to a serving, food bloggers frequently sigh about them), no kreplach, no hot beef sandwiches, at least not yet. Far and away the most popular menu item is corned beef, either straight ($8.25) or in a dozen different combinations, topping out in four-layer monsters like Jason's Jammer (corned beef on white toast with chopped liver, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Russian dressing, $10.75). "I'm starting to think there's a big Jewish population around here," says Avgoustis. "They said to be careful on the tongue and chopped liver--they don't sell so well at some of the locations. But the first week I ran out."
It's not a kosher deli--you can get ham and bacon, but they take a definite backseat to the beef charcuterie: salami (both hard and soft), roast brisket, pastrami, and peppered beef. Bread Basket also has classic Jewish sides like potato knishes and chicken broth served meatless with noodles or matzo balls. Desserts--including carrot cake, cheesecake, caramel cake--are displayed at the register, wrapped in cellophane, as if advertising themselves as midnight snacks. "Most people don't finish their sandwiches," Avgoustis explains. "If they do, they just want to go home and take a nap."
Bread Basket Deli, 4003 Carpenter (Arbor Square). 677-7717. Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Closed Sun. www.breadbasketdelis.com
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[Originally published in April, 2010.]