Chocolate Chess Pie: Simple and Delicious

By Marcy Harris

Did you know that Zingerman’s Bakehouse created a recipe based on a Southern favorite just for the Roadhouse? Many years ago, when the Roadhouse first opened, the classic American dessert chess pie was added to our menu. For 14 years, it has continued to hold a special place seasonally on our dessert menu and in our hearts.

So what exactly is chess pie? We know it is traditionally a baked custard pie that migrated from England to New England, and it can be made in a variety of flavors. At the Roadhouse, we feature chocolate and occasionally lemon from the Bakehouse.

A pie by any other name…

The name is what tends to throw people off. When I was growing up, I was convinced that it had something to do with the game of chess. Apparently, we can check that idea off as not likely. While the origin of the name is not exactly clear, there are stories that are considered more plausible.

One idea is that the pie was typically stored in a pie chest, so it was referred to as “chest pie”, and over time the name may have evolved to “chess”.

Another thought has more to do with the simplistic nature of this pie. While the flavor is richly layered, the ingredients are quite simple: sugar, flour, eggs, and butter. Some folks think that the pie was referred to as “just pie”, but when pronounced with a Southern accent, the name sounded similar to “jes’” or “chess”.

Not jes’ your everyday pie.

Chess pie is generally smooth and creamy in the center. The Bakehouse uses a special dark chocolate from Mindo in Dexter, MI, which makes quality chocolate from cocoa beans in Ecuador. The result is a rich, velvety texture with a deep cocoa flavor. With the flakey, all-butter crust, each bite is simply decadent. In the new Zingerman’s Bakehouse Cookbook, Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo call it “flourless chocolate cake in a pie crust.” Oh my.




The recipe is indeed in the Bakehouse Cookbook, which we have for sale at the Roadhouse. Our chocolate chess is a favorite for the holidays, and we sell whole pies of it every year for Thanksgiving. Looking to treat yourself after a full day of holiday planning and shopping? Stop in at the Roadhouse for a mini personal pie! Topped with our housemade, real whipped cream, this little pie will offer up big flavors!


Vegetable Butchery: Ari’s Interview with Cara Mangini

Cara Mangini will be our honored guest at our Tomato Dinner #214 on September 12th! We will be tasting delicious recipes from her new book, “The Vegetable Butcher”, and watching a live demo of her butchering vegetables for the guests!

I love that you focus so much on vegetables.  How did that happen?  Did you grow up a vegetarian?

The ritual of sitting down to share a meal has always been extremely important to me. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed the daily celebration of food and my family, and how those moments marked the year. I knew there was a special kind of magic that was created at the table. I also thought a lot about what I ate and the connection between food and health—how certain foods made me feel beyond sheer enjoyment.

I started to gravitate specifically toward vegetables when living in Paris and traveling around Europe in college. I continued to travel, cook, and eat my way through France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Turkey in my 20’s. Those food experiences had a profound effect on my perspective and path. It became very clear to me that I wanted to contribute to making vegetables second nature in our culture—the way they were in so many other places. At the same time, I lived in Brooklyn for 10 years while a vibrant farm-to-table movement was making big waves around me. It completely inspired me. I realized that vegetables have always been the most exciting and delicious part of the plate for me.

I’m sure you get asked this all the time but, what’s a vegetable butcher?

A vegetable butcher is a trusted professional who demystifies produce with tips, tricks, and practical, how-to information (the stuff that somehow no one ever taught you). We have professionals that we turn to for advice in so many areas of our life—traditional butchers, cheesemongers, doctors, hairdressers, attorneys. A vegetable butcher is that person you can count on and who will help take the guesswork out of breaking down and cooking with vegetables—an artisan who has dedicated her life to getting to know the ingredients so that you can benefit from her knowledge, lessons and recipes.

As someone who’s not a vegetarian but who eats a lot of vegetables, I’m excited to see them being put front and center in a cookbook like yours.  Can you talk about that a bit?

At it’s core The Vegetable Butcher is a celebration of vegetables! It’s both a guide that will help readers break down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations as well as a comprehensive collection of produce-inspired recipes (over 150). My hope is that The Vegetable Butcher will give readers the confidence, encouragement, and motivation to cook and eat vegetables every day—and ultimately, find the joy in cooking with seasonal ingredients that connect you to nature and to each moment of the year.

Tell us about your restaurant in Columbus?  You also have a new place opening up soon? And how did you get to Columbus anyways? 

Little Eater is a produce-inspired restaurant and farm stand in Columbus’s historic North Market. And, yes, we are in the middle of opening our second location which is our first real home where we will be able to welcome guests for a full experience. Everything on the menu in our restaurants is inspired by local ingredients and is designed to bring everyone to the table with focus on flavor and abundance (never sacrifice or obligation which can too often be the case or perception with vegetable-driven food). It is our mission to honor the work of our farm partners and to support the health of our community.

I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, went to school just outside of downtown Chicago, and spent most of my adult life in New York. Columbus was not on my radar! I met my husband at the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams booth at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I was living and working at a farm and associated farm to table restaurant in Napa Valley at the time. I moved to Columbus six month later and started actively working on my business and book. I always say (and it’s the absolute truth), Columbus was the missing link in my business plan. We are surrounded by inspiring entrepreneurs, incredible farmers and farmland, and a community that is just as invested in our success as we are. I am so grateful for it.

What are some of your favorite dishes in the book?

I can’t pick favorites, but I do have go-to recipes in every season!

Spring: Asparagus, Hazelnuts, and Mint with Quinoa and Lemon Vinaigrette, Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Avocado Salad with Radish Vinaigrette, Artichoke Torta, Swiss Chard Crostata with Fennel Seed Crust, and Ramp (or Leek) and Asparagus Risotto.

Summer: Corn Fritters with Summer Bean Ragout, Marinated Peppers with Goat Cheese Tartines, Seaside Gazpacho Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Basil Penne with Pine Nuts and Mozzarella, Eggplant Polenta Cake.

Fall: Fall Farmers Market Tacos, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Chard and Coconut Black Rice, Turkish Carrot Yogurt.

Winter: Celery Root Pot Pie, Broccoli and Radicchio Rigatoni with Creamy Walnut Pesto, Parsnip Ginger Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting.

What do you think are some of the biggest misunderstandings about vegetables amongst Americans?

Vegetables don’t have to equate to sacrifice. They can produce over-the-top flavor and craveable, deeply satisfying food. Vegetable-based food isn’t about what isn’t on the plate, it’s about everything that is.

Given that you’ll be here for the dinner in mid September what are some of the dishes you’re thinking about for this special menu?

We’re going to highlight the tomato harvest and all of those late summer ingredients that we’ll be missing a few months later. For sure we’ll do an heirloom tomato panzanella to highlight all of the different colors, textures and varieties of tomatoes grown at Roadhouse Farms. It’s going to be a beautiful celebration of that specific and fleeting moment of the year when the sun is that golden angle, and the food coming out of the ground and the people who grew it deserve to be honored.

Have you been to Ann Arbor before?  Are you excited about coming?

I have never been to Ann Arbor and cannot wait! I have heard about what a special place it is and I’m excited to experience the food scene, most especially Zingerman’s that, honestly, I have admired from afar for so long!

What else should I ask? 

I think you asked good questions, nothing to add. I always ask people that by the way:)! Always the best question… sorry, I don’t have a better answer:)

Purchase tickets today for our Tomato Special Dinner #214: Featuring Vegetable Butcher, Cara Mangini!

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Taking Root at the Roadhouse Farm: Tomatoes and Exclusive Seeds

By Marcy Harris

A look inside the hoop house.


During my last visit to the Roadhouse farm in Dexter, I spent most of my time in the greenhouse watching Farmer Mark Baerwolf tickle baby tomato plants in planters. This time, I spent nearly the entire time in the hoop house trying not to step on rows of those same plants after transplanting, which means things are progressing in a timely manner. We will be eating juicy, ripe heirlooms before you say “to-may-to” and I say “to-mah-to”. But that’s not all…

Kale of a different color.

When we enter the hoop house, I am immediately captivated by the most beautiful row of kale I have ever seen in my entire life. It looks like a sunset on an exotic beach. This Russian kale doesn’t get by on just its looks, however. As far as raw kale salads go, the Russian variety is one of the best because it is tender and flavorful. A bite of this kale tells a perfect story of seed quality and the importance of where it started. A good seedsman or seedswoman will take the time to breed plants for how they work best on your plate.

The kale is almost too pretty too eat! Almost…

Mark gets his Russian kale seeds from Frank Morton, who operates Shoulder to Shoulder Farm in Oregon. Wild Garden Seed exclusively sells his organic seeds, and he is trusted for the quality of his heirloom breeding. He is known for cross-breeding specifically for a more stable line of plants, then selecting seeds from varieties that develop the best color, flavor, and texture.

According to Mark, “Many times a farmer grows something and they like the color, and it tastes good, but then what’s really cool is to take it the next step further and to think of how it actually works in a kitchen. If you really look at what’s the best in terms of these characteristics, then it starts a dialogue of what it contributes to a dish and why it is so special.”

So we know that we are sourcing the best seed, and while a lot of things grow well here in Michigan, farmers like Mark still have to use different tricks as far as keeping the right conditions for plants to thrive. One of the best ways he can do this is in the hoop house, where the majority of our tomatoes are currently planted.

From our garden to your plate.

There are 10 varieties of tomatoes in the hoop house right now, and about 600 plants total. Mark keeps careful control over the climate by adjusting upper louvres, as he wants to maintain the temperature between 70 and 80 degrees. Regulating the temperature in this manner allows him to keep the plants from developing flowers too early. There are a couple of cherry tomatoes, Mountain Magic and Clementine, that are starting to flower. This is good because we will want to harvest them before we do the bigger tomatoes. They will develop fruit set behind the flowers soon, and it will only take 30 more days before they can be picked. These will be our first round. Be ready to try them by the end of June or early July! The bigger tomatoes will be ready 45 to 60 days after the fruit sets.

This tomato plant will be ready to harvest by the end of August!

Spacing the plants out, Mark is trying to ensure that they will develop really good tomatoes. But there is plenty of room until they grow, so he fills in the space with things he can harvest sooner, like basil, carrots, arugula, and beets. The basil is actually being used for our refreshing Basil Gimlet!

As I hop around these things, I actually land on a carrot before Mark can warn me. Because he is trying to maximize the space, the footpath is much narrower than I realized. I am not entirely convinced there is anything there until I crouch down and touch the tiniest carrot plant I’ve ever seen with my fingertip.

Mark shows me how wide the footpath is, which is not very wide.
This tiny carrot will be full grown in 60 days!
















Our Swiss chard is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It is so yummy when it is sautéed!


Mark has created a microclimate on the edges of the hoop house where he is growing lettuces that need cooler air. I am gazing at rows of Swiss chard in a dizzying show of rainbow colors. I feel like I’m in a discotheque. The Swiss chard brings an abundance of leafy flavor to menu specials at the Roadhouse. There is also a lovely row of lettuces, like the Winter Density romaine and the Red Butterhead, which we use on our special salads.



This Red Butterhead lettuce makes a delicious salad!












Notes of flavor.

In truth, the secret to the success of the plants in the hoop house is the control over the environment. It creates an ideal space for not only creating the ambient temperature, but for also keeping bugs and other critters out. But that is not the only tool Mark keeps in his shed of gardening tricks. The entire time we’ve been on the hoop house talking, I’ve had to really lean into hear Mark over the music!

The tomatoes have great taste in music!

In the corner, Mark keeps a radio propped up that I had theorized kept him company while he was planting. Turns out, not only does the noise help keep the deer and other creatures out at night, but also the tomatoes really do love the music. For the most part, Mark keeps it tuned into NPR, but he likes to grow what he calls “jazz and blues” tomatoes by occasionally switching over to WEMU. He’s caught one of the other planters putting in on a classic rock station, but insists that the tomatoes will not grow well to Sammy Hagar.

Good to know. Thank you for the yummy tomatoes, WEMU.

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Roadhouse Closed Election Day

Zingerman’s Roadhouse will be closed on Election Day, November 4, 2008.  As a “thank you” to our staff for all of their dedication and commitment over the past 5 years of operation, we are taking this opportunity to show our gratitude to them.

The Roadhouse will open again for regular business at 11am on Wednesday, November 5.  The Roadshow staff will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6am to serve our drive-up guests espressos, lattes and breakfast bagels.

Thank you for your understanding!

Harvest Dinner

The bounty of the garden has been taken from the ground and put onto plates. A whole lot of plates. Our third annual harvest dinner was served up last Tuesday to 120 hungry guests at the Roadhouse. Tomatoes had the largest presence, but our heirloom peppers and potatoes represented themselves pretty well. We oven roasted San Marzano romas at a low temperature for a long time to make the perfect sweet and colorful roasted tomato, and made it even better by stuffing it with blackfin tuna from Tobago. We hollowed out squash and made room for house made lamb sausage, and sliced cucumbers thin for a creamy fresh salad. We actually took three different types of our potatoes (german butter balls, kennebecs, and pontiac reds) and hand cut them for french fries. We then challenged our guests to decide which one was the favorite, and that one will be grown in massive quantities for the restaurant next year. We also steamed the taters for an amazing potato salad… The pepper were all over in different dishes, but I was most excited by the heirloom pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is a southern specialty already on our menu (cheddar, mayo, roasted red peppers, cayenne), but we took it a step further by making it with our hot hungarian wax peppers, red and yellow hinkelhotz, and an appropriately named amish cheese pepper. The flavors blew me away! The heat was definitely at the front, but continued to linger on the tongue. We did not even need to use cayenne to add spice! At the end of the huge buffet was our raw bar of heirloom tomatoes (and me). We had ten different varieties that I sliced to order so that you could sample varietals side by side to compare flavor profiles. We also had house made fresh mozzarella, basil from the garden, a vast selection of American olive oils, and plenty of Portugese sea salad to make fantastic caprese salads, just the way you like them. There were, of course, much more- a gigantic sundae bar, peach cobbler, blueberry grunt, bean salads, sweet carrots…… I will post the menu as incentive to make your reservation now for next year!!


If You Dream It…

Imagine the scene: It is early in the morning… Mark is basking in the lowlight (and temperature) of the time prior to the heat. Chef Alex Young strolls to the backyard (our massive garden) and sips a steaming cup of coffee. He tells Mark that he had a dream (I see a patten here..) that he had potatoes ready under ground. Mark, not ready to contemplate potatoes in his harvest list, hesitates. However, and this only further proves that my boss is far too prophetic, hesitation may set itself aside. We have potatoes, and we have a one Chef Alex’s sixth sense to thank for that. Kennebecks and Pontiacs. Ready to serve. Come and get ‘um.