Nov 20, 2018

Wanigan adds a bar, and we examine sandwich names

Sign outside Wanigan Deli
Sign outside the Wanigan
Doc’s report:

Near the northwest foot of the Lafayette Street bridge and a stone’s throw from Putz’s Hardware, the Wanigan Eatery has had a latent liquor license for many years.

But when it put in a few stools around an L-shaped bar and started serving alcohol two months ago, it tied G’s for fewest bar stools in Bay City, and raised the bar, so to speak, for its main competitor, Intermission Deli.

Of course, Bay City has other establishments that serve prepared sandwiches, soups, salads and specialty foods. Subway is a deli. The 3rd and Johnson Market and Eatery combines a deli with local produce. And Kroger and Meijer have large deli sections.

Living in Chicago with its large eastern European populations for 30 years, I grew fond of delicatessen food. But my favorites are in New York. A recent trip to visit my daughters took us to the 2nd Ave. Deli, where four of us had the Open Sandwich medley: corned beef, tongue, roast beef, turkey, pastrami, salami, chopped liver, and chicken salad, garnished with salads: potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw or cucumber salad. $94.95.

The Stage Deli and Carnegie Deli have sandwiches named for celebrities who ate there. A Clint Eastwood, for example, might be something served on a ”hero,” assembled “Any Which Way  But Loose.”

In one episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David dislikes the sandwich named after him
Lumber artifacts at the Wanigan
Lumber artifacts on the wall
at a deli and tries to persuade Ted Danson to trade the names of their sandwiches. You are what -- or whom -- you eat.

Wanigan’s is in that tradition of named sandwiches. But there, the sandwiches are named after current and former employees, often with unintended consequences, e.g., “Mrs. Robinson’s Encounter: French Dip roast beef … served with au jus.” 

The name refers to the movie “The Graduate,” in which a married, middle-aged Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) has a steamy affair with a recent college graduate (Dustin Hoffman). But wait: “French Dip” is a sexual position recognized by the Urban Dictionary. And in French, “au” means “with,” so “with au jus” translates as “with with juice.”

I say why not name the sandwiches for local celebrities, e.g.: the Madonna would be virgin ham smothered in Manwich served open face on a bed of rye. Or the City Commission would be baloney on white bread fried in schmaltz, then more baloney.

What would be in a sandwich named after you?

Or you could name the sandwiches after the city’s proud lumbering tradition. The U.P. has the pasty, which miners took to work for lunch. Denny’s has the Lumberjack Slam -- two pancakes, two eggs, two sausage links, two bacon strips, a grilled ham slice, taters (or grits) and toast -- 1,313 calories, 3,602 milligrams of sodium, and almost twice the amount of cholesterol the FDA suggests you ingest daily.

So maybe Wanigan’s could have entrĂ©es named Timber or Muskrat Chili or Flapjacks.
Or lumberjack drinks. In my research for this blog, I found a list of alcoholic drinks on a lumberjack theme. After all, a wanigan, from the Ojibwa, is a lumberman’s trunk or the camp’s
View of the river from the Wanigan
View of the river
supply chest, or a small house on wheels or skids used as an office or shelter in temporary lumber camps.

Indeed, the walls of Wanigan’s are decorated with implements of the lumber trade: various saws, hooks and grappling devices. My coaster was a flat wood chip.

It was all I could do to keep from putting on a plaid shirt, trapping a beaver and singing Monty Python's “Lumberjack Song.” 

Various framed news clippings on Wanigan’s walls explain Bay City’s origins in the lumber industry. We have impressive reminders:
•    The mansions on Center Avenue, built for the first lumber barons from the product they were selling.
•    A brewpub named Lumber Barons.
•    A film festival, Hell’s Half Mile, named for the area of downtown where lumberjacks would patronize saloons and brothels.

Before I conclude with an anecdote of mice and men, let me apologize to our millennial readers for referencing events that “happened before I was born,” as you like to say. I am sorry. Age is unnecessary. I’ll make it up to you in a word of free, valuable, hard-earned advice.

By the way, everything happened before you were born – and not much since. There’s a movie that you might like; it’s about an apocalyptic future where people are the main food supply. It’s called “Delicatessen.” 

Wanigan’s is such a clean, airy, bright place, with its view of the river, great food and our
Drink specials at the Wanigan
Drink specials at the Wanigan
pleasant waitress, Melissa, that Harry, the G-Man and I let our conversation drift from its usual course through weighty matters to more mundane concerns.

In this case: sticky mousetraps. We’ve each had occasion to use them. And our experiences are, at least, worthy of reflection:
•    One of us forgot about his trap until, several days later, he discovered a mouse, rigor mortis having set in, in a frozen posture of attempted escape.
•    Another of us carefully laid his trap only to discover the next morning what must have been the world’s most frustrated centipede.
•    Finally, one of us awoke to discover his trap missing. We imagined a heroic mouse, one paw trapped, dragging his destiny, like Sisyphus his rock, through life. In that image, someone saw a metaphor for marriage.

The advice promised above to millennials: Don’t do it, kids. There’s still time.


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