Maize and Blue Deli, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Without question, the thing I love most about college towns is that virtually every one has at least one iconic restaurant near the university’s campus. Short’s in Iowa City is as good as it gets, Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Mo., isn’t bad, I’ve heard good things about the Varsity in Atlanta, and my brother swore by Tolly Ho in Lexington, Ky.
On the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the place to be is the appropriately-named Maize and Blue Deli, named for the Wolverines’ iconic colors. The restaurant is a relative newcomer as far as iconic college town eateries go, since it was only established in 1988, but in the past quarter-century, it’s established itself as one of the top places for Michigan men and women to enjoy quality sandwiches after Wolverines games.
Of course, there is no bad time to enjoy a deli sandwich, but the question here is figuring out just which one to enjoy. The first thing one notices is the giant menu, which is up against the wall and takes up a full six white boards. Each sandwich is broken into categories by which meat is the big star, and the Maize and Blue has so many sandwiches that one of the chicken sandwiches actually got moved into the roast beef category because they ran out of room.
This is what happens when you boast an arsenal of 86 sandwiches. During our visit, Amy and I calculated that if a Michigan student visits once a week from their first week as a freshman and gets a different sandwich on every visit, he or she will have tried every sandwich on the menu just before the end of their junior year. Perhaps the Maize and Blue could start a card with the number of every sandwich to give to students, with a free T-shirt awarded to those who consume all 86 within four years of college, plus possible discounts on every 10th sandwich or so. You know college students would get jazzed about that kind of competition, and it would be another way to tie itself to the university. Maize and Blue Deli, we encourage you to do this.
Outside of the giant boards of sandwiches, the other noticeable thing is the walls of Michigan autographs. It seems that just about everyone who has worn the maize and blue over the past 25 years has stopped in and signed the wall, and it’s a nice tribute to Michigan’s rich athletic history, which is pretty outstanding even with Chris Webber’s ill-fated timeout.
Back to the sandwiches. The names of the sandwiches are one of the oddest things about this place, because they’re very creative, but you don’t use them when ordering. Instead of telling the guy at the counter you want a Foul Shot (chicken, ham, havarti, cheddar, Dijon mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion on grilled challah), you ask for a No. 37. Courtney’s Conversation (turkey, roast beef, havarti, cheddar, honeycup mustard, lettuce and tomato on grilled sourdough pumpernickel) becomes No. 33. Most of the subs don’t get names at all, they just have numbers.
Other named subs include the following:
No. 43: Kelly’s Tuna (tuna salad, lettuce, tomato, onion on pita)
No. 50: Running Back Lunch (turkey, salami, provolone, honeycup mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion on a New York onion roll)
No. 11: Amanda’s Moonlight (corned beef, colby, jarlsberg, Dijon, tomato and onion on grilled seeded sourdough rye)
No. 18: Where’s Bo? (pastrami, egg, Canadian cheddar, mayonnaise, onion, green pepper on grilled challah)
No. 44: Triple Play Reuben (corned beef, pastrami, swiss, jarlsberg, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on grilled sourdough rye)
Many of the names are from the sports world, but a lot have nothing to do with sports. That was the case with my sandwich, which I knew I had to try as soon as I saw the name. Sandwich No. 20 is entitled Amy’s Renovation, an ironic name given that the sandwich is in the pastrami section, and of course, Amy won’t eat the smoked cured beef. But there was nothing stopping me from ordering it, which also comes with smoked turkey, colby, havarti (her favorite cheese), cole slaw and Russian on grilled sourdough rye.
What a sandwich. The deli meat comes in large quantities, and it’s cut perfectly and works so well with the rest of the ingredients. The pastrami is simply perfect, and the smoked turkey is as good as it gets. Both cheeses melt wonderfully, and the fact that they grill the sandwich makes the flavors just that much better. The cole slaw is a surprising success here, as I hate cole slaw by itself. But for some reason, it works well when it’s on a sandwich, and as I discovered with this sandwich, that remains the case even when it’s not surrounded by french fries. The dressing is creamy and tasty, and the sourdough rye is one of the best breads I’ve had. I love sourdough, and I knew I had to get a sandwich on sourdough rye when I saw it on the menu here. Once again, sourdough is amazing. As I told my wonderful girlfriend after eating, this was definitely a sandwich worthy of her name.
Amy went in a different direction, opting for sandwich No. 32, the One on One. Hey, it’s not that big of a shock, she likes basketball. She also likes turkey, which this sandwich combines with a fried egg, colby and havarti, honeycup mustard, tomato and black olives on grilled challah (it also adds green pepper, which she omitted). For those who are unfamiliar with challah, which included me until last week, it’s a Jewish egg bread that’s braided and tends to be served around holidays. Apparently, Maize and Blue decided that this bread was too good to restrict to holidays, and I have to say that I agree. I briefly sampled her sandwich, which had a bit too much mustard for my taste, but was overall awesome. Amy, who has no problem whatsoever with mustard, absolutely loved her sandwich, especially the grilled challah.
One bit of advice here: you don’t need to get chips or any sides. These are big sandwiches, and they all come with a sizable dill pickle, which means that if you get any sides, you might not have room for all of your sandwich. That would be a darn shame, because these sandwiches are the reason you come to Maize and Blue. This small shrine to all that is Michigan might be difficult to stomach if your allegiance is to another school, but even a Buckeye or a Spartan could appreciate the Maize and Blue’s sandwiches. They’re that good.
Time to go: Lunch, and not after a Michigan sporting event. When the Wolverines play a football game, Michigan Stadium holds up to 109,000 people without getting the fire marshals involved, which would make it the seventh-largest city in Michigan on game day. Given that a lot of those people come to Maize and Blue after the game, it’s probably a good idea to stay far away when the Wolverines are done playing.
Wait during my visit: Minimal. We came with students preparing for graduation, which meant that tables were available. This is key, because there are not many tables to go around here.
Location: The Maize and Blue Deli is at 1329 South University in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Cost: Most sandwiches are around $10 and worth it.
Parking: None around the restaurant, but Ann Arbor and the university have several garages. It’s $1.20 an hour to park in one, and on Sundays, it’s free. It’s about a five-minute walk from the nearest garage to Maize and Blue.
Seating arrangement: Tables and chairs, and not very many of them. If it’s crowded when you get there, you might be waiting a little while until a table opens up for you.
Website: Maize and Blue Deli
Specialty items: Deli sandwiches