How did a new deli in an out-of-the-way strip mall suddenly earn honors from as the Best Place to Buy a Sandwich? In Zingerman’s hometown, no less? One had to wonder–especially as dozens of online comments piled up through April, on the importance of meat vs. bread, quality vs. quantity, and cost vs. value.

Eventually, I simply had to find out. The Bread Basket, store number seven in a Detroit-area chain, opened in the wild west of Ypsi/Ann Arbor last year. It’s a Jewish-inspired deli that offers matzo ball soup, egg salad, and even chicken liver, straight up with lettuce or paired with corned beef and Swiss cheese on the “Eddie’s Delicacy” sandwich. Big on Michigan-made products, it peddles Faygo pop, Better Made chips, crunchy Topor’s pickles, and corned beef pickled special-order by United Meat & Deli in Detroit. The website sums it up as: “As Washington says ‘Bye Detroit,’ we at Bread Basket say ‘Buy Detroit.'”

Revved up to represent for the D, I got in the car and headed south on Carpenter, ending across from the Rave theaters (ne Showcase Cinemas) in the Arbor Square Plaza, the strip mall that used to house Rider’s Hobby Shop before it moved north to the corner of Packard. Ironically, Bread Basket Deli is the perfect place to take a television-loving kid when you’re trying to package a trip to the hobby shop into a family outing–especially a fast-growing one who really likes meat, particularly beef and bacon and lots of it.

The corned beef here is particularly good, shaved thin but still moist, and piled precariously high in a Reuben. I liked it even better packaged in Number 171/2, with Swiss cheese and a lightly dressed best-in-a-supporting-role coleslaw. Sandwiches made with a midgrade pressed turkey loaf were less appealing–maybe it would have seemed less mundane if shaved instead of thick cut. The eight-inch cheesesteak, weighing in around a pound, was a daunting brown challenge, bigger on bigness than on taste.

Every sandwich we tried (and there are dozens to choose from) had spongy bread that simply wasn’t up to the task of supporting these hefty structures (even the smaller six-inch versions). Sorry, voters, but for this reason alone I’m convinced the Bread Basket poses no threat to Zingerman’s and its outstanding breads. Of course, I subscribe to the school of thought that bread is what makes the sandwich–along with mustard. Bread Basket’s mainly got big unbranded jars of the yellow stuff.

A few words on Bread Basket Deli’s atmosphere before a strong food finish. If that kid who loves cable TV ever looks up from his meaty sandwich, he’ll feel right at home in this modest (almost tacky in pink and red) joint, with decorative touches like Red Wings commemorative plaques (for sale), ghastly photos from Man vs. Food-style eating contests that involve literally pounds of meat, and commercial signs from other wins in newspaper voting contests. Hmmm, a familiar niche? I didn’t see a sign for Best Cheese Blintz–but that’s a voting category the BBD should be on the lookout for, because its massive crepe with lightly sweet cheese filling is sinfully yummy, especially dressed up in blueberry sauce and sour cream.

After first getting curious about Bread Basket Deli when it won the poll, it was funny to see Jazzy Veggie win for Best Vegetarian Restaurant two weeks later. This could indicate that newcomers are coming on strong, at least in online voting. But victory in such synthetic honors and good value are about all these two quick-eats spots have in common. Only a few miles apart in distance, they’re worlds apart in concept, and in the source of what they stuff between slices of bread. Oh, and also in the bread itself.

Bread Basket Deli

4003 Carpenter (Arbor Square Plaza), 677-7717

Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Appetizers and soup $1.50–$4.99, sandwiches $3.75–$10.95, salads $4.99 -$9.95.

Wheelchair friendly (although the double-door front entry might be tight to maneuver through)