Zingerman's (Emma Slonina / MJ)
Zingerman’s (Emma Slonina / MJ)

BY EMMA SLONINA, Staff Columnist

Everyone (and their mother) knows Zingerman’s. Even if you’ve never been there, you know Zingerman’s. It’s amazing, then, that so few people know of the rest of Zingerman’s food empire. They have the Roadhouse, Roadshow, Next Door, Mail Order – not to mention their creamery, candy factory, coffee company, and customer service training program.

As I work my way around the various manifestations of Zingerman’s, my perennial favorite is Next Door. It’s next door to the deli (fancy that) and somehow never receives quite as much attention.

They serve mostly baked goods, drinks, and sweets, making it the perfect spot to stop in for breakfast. While my instinct is to always try something new (especially at an establishment that only offers the best), I inevitably end up ordering my old reliable at Zingerman’s Next Door: bagel and “lox”.

Ever since a chance encounter with cold, smoked Scottish salmon in my youth, I’ve not been able to get enough of the salty, smoky, slightly slimy fish. It was only when I read up on smoked salmon vs. lox did I realize that there is a difference: smoked salmon is just that – smoked – while lox is heavily salted and cured.

So technically, I enjoyed a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon for breakfast, sweet, salty, creamy, and chewy. Despite there being a selection of bagels, I’m a purist at heart and went for the “1610” – their plain bagel made only with water, salt, and flour. I prefer to enjoy the unadulterated flavors of each high-quality piece than muddle everything up with flavored bagels or cream cheese. The cream cheese alone should be eaten straight out of the tub with a spoon. It is so ridiculously fresh and creamy. You will never have tasted anything like it.

Their croissants are excellent as well, though it’s nearly impossible to get them as good as the real thing. Theirs were slightly denser than I prefer but had wonderful flavor. Plenty of butter, plenty of layers, but they pasted themselves together as soon as you put them in your mouth. Just a little more ethereal and they would be perfect.

As well as coffee and various coffee drinks, they serve a specialty drink which changes with the month. Last time I visited, they had Thai tea on special and I couldn’t resist. The spicy tea was topped with a “splash of Calder Dairy cream,” producing those fantastic tendrils of white amongst the swirls of dark tea. It was just sweet enough without being sickly – a hard balance to strike for most restaurants.

Next Door is also perfect for buying special treats and gifts that impress. An entire wall is covered in top-shelf sweets and nonperishable foodie indulgences. I myself am guilty of buying a $20 chocolate bar. Not just any chocolate bar, though, the Pralus “Barre Infernale” crème de noisette chocolate bar.

I am a sucker for all things hazelnut and this was the most intense hazelnut chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Imagine Nutella on steroids, much denser and much more mature. For the price, I expected gold leaf, but it was definitely worth a try. Whether or not I ever enjoy it again probably depends on if I become a world-class surgeon or lawyer, but I’m happy to have tried it at all.

For a quick, less expensive but just as indulgent treat, they also have a case of gelato straight from the creamery. Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten the chance to try any, but they change the flavors with the season and consistently produce quality products. If you can’t make it out to Ann Arbor or want to share it with a friend, they’ll even ship it for you in dry ice overnight so you can enjoy it wherever you are.

Zingerman’s Next Door is open daily, 7am-10pm. Visit http://www.zingermansdeli.com/next-door for more information.