Why We Love Shawn Askinosie

Unwrapping one candyman’s secret to really good chocolate, and making the world a better place.

by Marcy Harris

Shawn Askinosie with bags of cocoa beans.

There are some who like chocolate, and then there are those of us who would melt away without it. While I certainly wouldn’t pass up any chocolate you put in my hand, really good bean-to-bar chocolate takes the experience to a whole new level, from my palate to my soul. If you’ve ever had Askinosie chocolate, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One man raises the bar on chocolate.

After working as a trial lawyer for two decades and feeling exhausted in body and soul, Shawn Askinosie left his work at the bar to pursue his passion for chocolate making. He and his company do so by buying all of their amazingly good beans from farmers across the globe to bring back to their hometown of Springfield, Missouri, and then make them into incredibly good chocolate bars. The bars are crafted from 100% traceable, single-origin cocoa beans from four regions: San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador; Davao, Philippines; Cortes, Honduras; and Tenende, Tanzania. Askinosie mostly specializes in dark chocolate, and the flavor of their product truly represents the origins where the beans were grown.

As a result, the flavors of Askinosie chocolate are big, complex, and compelling. When we say “full-flavored” here at Zingerman’s, this is what we are talking about. It’s dimensional, very well-balanced, and it’s got a long finish that stays with you, which is what us chocolate-lovers really go for.  Unlike most small chocolatiers, he’s actually going straight to the agricultural source and buying cacao beans from the growers. Shawn has spent significant time in South and Central America in order to meet every single one of the farmers from whom he’s getting cacao in order to get to know them and what they do.

“Because of that,” he explains, “I’m able to literally evaluate the beans before we get them delivered. I direct the exact fermentation and drying specifications of my beans and this is the greatest influence of taste that there is.”

There are additional factors that contribute to the quality and flavor of Askinosie chocolate. Shawn spends a significant amount of time teaching fermentation techniques to the growers, for example. Fermentation is what helps develop the flavor of the chocolate. Also, to focus his chocolate on the pure flavor of the cacao, Shawn does not use any of the lecithin or vanilla that are commonly used in most commercial chocolates. He does add a bit of cocoa butter, which he makes himself in Missouri. The superior chocolate that results from his endeavors is used pretty much exclusively at the Roadhouse in anything that requires chocolate, such as our chocolate pudding, mochas, and syrups, because it in turn makes our product taste better.

“‘Cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.”

While Shawn makes the world a better tasting place to live, he has also made a huge impact on making the world a more meaningful place to live. He makes his chocolate in a workplace that focuses on people, and uses a revolutionary business approach. Not only is he feeding us with really yummy chocolate, but he is feeding the souls of the people he works with, as well as his own with the purposeful work he does. His inspiring book Meaningful Work, A Quest To Do Great Business. Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul talks more about this calling and how to find it for yourself.

Through their model called A Stake in the Outcome™, Askinosie practices open-book management, and their employees are share-owners–just like Zingerman’s!  According to the World Cocoa Foundation, an estimated 8o-90% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from 5 to 6 million smallholder cocoa farmers, and most of these farmers live in poverty. By profit-sharing with these famers in addition to what he pays for the beans, Shawn has addressed this poverty by paying an average of 48% more than the average of what they would normally get paid for their product.

They are also a Direct Trade company. Direct Trade approach cuts out the middleman and pays above Fair Trade market price to the farmers. In turn, Askinosie develops a deep and transparent relationship with the farmers, who are inspired to continue improving the harvesting process to meet quality standards–and we get to eat really good chocolate.

Askinosie involves their community in Missouri to have a greater impact as well. They started Chocolate University, where they teach local schools in Missouri through the lens of an artisan chocolate-maker about how we can solve global issues through business. Through their Product of Change program, they sell chocolate products to local schools in Missouri, then use 100% of the profits to feed malnourished children in the communities where their beans originate in other countries.

So while his chocolate was already delicious, because of the love Shawn puts into it at the source, we guarantee it tastes that much better. Stop by and feed your soul with our favorite bars of chocolate at the Roadhouse!

Check out the yummy Roadshow beverages we offer that are made with Askinosie chocolate!

Benedict on a Biscuit

Great way to start your weekend morning at the Roadhouse

by Ari Weinzweig

Eggs Benedict on buttermilk biscuits at the Roadhouse.

We’ve long had a very good Eggs Benedict for breakfast or brunch on the weekends. But a few months back, the Roadhouse crew took it up a notch by shifting it to a base of house-made Roadhouse buttermilk biscuits. The biscuits are so good, so tender, so rich, so tasty that they make pretty much anything you put on them terrific. In this case it’s thin slices of Nancy Newsom’s fifteen-month old (at this time of year), hickory-smoked country ham from Kentucky, freshly poached eggs and a Hollandaise sauce made from scratch. All setting atop that really tender biscuit. Rich and delicious would be a severe understatement. Come by one morning and check it out for yourself!

In case you’re curious—I was—about where Eggs Benedict came from, the quick answer is, no one seems to really know. There are a series of conflicting origin stories, most all of which though go back to New York City sometime between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th.

I should say that Newsom’s ham alone is amazing—Nancy is one of the only woman ham curers in the country, and one of the only curers who still works only with the traditional seasonal hog slaughter in winter, and ages her hams only with ambient natural temperatures. Her small, artisan, third generation ham curing business is down in Kentucky’s southwest, in the tiny town of Princeton. Nancy came up to speak at Camp Bacon a few years ago, and I started thinking of her as “the Lucinda Williams of country ham”. A powerful, poetic, strong woman who’s a leader in her field, making a product that, once experienced, you’ll have a hard time getting it out of your mind. Same goes for this dish. Once you have it for breakfast the odds are high that you’ll be back for more. And, by the way, if you just want to take home a few slices of the ham, the Deli has it in stock on the cured meat counter.

If all of that isn’t enough to entice you, Metro Times readers just voted the Roadhouse breakfast and brunch as the best in town!

Check out the brunch menu!

Tellicherry Black Pepper from Épices de Cru

The Spice Trekkers crack open the truth about black pepper.

by Marcy Harris

A mortar of freshly ground black pepper.

A pinch of just the right spice will inch the flavor profile of any dish in the direction of being truly memorable. Even something as simple as using really good pepper can make a huge difference in our cooking. Recently the Roadhouse upgraded to using Tellicherry Black Pepper #10 from Épices de Cru in Montreal, Canada, and we haven’t looked back since.

Our friends from Épices de Cru visit us in Ann Arbor every year, continuing to educate us all around the Zingerman’s Community on why good quality spices are so important. By sharing their stories of sourcing spices from all over the world, they remind us about how the people and the regions behind these ingredients contribute to how much better our flavor experience can be. Here is some good stuff they taught the Roadhouse about pepper that we are super excited to share with you.

A dash of info about Tellicherry pepper.

Spices in general have come a long way. We all know the story of Columbus and how he sailed the ocean blue to find the best routes for accessing a very precious commodity. Over several hundred years, colonization and industrialization eventually led to mass production of a valuable resource that used to be difficult to obtain. We now have access to spices anytime and anywhere, but how good are they? By exploring a little bit more about Tellicherry black pepper with the Spice Trekkers, we got really good insight about why the stuff we usually grind on our salads is not necessarily giving us the best flavor.

At some point we’ve heard the term Tellicherry, but what exactly is it? Since the ‘90s, it’s become a label for black pepper that evokes an exotic appeal, and promotes an idea of a better product. It’s a lot like when we use the term Champagne to refer to any sparkling wine. The truth is, due to strict wine laws, we can only use the word Champagne to refer to sparkling wine from the specific region of Champagne, France.

While there aren’t any government restrictions on the use of the word, Tellicherry also refers to a region in the Indian state of Kerala, on the Malabar Coast. Real Tellicherry peppercorns are grown in a small village in the mountains of Kerala, on small, single estates. They are unblended, unadulterated, and bold, the grains a bigger size then most peppers. “Extra-bold” refers to that size, sometimes referred to as grade 10. At the Roadhouse we use Tellicherry #10, which is perfect for our dishes and our pepper grinders!

There’s something in the air…

So why is it so important that Tellicherry comes from Kerala? It all starts with the climate. Everything from the higher altitude of the mountains to the Indian spring sun as it dries the pepper berries contributes to the development of flavor in the pepper. A dash of expertise from the growers and pickers gives us the recipe for really good black pepper.

Pepper is actually a fruit, more specifically a berry, that grows on long woody vines. The vines are supported by tall trees in India, grown by small families in their backyards. Once they are picked, they are laid out to dry in the sun. The fruit dries around the seed, and it is this outer part of the peppercorn that offers a great deal of piperine, the alkaloid that makes pepper firey and pungent. After 2-3 days, the peppercorns are painstakingly hand-sorted so only the best, largest grains are sent to be exported. That’s it. Minimal processing.

All the people involved in growing, picking, sorting, and even exporting the pepper inKerala are super passionate about the quality of the spice. The Tellicherry Pepper #9 from Épices de Cru, for example, is hand-sorted by three ladies before being passed along for export. They are paid very well to do their job, and they are meticulous. The man who in turn exports the peppercorns to Épices de Cru, Sudheer, is eagerly described by the Trekkers as a very passionate individual, with a big heart and a generous spirit. He is determined to work with spice farmers on the quality of the product, paying them highly for taking the time to grow it. He has truly raised the bar on black pepper.

Taste the difference.

Knowing where your Tellicherry pepper is coming from is key, but also understanding the difference in flavor and quality can go a long way in being able to find the right product for your cooking at home. Much of what we find at the store is processed and/or mistreated. The piperine in the fruit can be extracted and sold as an oil, and the rest bottled and sold as an inferior product. The size of the grains can inconsistent, or there might be a mix of grains from different regions that don’t work well together. Storing the pepper in a clear glass jar causes the oils in the pepper to break down, and it loses precious aromatics (Épices de Cru stores their spices in tins!). In the end, you might be left with a pepper that is all heat and little else, at best.

True Tellicherry is generally a larger grain, consistent in size between the peppercorns. As far as flavor goes, it is a visceral, multi-dimensional experience, like a fine wine or olive oil. Whereas with an inferior pepper all you get is intense heat up front, a good Tellicherry pepper develops into lingering flavors including floral, citrus, and even eucalyptus. The profile will vary by region and farm, but the essence is the same. There should always be a far-reaching textural mouthfeel that unfolds into your system, leaving a lingering memory on your palate.

If you’ve ever tried our Tellicherry #10 at the Roadhouse, you might know what we’re talking about here. It’s extraordinary. These large, fully ripened berries have a rich flavor and a long, slow heat that is unparalleled. We crack it over our french fries, rub it all over our Texas brisket, and honestly sometimes just open up a tin, breathe deeply and get whisked away to a beautiful coast in India. Come by and taste the difference!

Check out the dinner specials we make with Épices de Cru spices!

I Scream for Zingerman’s Creamery Gelato!

Savor sensational flavors in every scoop!

by Marcy Harris


A scoop of Zingerman's Creamery gelato

As it gets warmer, I can only think about one thing. Ok, two things. Summer cocktails and ice cream. The former was not a huge part of growing up for me, but as a kid I loved ice cream. It’s always been my favorite… until I tried gelato. Zingerman’s Creamery Gelato, that is.

So what’s the diff? They are both cold, creamy and delicious. Why is gelato necessarily better? It’s all a matter of preference, but admittedly, it’s hard to go back to ice cream once you’ve tasted gelato. Especially our gelato.

Cup or cone? I’ll take a bottomless bowl, please.

Have you ever scooped up a big bowl of ice cream, and found that you are not quite satisfied until you’ve practically licked the bowl? That’s because ice cream is churned so that there is a ton of air packed into it, creating that light, fluffy texture that we all love about ice cream. But because it is about 50% air, ice cream isn’t very filling, and we are often left screaming for more. Gelato, on the other hand, is denser, silkier, and creamier. One scoop goes a long way, and you are less likely to feel like you need a second serving. Unless you you really just love gelato and want to eat it all the time.

Dripping with deliciousness!

The flavor of gelato is superior over that of ice cream in my honest opinion. There is a science behind it that I am not making up, though. Gelato has more milk than ice cream, but less sugar and butterfat churned in. Butterfat coats your palate and makes it more challenging to taste any natural flavor. And sugar just tastes… well, sweet. While a pint of Rocky Road or Peanut Butter Cup ice cream might sound appealing, all those little bits of candy and such are just more sugary components loaded in to give ice cream more flavor. Gelato, on the other hand, does not need sprinkles or chocolate sauce added on. It tastes good as it is.

As long as you are using really good ingredients, simple flavors go a long way. I think that’s the appeal with Zingerman’s Creamery gelato. The Roadhouse Vanilla, used on our famous Donut Sundaes, is made with Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. The Creamery uses really good artisanal Scharffen Berger chocolate and creamy Calder’s milk in their Dark Chocolate gelato, and you can taste why it is so much better than a pint of ice cream from the store. You don’t need a ton of jazz for something to taste good.

What’s your favorite flavor?

Now don’t get me wrong, Zingerman’s Creamery loves to get creative with its new flavors. One that has been super popular has to be the Sour Cream Coffee Cake, made in honor of Zingerman’s Bakehouse for their 25th Anniversary. It’s a cream cheese based gelato with chunks of their renowned Sour Cream Coffee Cake and swirls of cinnamon.

One of my personal favorites is Maple Pecan! The Creamery uses real Michigan maple syrup, and each bite of the cool treat tastes like a fresh drop of syrup from a tree in February melting on my tongue. The Georgia pecans are tender and buttery, and the maple dissolves off each piece like syrup candy.

Whatever floats your gelato boat, come on by and treat yourself! Add a scoop to one of our Nashville Fried Pies, share a sampler with a friend, or pour a shot of Zingerman’s Coffee espresso on top of a scoop of Roadhouse Vanilla and make it an affogato kind of day.

Check out our dessert menu to find out what gelato flavor we are offering!

 

Tellicherry Texas Brisket at the Roadhouse

A marvelous, meaty bit of Texas tradition on the Westside

by Ari Weinzweig

Texas brisket with Tellicherry black pepper rub at Zingerman's Roadhouse.

This is another Texas classic that has been on my Roadhouse wish list for ages. Head Chef Bob Bennett has made it happen in very fine form! He’s starting with premium briskets from Farm, Field, Table, rubbing them down with a whole bunch of Épices de Cru Tellicherry #10 black pepper, and then smoking them over oak for a good 10-plus hours. As is traditional in Texas, there’s NO sauce. (We can’t stop you from putting some on, but know that if a Texan should see you…you might be at risk of a few cynical eye rolls). It’s great on its own for dinner, on a chef’s BBQ plate, or on a sandwich.

The finished flavor is exceptional. The winey and wonderful complexity of the Tellicherry pepper forms a magical crust, the flavor the Farm, Field, Table beef is beyond great, and the oak-smoke sews it all together. One bite of the brisket will linger on your palate. This stuff is blowing my mind every time I try it—ask for a taste next time you’re in!

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Terra d’Oro Barbera at the Roadhouse

It’s like liquid gold!

by Marcy Harris

A bottle of Terra d'Oro Barbera held in front of the pit smoker at Zingerman's Roadhouse.

To me, wine is always a treasure. On occasion there is that one that is worth its weight in gold, each sip an unearthed bounty of flavor. How fitting that one of the glasses we feature on our Roadhouse wine list is from a vineyard that literally translates as Land of Gold!

A “vintage” goldmine.

The Terra d’Oro Barbera hails from Amador County, in the heart of the “Mother Lode”, or California’s Gold Rush country. As pioneers panned for gold in the 1850s, they also planted vineyards as they settled in the area, burying treasure of a different kind in the earth–the seeds for the wines that grow there today. By the 1890s, the Sierra Foothills region had over 100 wineries (more than any other region in California).

The region was revived after Prohibition when Cary Gott established Montevina Winery and started planting it’s luscious Zinfandel in 1970. Terra d’Oro released it’s wines under the Montevina label in 1973, including the Barbera we enjoy at the Roadhouse. The Trinchero family runs this label, focusing on 100% sustainable agriculture to create wines that are true to their Italian heritage, including Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, and our beloved Barbera.

Uncork an Old World wealth of flavor.

Barbera is a grape found in the Piedmont region of Italy, an area known for its beautiful forests, earthy dishes, and world-renowned truffles. Like its Italian cousin, this Californian Barbera pairs well with savory smoky foods, like our BBQ meats, roasted pork, or heavier grilled fishes. Vegetarian dishes including mushrooms, heavy greens, and root vegetables also make for perfect companions with this wine.

Aging the Barbera in French and Hungarian oak for 15 months provides the oak-based notes that give balance to the wine. It carries a bright complexity, with notes of cherry, and lightly baked fruits. The palate boasts cherry, raspberry, and a touch of smoke, with a long, velvety finish. For anyone who is looking for an approachable red wine with supple flavors that are not too overpowering, this is one is an excellent choice.

Don’t let it bug you!

Terra d’Oro maintains sustainable agriculture mainly by reducing the need for pesticides. Legumes are planted as cover crops between the rows, growing tall enough to attract good insects that feed on the insects that are harmful to the vines. There are also owl boxes built around the vineyards to attract nocturnal hunters to keep the critter population at a minimum. As a result, there is no need for harmful chemicals or sprays.

By utilizing Integrated Pest Management and focusing on producing superior grapes from a deep cultural heritage, Terra d’Oro has been producing wines that are richer than any buried ore. Their Zinfandel and Barbera are truly liquid gold. You don’t have to be rich to sip on a wealth of flavor, though. Did you know that anytime you take a bottle of wine home from the Roadhouse it is 30% off? Pick up a bottle of Barbera today and enjoy it with our awesome BBQ!

Check out our new wine list!

Southwest Vegetable Soup at the Roadhouse

No meat, no gluten, no dairy, LOTS of flavor!

by Ari Weinzweig

Bowl of Southwestern Vegetable Soup at the Roadhouse.

This soup is one of the little-known secrets of the Roadhouse menu. While it’s true that fried chicken, pulled pork, fresh fish, and mac and cheese get much of the attention, there are a host of other great tasting meals that are really just as special. This soup is one of them!

How good is it? I asked for a cup of it just to taste for my regular quality check and I ended up eating the whole bowl even though I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t stop! Its depth of the flavor comes from a slow-cooked sweet potato and vegetable stock, and we finish it off with fresh corn kernels, fire-roasted New Mexico green chiles, roasted red peppers, cilantro, cumin, cayenne and a garnish of avocado salad and chopped corn tortilla chips. Many guests love that it has no dairy, wheat or meat. Haley Mills, long time Roadhouse server told me that the Southwest Vegetable Soup is her “favorite food in the restaurant.” Come on by and have a bowl—along with a salad (arugula, goat cheese and roasted beets?) and a glass of wine.

Check out our daily soup offerings!

Sea Islands Sweet Potato Fries: Possibly the Best

Don’t like sweet potatoes? You haven’t tried ours yet.

by Marcy Harris

Sea Islands' Sweet Potato Fries at Zingerman's Roadhouse
Photo by Emma Boonstra.

One of the things we love to do at Zingerman’s Roadhouse is connect you with food from obscure regions of America. By doing so, we try our best to transform your experience with food. Many of us have tasted many things at one point or another in our lives, and have formed an opinion about these things based on how they were cooked and served.

Yet how truthfully can any of us say we’ve had the best (fill in the blank) ever? For example, can you say that you’ve had the best sweet potato fries at this point in your life? If you’ve had them at the Roadhouse, you might say yes.

Bringing island flavor to the Roadhouse.

Ari discovered the recipe for our sweet potato fries while studying the foodways of the Gullah people on the Sea Islands, off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. The Gullah population is a group of African Americans descended from slaves who worked rural plantations, then settled in the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina. The group speaks a Creole dialect, and they either stayed on the mainland and refer to themselves as “Freshwater Gullah”, or moved to the Sea Islands and call themselves “Saltwater Gullah”.

Like Creole food, Gullah food is a good mix of Native American, European, and African influences. Gumbo and shrimp are popular, and there are many recipes devoted to yams or sweet potatoes. The Sea Island sweet potato fries are really something special, which is why we feature them proudly on our menu.

We are not talking about soggy pile of orange shoestrings, here. We take thick wedges of sweet potatoes with the skin still on, and twice-fry them. What we then set out in front of you is a paper-lined chicken basket of quite possibly the best sweet potato fries you will ever eat. The skin is perfectly salted, crispy and golden brown, the sweet potato itself is melt-in-your-mouth creamy and buttery. On their own, they are amazing. Dip them in the spicy mayo we serve them with, and the flavor is out-of-control good.

Do try this at home!

What is this spicy mayo you ask? We take real Hellman’s mayo and add cayenne, garlic, and Frank’s Hot Sauce. It is the most sought-after condiment at the Roadhouse. People can’t get enough of it for their sweet-potato fries, and it is also wildly popular on burgers. It’s really super simple to make at home, and you can adjust the heat to your liking.

Spicy Mayo Recipe

1 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Frank’s Hot Sauce

1 pinch peeled and minced garlic

1 pinch cayenne pepper

Combine the ingredients and mix well, whipping quickly by hand or using an electric mixer.

Or you could just stop in and enjoy our Sea Islands’ Sweet Potato Fries with Spicy Mayo at the Roadhouse! They are available for lunch and dinner, make your reservation today!

Obama Buns!

Our best breakfast pastry! Saturday and Sunday only!

by Ari Weinzweig

An Obama Bun from Zingerman's Bakehouse.We only make these on the weekends, but it might be worth coming to the Bakehouse, Deli or Roadhouse on a weekend morning just to eat one. You wouldn’t be the only one making a special trip—the Obama buns have a LOT of very, very loyal fans. They are one of our—in my opinion—best Bakehouse pastries ever. Sweet rolls, topped with a bunch of pecans and a really career-alteringly good caramel. Great as is, or even better brushed with a bit of butter and grilled!

In the beautiful new Zingerman’s Bakehouse book, Amy and Frank write: “They are delicious, rich sticky buns. The dough is full of tasty butter, and the topping is made special with a mixture of honey, Muscovado sugar, and an abundance of pecans.” They also share the story of the name:

“We originally called them ‘Bama Buns’ because of the pecans and their connection to the South. But when Barack Obama became president, well, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pair the two so…we added an “O” to the name.”

Melvin Parson and Ari Weinzweig smiling together with a bunch of leafy greens.They’re definitely the all-time favorite food of my friend Melvin Parson, the man behind We the People Growers Association in Ypsilanti (you can read about Melvin in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4, the Power of Beliefs in Business—go to page 289 if you want to skip straight there). Melvin eats them nearly every Saturday and Sunday morning. You might have seen us sitting at the back table at the Deli’s Next Door Café and talking while he savors his sweet roll and we sip coffee.

The other morning, I asked him what he likes about them. “Well,” he started with a smile, “I like the name. I like that they’re made by you guys: by Zingerman’s, at the Bakehouse. I like the taste of the pecans. They always taste fresh. Just the right amount of dough versus sugar…the topping that’s put on ‘em is great. They’re the perfect size. I’ve eaten so many Obama Buns, they’re a comfort food for me. It’s my treat to myself.”

Next Saturday or Sunday morning, drive up to the Roadshow, or ask for them at brunch, and make them a treat for yourself.

What is it About Grilled Cheese

Toasty. Buttery. Melty.

by Marcy Harris

National Grilled Cheese Day is coming up, on April 12th, and it got me

thinking about one of my favorite sandwiches at the Roadhouse. It’s really so simple, but melty, gooey, and heartwarmingly delicious.

For those of you who have mastered the art of cooking grilled cheese, you know it’s not easy to make. One has to find that perfect balance of golden toasted bread with perfectly melted cheese inside. Everyone has their own technique. Picture the scene with the clothing iron from the movie Benny & Joon. You have to figure out what works, but once you do, it’s well worth the patience.

Years ago I work for a 5-star restaurant in Chicago run by a very talented award-winning chef from Australia. He had never tried grilled cheese before in his entire life. Also, having never toasted a cheese sandwich before, the 5-star chef burned the first two sandwiches he tried to make. It was on the kid’s menu, and one night he cooked it for a young guest. After he managed to successfully toast the grilled cheese, the chef tried one for himself. He was blown away. All it took was a couple of melted slices of American cheese on buttered white toast for this chef’s knees to buckle a bit. There might have been tomato soup involved, too.

Grilled cheese stretches back a loooong way…

Ancient Roman texts describe recipes similar to our modern version of the sandwich. It could be traced back at least to the 1900s, to the Croque Monsieur, a French open-faced sandwich served with ham then smothered with melted Comté or Gruyere. Although the fact that there is ham present might bring about some debate around its authenticity as a true grilled cheese. More on that later.

At the very least, we know that grilled cheese sandwiches start popping up around the 1920s after the invention of sliced bread. Shortly before that, in 1914, Kraft & Bros. Company opened it’s first processed cheese plant in Illinois. By the time they introduced Kraft Singles in 1949, Navy cooks had been preparing thousands of cheese sandwiches during WWII using grated cheese.

Thank you Kraft, but I think we’ve got this.

The beauty of the grilled cheese sandwich is that it can be made with so many different cheeses! We have a ton of gourmet cheeses on our list at the Roadhouse. Can we do American? Sure. But why not try a Hook’s 10-year Aged Cheddar? Or how about a Kenny’s Farmhouse Chipotle Colby to spice it up a bit? No wait, I’ve got it– Zingerman’s Creamery Goat Cheese on Roadhouse bread, with a bowl of Cream of Asparagus Soup? Yessssss….

Recently, a friend of mine told me that once you add ham to a grilled cheese sandwich, it is no longer grilled cheese. He’s got a point. Does that mean you can’t add anything to a grilled cheese? I think the possibilities are endless. Last fall, the Roadhouse featured a grilled cheese on the menu in honor of Zingerman’s Creamery, made with spiced plums and their award-winning Manchester cheese. It was heavenly. Another favorite was the Klaver’s Grilled Cheese, made with Roadhouse Rye bread dipped in our Red Rage BBQ sauce. It was named after one of our bussers, who accidentally dropped a whole loaf of the bread in the sauce. Instead of throwing it away, we turned it into a special. Oh man, it was good.

I’ll skip the ham, but please add pickles!

My personal favorite is always going to be with Ari’s Pimento Cheese. Lately we’ve done a Pimen-tuna Melt on Zingerman’s Bakehouse Sweet Wheat that is killer. But honestly, I could go for a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon any day, tuna or no tuna. I am also a big fan of subbing out the bacon for pickles.

You heard me. A few years ago I got into British television programs, and just about every show I watched would mention a cheese and pickle sandwich. Two of my favorite things in one place? How do I make this happen? The traditional British version is made with cheddar cheese and a sweet, vinegary pickle chutney, which sounds amazing in and of itself. For some reason, I kept envisioning this sandwich with Roadhouse pimento cheese and sliced Zingerman’s Deli pickles. So that’s how I started making it, and after grilling it to perfection, it is without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Seriously, come in and try it! We can make you a grilled cheese anytime, with any cheese on our list. Add bacon, add pickles, add tomatoes, or just keep it simple. Classic. All American. Comfort-food.

Check out our lunch menu! 

East Texas Hot Links at the Roadhouse

Sensational new sausage to spice up your day!

by Ari WeinzweigSmoked and grilled Texas hot links at the Roadhouse.

If you don’t already know them—and not that many in the Midwest will—Hot Links are a classic of East Texas.  I’ve been waiting to have these on the menu for years.  It was very well worth the wait.  These are so exceptionally good, that I won’t mind eating them two or three times a week for a while to make up for lost time.  If you’re from Texas you probably know all about Hot Links—down there, they’re a long-standing tradition, especially, though definitely not only, in the African American communities.  These new arrivals at the Roadhouse are made for us by our friend Matt Romine from Farm, Field, Table in Ferndale, using sustainably raised beef and lamb and a series of spices— paprika, cayenne, black pepper, fennel seed, anise, coriander seed, mustard seed, and bay leaf.

To be clear, hot links are a big deal in Texas—sort of what hot dogs are in Chicago or Bratwurst in Milwaukee.  They have a tradition all their own.  Maybe, you could say, they’re a cousin of a Cajun boudin. Jessi Devenyns, writing in Wide Open Eats, says, “Away from the legacy of smoked brisket in the Texas Hill County, East Texas hot links reign supreme, especially in the Hot Link Capital of Texas: Pittsburg.” That’s Pittsburg, TX, not Pittsburgh, PA. The story is that Pittsburg butcher Charlie Hasselbach created them back in 1897 in their raw form, and then began cooking them for sale as is twenty years or so later.

For more on Hot Link history, see this great film from Southern Foodways Alliance – www.southernfoodways.org/blood-is-blood. Remember that Camp Bacon is a fundraiser for this very fine organization!  “East Texas Hot Links” is also the title of a well-regarded, socially challenging, stage production written by Eugene Lee about a “colored only bar” back in 1955.

Here, we smoke the fresh sausages at the Roadhouse lightly over oak, and then put them out on both lunch and dinner dishes. They are, seriously, totally delicious.  Like, as in excellent.  The super high quality of the meat from Farm, Field, Table gives them a depth, character and complexity that most commercial meat products will never come close to.  The spice is significant but not too over the top at all.  That said, in Texas, they’re generally taken with a bottle of hot sauce to shake on the plate as an accompaniment.  All I can say is the first time I tasted the sample, I took two of ‘em home to have for dinner.  And we rarely cook meat at home so you know they’re good! Smoky, spicy, meaty, super marvelous.  Come check ‘em out ASAP!

 

Keep an eye out for these on our lunch and dinner specials!

Really Good American Wine at the Roadhouse

“If you’re eating something good, that’s great! But if you are eating and drinking something good,
that’s even better.”–Stephen Satterfield

by Marcy HarrisIllustration of a wine bottle with a label that reads: Zingerman's Really Good American Wine, Ann Arbor.

The Roadhouse loves to bring you good food, and we are excited to focus on good wine, too–with a new wine menu! Our beverage specialists, Kim Green and Felipe Diaz, have teamed up with Stephen Satterfield, wine expert and founder of Whetstone Magazine, to put together a list that is full-flavored and focuses on wineries with sustainable practices. Our selection includes wines crafted by women and minority winemakers, allowing us to feature a unique collection that reflects the diversity of America, a really great place to live.

36 reasons to love wine, all in one place.

Ever been to a restaurant where the wine list is so long your head starts spinning before you’ve even taken a sip? As is the case with many things, including bottles of wine, quantity does not always mean quality. In an effort to really begin to focus on the best regional wines that are available in the U.S., we’ve narrowed down our selection to 36.

So where did this number come from? I promise, it is not an enigmatic code that unlocks the secrets to wine drinking. It just so happened that we found 36 winemakers we would like to feature, and it is a number that brings cultural significance.

According to Ari Weinzweig, “In Hebrew, letters are also numbers. “Chai” (that’s a hard “Ch” not the Indian tea beverage) means “life.”  As in “L’chaim,” the well-known toast, “to life.” In numbers, it equals “18.”  “36” in Jewish culture is considered a special number because it equals “twice life.”  And since we’re working with wine and toasting to a good life here at the Roadhouse, it seemed a like an easy choice!”

Women, minorities, and sustainability.

What do you get when you mix diversity and sustainability? A meritage of what makes American really great. When seeking out the selections for our new list, naturally we want to seek out the wines that best represent their region. The truth is, wine tastes best when the vines have had to work hard in the soil. The grapes develop more flavor and character. Similarly, the flavor of the wine mirrors the souls of the people who produce it and the soil they reap it from. The more artisans work to create the ingredients, the more they endeavor, the more the elements of what they produce develop character.

Simply said, women and minorities have worked hard in this country, and when it comes to wine, it is reflected in what they are producing. Just to name a few:

André Hueston Mack, the first African American to win Best Sommelier in 2003, started his own winery Maison Noir Wines in Oregon on his own. No investors, no partners. Understanding that wine, like life, is subjective, he brings creativity and a unique approach his brand, and produces vibrant wines with an edgy appeal.

Born in rural India to a farming family, Dr. Madaiah Revana harbors an intuition for growing grapes acquired from his family’s agricultural heritage. With this intuition, he started his vineyard, Alexana, out of love for the wines of Burgundy and a passion to create similar wines in America. Named after his daughter, Alexandra, his vineyard produces wines that are elegant and balanced.

The late Patricia Green, who was a spirited winemaker in Oregon, started Patricia Green Cellars with her business partner, Jim Anderson, in 2000 with a commitment to produce Pinot Noirs that capture the essence of the site where they are grown. The Reserve bottle we carry captures the spirit of a woman who rose up quickly and notably in the world of wine. 

Laurentide Winery, started by Susan Braymer and her husband in Lake Leelanau, Michigan, has been a partner with the Roadhouse for years. With every sip of her wines, you can taste her expertise in working with a microclimate and geography that has been shaped by the Laurentide glaciers of northern Michigan.

Eileen Crane from Domaine Carneros in California Eileen Crane is regarded as America’s Doyenne of Sparkling Wine for good reason! She has spent 38 years in the wine industry, and is considered to be the most experienced sparkling winemaker in the United States. Just like Eileen, her wines are elegant and vivacious. 

Here’s to sustaining life!

Sustainable practices protect the elements that give a product life. There is so much involved, everything from the soil and water, managing pests and energy, using green materials, and even providing a good working environment for your employees! Find just the right balance of responsibility and stewardship of all these things, and in turn, everything you grow tastes better. At the Roadhouse we’ve certainly noticed the difference with the wines on our list.

We now carry several that are certified sustainable. LIVE Certified, for example, sets environmental and social standards for 327 vineyards in the Pacific Northwest. The wines we carry that are LIVE Certified include Alexana Winery and Ransom Wines. Honig Wine is not only California Sustainable Winegrowing Certified, but Michael Honig actually helped write the Wine Institutes Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices.  Ancient Peaks Winery is SIP Certified, and Picket Fence, Domaine Carneros, Quivira are all sustainable.

We could go on! But we don’t want to cork the fun in you finding out for yourself how amazing the wines are at the Roadhouse. Whether you are just sipping a new vintage to enjoy on its own, or trying a weekly featured wine that we’ve paired with a chef’s special, we know you’ll enjoy them as much as we do. Like with anything we offer at the Roadhouse, it’s really all about the stories behind the these beautiful wines and the incredible people who make them. So let us tell the stories as you sit back and savor the soul of our beautiful country with our new wine list!

As we continue to taste the difference with what America has to offer, the Roadhouse raises a glass to all of you. Here’s “To Life”!

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Ig Vella’s Dry Jack

An Exceptional American Original

By Ari Weinzweig

Cut open wheel of Ig Vella Dry Jack cheese.

Although probably fewer than five percent of American consumers have ever heard of it, dry Jack is probably the greatest of all American cheeses. Historically, texturally, and flavorfully, it’s a one-of-a-kind American original and made for decades by one of my favorite people in the cheese world. Sadly, Ig Vella passed away in June of 2011. I miss him still. Fortunately, I can still regularly eat and appreciate one of the cheeses that helped earn him an American Cheese Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s an exceptional offering.

The general story of dry jack cheese is sort of a 20th century North American remake of the legend of Roquefort. You know, the story of the young shepherd boy who leaves his cheese and his bread behind in a cave? He returns weeks later and finds that the ugly-looking blue mold that had grown on the cheese was actually a windfall when it came to flavor, and Roquefort was “born.” In the modern dry jack version of the story, the part of the shepherd/hero is played by a San Francisco grocer names DeBernardi. Finding his supply of aged grating cheese from Italy cut off by World War I and desperate to satisfy his customers, he stumbles upon an abandoned pallet full of Monterey Jack. As in the story of the shepherd, this cheese had been set aside and forgotten about in the shop’s cellar. And, amazingly, what had started out mild and soft had turned into an incredibly delicious, firm-textured and full-flavored aged cheese.

The Vella family started making Monterey Jack, Dry Jack and many other cheeses in the town of Sonoma in 1931, when Ig’s father, an immigrant from the central Sicilian town of Gela, and a friend named Celso Viviani, started their own creamery. The two immigrants worked together for 20 years up until 1951, when they went their separate ways. Celso chose to set up Sonoma Cheese, which is operated today by his grandson, David. And Tom Vella started Vella Cheese in the old brewery that still stands just off the plaza in the center of the town of Sonoma.

Dry Jack is one of the most historically important cheeses we have—when other artisans gave up and folded their hand, the Vellas stayed the course, through the low point of the ’70s days when craft cheese all but disappeared in the U.S. Happily, it was still there for us to appreciate in the ’80s and ’90s when American cheese began its big comeback. There’s really nothing like it anywhere in the world. Dry Jack is a delicious study in contrast. Full-flavored without being strong; firm-textured, yet surprisingly soft on the palate; great for eating as is but also for grating onto salads, pastas or soups. It brings a bit of aged Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano and American cheddar all together in one terrific cheese. Eat it on its own, toss cubes of it onto your salad, grate it onto pasta, or enjoy it after dinner with some of those terrific dried pears we have at the Cream Top Shop.

Vella’s young Monterey Jack—one of the only authentic, traditional fresh Jack cheeses still being made in this country, is also amazing. Creamy, milky, mild and totally delicious, you can try it on the macaroni and cheese with smoked chicken, fresh corn and New Mexico green chiles at the Roadhouse. Really good!

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Grits n’ Bits Waffles: All the Deliciousness in One Place

March 25th is National Waffle Day!

by Marcy Harris

Roadhouse Grits n' Bits Waffle.

If you are waffling over what to order for brunch at the Roadhouse, our waffles are always an excellent choice. Crispy golden brown on the outside, fluffy clouds of buttermilk goodness on the inside, these Belgian treats are a favorite!

We couldn’t help but take it to another level with our waffles, like we do with many things on our menu. So while you can enjoy a classic Belgian waffle any morning at the Roadhouse, we also have our amazing Grits n’ Bits Waffle. This recipe was created to capture a regional dish with history as deep as the squares on any Belgian waffle.

From the North to the South…and back again.

The story behind it is that the Dutch brought waffle irons to the U.S. with them, and as they moved down the coast from Manhattan to the South, they began to mix leftover local grits into their waffles to make a new breakfast. Folks in Georgia and South Carolina have been making these for centuries now.

The grits add an intense corn flavor, but also an incredible texture. We use Anson Mills’ antebellum coarse yellow grits, made from field ripened Carolina Gourdseed White or John Haulk Yellow dent mill corns, both of which were nearly extinct until rediscovered by Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills.

We all know grits, so what are the bits?

But why stop there when you have really good bacon, too? So we chop up our favorite, Nueske’s applewood-smoked, and add that into the mix. It’s a thick cut of bacon, so you get really nice flavorful pieces from it that don’t shrivel up into tiny bits.

Just when you think it’s darn near perfect, we throw in our favorite white cheddar from Cabot. It adds the perfect amount of nutty sharpness that really rounds it all out. Drizzle on our real maple syrup from Snow’s Sugarbush, and the result is really complex and delicious. Sweet, smoky, buttery, with melty cheese, it’s everything all at once that you would want to make your breakfast a memorable experience.

We’ve got them for breakfast and for brunch, and we can make them gluten-free with our rice waffles! Try them with poached eggs on top, or with our buttermilk fried chicken, just ask your server!

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Get your Corn Dogs at the Roadhouse!

March 17th is National Corn Dog Day!

by Marcy Harris

Plate of three corn dogs with a side of yellow mustard.

Whether it was at a local carnival or a Fourth of July picnic, eating corn dogs was a regular part of growing up in the Midwest. There was always something really handy about eating something on a stick, maybe because I could dip mine in a slathering of ketchup, as I did with most things. Little did I know that years later I would still enjoy corn dogs, especially after learning to appreciate really good ones like we have here at the Roadhouse.

Sometimes corny ideas are the best ones!

It is unclear who might have fried up the first corn dog. While we can seemingly credit the ancient Egyptians with the invention of deep-frying 7,000 years ago, the corn dog did not really earn its claim to fame until the 1940s. Carl and Neil Fletcher started frying up “Corny Dogs” at the Texas State Fair sometime between 1938 and 1942. The Pronto Pup vendors at the Minnesota State Fair claim that their corn dog in 1941 was the first. Corn dogs on sticks stole the show in 1946 at the Cozy Dog Drive-in, in Springfield, Illinois.

While they really seemed to take off during this time period at state fairs, drive-ins, and fountain shops, the corn dog can be traced back a bit further to 1929, when a “Krusty Korn Dog” baker machine appeared in the Albert Pick-L. Barth wholesale catalog of hotel and restaurant supplies. The ‘korn dogs’ were baked in a corn batter until they resembled ears of corn.

Regardless of their origin, corn dogs have withstood the test of time as a favorite treat in the United States and around the globe! Today, there are several countries that have their own version, including Australia, Canada, Argentina, and South Korea.

A good kind of germ!

I’m sure much of the draw with corn dogs has to do with the sugar in the corn batter. What child does not enjoy sugar? So while the corn dog stands up as a hearty snack, the main flavor I remember when scarfing these down as a wee lass was of sugar and ketchup, and less of actual corn.

The truth is, much of the commercial cornmeal we buy does not taste like corn. Typically what we buy from the local grocery is steel-ground, and has pretty much all of the germ from the corn kernel removed to improve shelf stability. But the germ is where all the flavor comes from!

Roadhouse corn dog cut open, showing hot dog and layer of fried corn batter.We get our cornmeal from Anson Mills, which is made with antebellum heirloom corn and is stone-ground with the germ partially intact. The current harvest is made from two varietals called John Haulk and Pencil Cob, which are field-ripened and coarsely ground. The result is a pure, sweet corn flavor that really comes through on an open crumb texture. We add buttermilk to the batter to give it a creamy balance, then fry each dog so it is a perfect golden brown.

Ever try black skillet cornbread? If you have, and it was cooked perfectly, then you might be familiar with that crisp, golden edge that gives way to a softer crumb. Every bite of our corn dogs reminds me of this, with the gently browned shell and the buttery center.

With our all-beef hot dogs and a touch of Raye’s Schooner Down East Yellow Mustard, the Roadhouse corn dogs are a favorite with many of our guests, no matter what their age. Stop in and celebrate National Corn Dog Day with us on March 17th, or any day of the year to treat your inner child!

 

Corn dogs are always on our Main Menu, but did you know we have a Kid’s Menu, too?

Rhode Island Coffee Milk

Frappucino for the Slow Food set?

by Ari WeinzweigRoadshow server holding a glass of Rhode Island Coffee Milk

Coffee milk is the official drink of the state of Rhode Island, but the Roadshow at Zingerman’s Roadhouse has adopted it as their own. If you’re driven by flavor, you’ll want to know that it tastes really good. If you’re driven by personal stories, you’ll want to know that coffee milk was actually invented by the uncle of Ann Arbor’s own Jan Longone about 75 years ago. Jan’s the woman behind the world-class Longone Culinary Collection that’s now housed at University of Michigan’s Hatcher Graduate Library.

Coffee milk formally became the state drink of Rhode Island in 1993, but it’s been around since the ’30s. Although it’s unlikely that no one other than Rhode Islanders have mixed cold milk, coffee and sugar, the good people of the nation’s smallest state seem to have latched on to it with a love and affection like English people have for tea. The first coffee syrup available for retail sale was a Warwick, Rhode Island based brand called Eclipse, which made its debut in 1938 and became known for the slogan, You’ll smack your lips when it’s Eclipse. I love the slogan, but the real story behind it came up when I was meeting with Jan. “You know, my uncle actually invented that,” she said. Well, actually I didn’t know. But I have no reason to doubt that he did. As a very careful and detail-oriented historian, Jan doesn’t spin stories out of hand. She closed her eyes, and said, “I can still taste it.”

Jan’s Uncle Meyer was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who loved to tinker with things. And, according to legend, he took the Rhode Island love for strong, sweet coffee—likely based in the heavy concentration of both Italians and Portuguese people living there—and turned it into a cold drink. We don’t have his exact recipe for the coffee syrup, which is the basis of the drink, but, apparently, he shared it with someone he knew, and the man absconded with it.

The coffee milk is a bit of a secret to most folks but it has long drawn “oohs” and “aahs.” The syrup is homemade, much as Jan’s Uncle Meyer might have done, and the Roadshow crew uses the Coffee Company’s Roadhouse Joe as the base. We mix up the syrup with the amazingly good milk and cream from Calder Dairy (over in Carleton, Michigan, the same stuff we use at the Creamery to make the cream cheese).

When do you drink coffee milk? Anytime and anyplace. If you’re not into hot beverages it’s a great way to get the day going. Pull up to the Roadshow anytime and ask for a taste or just order one up and drink a cool toast to Uncle Meyer and a Rhode Island classic.

Interested in our coffee drinks? Take a look at the Roadshow Menu!

Charles Poirier’s Louisiana Cane Syrup

By Ari Weinzweig

“Charles’ cane syrup is dark, delicious, sensual, and superb. It’s like the best traditional brown sugar made into a swirling, thick, sensuous elixir.”- Ari Weinzweig

Bottles of Poirier's Real Cane Syrup.
I don’t know exactly how many new foods are sent our way from producers and distributors that would like us to carry their products. I probably should keep track, but for the moment lets say it’s a hundred a month, which would mean well over a 1000 a year. We taste them all, but bring in only a handful to sell. So, something has to be truly great if we’re going to make shelf space for it. Every once in a while, something hits me in the best possible way. Hits me as in, I taste it and totally LOVE it right off the bat. Love at first bite, I guess you could say.

As you can probably guess from this rather long introduction, I found one of those foods this past fall. Old style, traditionally made, cane syrup made by Charles Poirier down in Lafayette, Louisiana. Charles’ production is so small that it’s only slightly bigger than what would be called homemade. He’s doing the entire thing on his farm: growing the cane, crushing it, cooking it down, and bottling it. And what he’s producing is truly one of the tastiest things I’ve tried in a long time!

While cane production and processing for syrup (and sugar) were once found all over the area, they’re now almost nonexistent. As the local production has petered out over the last century or so, so too has all the infrastructure and community knowledge. Charles spent a good bit of time looking for someone to teach him how to make syrup. “About seven years ago I found an older gentleman named Harold just south of Baton Rouge. I was telling folks I was interested and someone gave me his number. He said I could come watch me while he made a batch. So I did.” Like so many people in the food world, Charles was driven by the desire to rediscover family tradition. “My great-grandfather in St. Martinville used to make syrup. He died in 1941. My father told me about [it], and how he made cane syrup before he passed away and so I’ve had it in my mind ever since.”

The yield is anything but high. “It takes about 15 gallons of juice,” Charles explained, “to make about a gallon of syrup. It takes me about 6 1⁄2 to 7 hours to cook it down. I cut all the cane by hand. I enjoy doing it. At first I was just making it and giving it to family and friends. But now, we’ve started to sell a bit of it.” Happily for us he has just enough to be able to sell a few dozen bottles. Supply is, of course, very limited.

For me, tasting Charles’ cane syrup is the complete opposite of eating the white sugar that’s so prevalent in our society. Try to imagine brown sugar, straight from the cane, in liquid form. I’m not a big sweet-eater but I’ve actually taken a few swigs straight out of the bottle. I could probably put together a whole cookbook of recipe ideas (maybe I will), but here are a few of my favorites. Try a touch of the cane syrup on sautéed sea scallops. It’s fantastic! It’s terrific on corncakes, pancakes, French toast, or donuts. It’s beautiful on biscuits, drizzled on roast duck, or on grilled pork chops. Try it on any of our great aged sheep cheeses, or in the stone ground Irish oatmeal we have at the Deli. I mixed some into a bottle of sparkling water and it was so good that I think I could drink it all day. In fact, I think it might be good on almost everything, now that I think about it! Beautiful stuff!

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Creole Potlikker Fish Stew: A Bowl of Something Really Good

The Southern cure for what ails you.

by Marcy Harris

A bowl of Creole Potlikker Fish Stew with fish, mussels, scallops, greens, and grits.
Photo by Emma Boonstra

It’s that time of year when many of us are feeling under the weather, and we’re looking for that one comfort dish to fortify and pamper ourselves. For some, that means cooking up a batch of Mom’s chicken noodle soup. For me, it means digging into a bowl of our Creole Potlikker Stew.

Get your daily dose of vitamins.

Rich in vitamins A, B, C, and K, as well as potassium and iron, the broth in this stew might be just what you need to feel better. In fact, Ari Weinzweig calls it the Southern equivalent of chicken soup. The broth is left over from cooking collard greens with ham hocks and bacon, and the process draws all the nutrients out of the greens and into the liquid. We call the broth potlikker, aptly named because every last drop is a flavor-savor.

In the potlikker itself, we simmer mussels, scallops, and fresh fish from Foley on the East coast. It all gets ladled over bacon-braised greens and Anson Mills’ grits. The greens and grits soak up all that goodness, so you are scooping up the broth with every bite at the bottom of the bowl. All in all, a simple dish, yet it’s really tasty and filling. I love that you can taste the essence of the bacon in the broth.

History you can eat.

Potlikker is as rich in history as it is in vitamins. It can be traced back to the days of enslavement, when masters would keep the greens and leave the broth for the slaves, not realizing that they were handing out the most nutritious part of the dish. The slaves would then make it stretch by adding bean broth and topping it off with cornmeal or flour biscuits. 

John T Edge., director of the Southern Foodways Alliances and author of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, claims there to be a “subversive beauty in this dish”. There was creativity behind making something last out of necessity, and it is that creativity that connects us with how and what we eat now.

Please don’t dump the potlikker!

The story behind our stew at the Roadhouse started with Ari Weinzweig rescuing the broth before it was discarded from a batch of of our bacon-braised greens. Knowing its history and how yummy it is, he filled up shot glasses with the broth and handed them out to the guests to sample. Everyone loved it!

Ari says “I think it’s also worth raising a shot glass of it in a respectful toast to the slave cooks who did the unglamorous work. They developed the roots of African-American eating the rest of us get to enjoy today.”

We will always save the potlikker so you can stop in and treat yourself to a bowl! Soak up every last drop with crusty Bakehouse bread or buttery biscuits, and feel better!

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Fried Chicken on a Biscuit 

A very happy hour at the Roadhouse 

 by Ari Weinzweig
Fried chicken biscuit sandwich with Poirier's cane syrup.

This is my favorite offering off of the Roadhouse’s new Happy Hour menu. They’re already excellent, best-selling, nationally recognized fried chicken served on one of their really (seriously) amazing buttermilk biscuits, and topped with the terrific artisan sugar-cane syrup we get from Charles Poirier down in Lafayette, Louisiana. And because it’s part of the Roadhouse’s new Happy Hour, you can get it at a really good price to boot!

The salty, savory, slightly spicy (from the top-end, farm-to-table Tellicherry pepper we bring in from Kerala in southwest India), crispy fried chicken (raised by Amish farmers in Homer, Michigan) with the complex sweetness of Charles’ old-school cane syrup, all on a buttery, tender house-made biscuit. Order a small salad and an order of fries, and I guarantee you will have a very, very good meal on a weekday evening.

Charles’ cane syrup production is so small that it’s only slightly bigger than what would be called homemade. He’s doing the entire thing on his farm: growing the cane, crushing it, cooking it down and bottling it. What he’s producing is truly one of the tastiest things I’ve tried. While cane production and processing for syrup (and sugar) were once found all over the area, they’re now almost non-existent. Like so many people in the food world, Charles was driven by the desire to rediscover family tradition. “My great-grandfather in St. Martinville used to make syrup. There used to be mills all over the countryside. It takes about 15 gallons of juice to make about a gallon of syrup,” Charles explained. “It takes me about six-and-a-half to seven hours to cook it down. I cut all the cane by hand. I enjoy doing it.”

It’s great on vanilla gelato from the Creamery, pancakes, waffles, or mixed with a bit of bourbon. Or, if you come to the Roadhouse between 4 and 6 pmMonday through Friday, you can try it on this freshly cooked bit of fried chicken along with a half dozen other biscuit-based Happy Hour offerings!

Happy Hour at the Roadhouse is available Monday – Friday4-6 PM.

Ancho Beef Chuck Chili at the Roadhouse

It’s not cold when you’ve got a little chili!

by Marcy Harris

A bowl of Ancho Beef Chuck Chili with a piece of Bakehouse Sourdough bread.

With the temperature dropping again, all I’ve been hearing about is chili! I always enjoy learning what people put into their recipe. Not to say I’m stirring the pot, but hearing debates about what makes the best chili spices up my day.

My recent favorite was a disagreement about the amount of tomatoes, which then simmered into a discussion about whether or not to add a pinch of cinnamon. Everyone seems to have their own approach, claiming it to be the best. As long as I get to try it, you won’t hear any arguments from me.

Curl up with a bowl full of what you love.

When the chili is cooking in the Roadhouse kitchen, the comforting smells of cumin and chili powder stir up memories of my childhood. My father would make a batch every winter and freeze it in glass jars. His recipe is classically Midwestern: ground beef, peppers, onions, diced tomatoes, and kidney beans. The beans were my favorite part. I love the way they split open when soft, soaking up the seasoned broth.

But what it really boils down to for me is that no matter where it comes from or what the story is, all chili is fantastic. There is more of a Southern influence with our Ancho Beef Chili, and with that added pinch of regional tradition, it tastes so good!

We’re letting a dark secret out of the pot!

Our Ancho Beef Chuck chili is a bit different, in a really good way. It is thickened with a dark roux, like a gumbo. Roux is equal parts fat and flour, and can be cooked to varying levels of color to impart varying levels of flavor. In the case of our chili, we take the roux to the color of dark chocolate, which adds a deep smoky character.

The ingredients are simple, yet when they all come together, make our chili rich and flavorful. We used pieces of beef chuck from local cows, dry-aged and gently stewed until they are super tender. Instead of kidney beans we throw in small black beans that bring really big flavor! I like them because while they still offer that satisfying texture similar to kidney beans, they don’t overpower the beef.

Our pepper is just a lil’ chili!

We then take it all up a notch with cumin, Muscavado brown sugar, Ancho chili powder, and Pequin chiles. Ancho chiles are the dried version of ripe Poblanos. They are deep reddish-brown, and bear a mild fruity flavor, as they develop a sweeter side when dried. Pequin chiles are small, yet mighty. They definitely kick up a bit of heat, beating out the Jalapeño on the Scoville scale. Yet they are also smoky and citrusy up front, so the spice in our chili unfolds slowly.

Whether you scoop it up with crusty buttered Bakehouse bread, or smother your fries with it, our chili is warm, inviting, and delicious. My sister’s boyfriend craves it, and every time they visit Ann Arbor, he has to stop by the Roadhouse for a bowl. I know your recipe is awesome, too, but definitely give ours a try, it might be your new favorite!

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Stas’ Pierogi at the Roadhouse

A plated vision of love and tradition.

by Marcy Harris

The Roadhouse Pierogi Special, topped with Brinery sauerkraut and caramelized onions.

The first time I ever had pierogi was in college. I will never forget the sheer joy on a friend’s face when he set down a steaming plateful in front of me. With a big smile, he cut into the buttery dumplings and showed me how to scoop up sour cream and sauerkraut in each forkful. A few years later, when I was living in Ukrainian Village in Chicago, it didn’t take me very long to find the Polish delis down the street from my apartment offering pierogi made fresh daily. I devoured them every week as a treat, each one a pocket full of flavor.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I almost flipped (with excitement) like a pierog in a pan when I found out they are going to be a special on the menu at the Roadhouse. We are bringing them in from Srodek’s, a family owned Polish deli in Hamtramck, and serving them up with caramelized onions and Brinery sauerkraut. We sautée them in butter until golden brown, a pillow of creamy, fluffy potato filling unfolding in every bite.

A pocket full of memories…

Pierogi are steeped in tradition as much as they are in butter, and like so many foods we enjoy today as a result of immigration, they are a big part of bringing family together–an expression of love. One of our veteran servers, Stacie Zernicke, remembers her grandmother’s pierogi fondly. Mary Margaret Polanski would make them for Stacie and her family in Erie, Pennsylvania when Stacie was young. Pierogi can be made with a variety of filling, and Stacie’s grandmother filled hers with potato, onion, and cheese. Stacie loves to cook up batches of her grandmother’s pierogi for friends at our weekly game night, and they are among the best I’ve ever tasted.

Remembering Stas’.

A headshot of Stas' Kazmierski, late managing partner at ZingTrain.

We named our pierogi after a man who was a much loved member of the Zingerman’s family, to honor his memory and his Polish heritage. Stas’ Kazmierski, a retired managing partner at ZingTrain, passed away this past Spring. He taught us the the visioning process, and was so integral to the growth of Zingerman’s, there is not a day that goes by when we are not somehow using what he taught us. Stas’s caring presence in the Zingerman’s Community leaves a legacy not only of how our culture has evolved, but also of the importance behind learning and hearing the stories people share:

“The reason I’m so proud to be a partner at Zingerman’s is because we just give all the knowledge and information to the employees and…to the world. Yeah, you have to make a living but when it comes to sharing food and information there’s an abundance and you gotta give it away. Others share it and gain from it.” –Stas’ Kazmierski

There are countless stories behind this amazing Polish dish, and no matter what they are filled with, one thing is for sure, they are always filled with love. But don’t forget the sauerkraut, too!

Make a reservation at the Roadhouse to enjoy your pierogi this week!

American Colonial Oatmeal at the Roadhouse

The real flavor of old-school oats.

By Ari Weinzweig

Bowl of Roadhouse steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries.

The colonial oats we cook up at the Roadhouse for breakfast every day are another great product—like the grits, Carolina Gold rice, and polenta that we get from Anson Mills. As with all the Anson Mills offerings, these are new crop oats—the seasonality means fresher, more flavorful product. Anson Millsalso toasts the oats, which founder Glenn Roberts says, “produces a burst of spicy caramel alongside a light, clean backdrop of fresh oat flavor.”

Unlike commercially available oatmeals, these old-school oats still have natural oils intact, increasing the flavor. Hulled, toasted and hand-milled the same day they’re shipped—they’re stone milled, or as Glenn says, “stone-cut,” because the old-style mill stones actually cut the grain, not crush it. The oats are sent to us on refrigerated trucks, then stored in the freezer until we cook them. This variety of oats and the approach to milling them dates back to colonial times. These old, pre-industrial varieties are much taller than modern ones—industrial growers prefer short stalks, which are safer in windy weather, but the taller, older varieties contribute more to soil health and produce much more flavorful oats! They’re very much what an artisan American miller in the 17th-century would have had for his own breakfast.

Generally, we offer the oatmeal with traditional, soft, full-flavored Muscovado brown sugar, but raisins, milk, or sorghum syrup are great, too!

If you want, though, you can take a bit of a different route when you come in. Being more of a savory eater than sweet, I got a lot more interested in eating oatmeal when I learned about the Ojibwe style of eating it from my friend Meg Noodin. Skip the brown sugar and ask your server for some bacon fat and chopped bacon!

Whatever you put on top, it’s a special way to start the day. As the folks at Anson Mills say, “behold the phenomenon of real fresh oats.”

View the Roadhouse breakfast menu.

Donut Sundaes at the Roadhouse

What’s your favorite donut day of the week?

by Marcy Harris

Zingerman's Roadhouse Donut Sundae, with buttermilk Dutch donut, and Zingerman's Creamery vanilla gelato.

Who doesn’t love a really good donut? Fried circles of deliciousness, every time I see or smell one, I start drooling everywhere like Homer Simpson. The donuts we make at the Roadhouse are a treat, any time of day. They are a traditional Dutch recipe made with molasses, nutmeg, lemon zest, and buttermilk. After frying them up, we top them with a dark brown Muscovado sugar.

Traditionally a New Year’s Eve treat in the Netherlands, the donut came to Manhattan (then still known as New Amsterdam) from the Dutch and were called “oliebol”, which translates to “oily cakes.”Ari Weinzweig has written a really great article in which he speaks to the impact of the donut on the American food culture. Who knew that a bit of fried dough would be loved by so many? And who knew that with the addition of ice cream, the donut would become the perfect medium for a sundae?

Everyday is #RoadhouseDonutDay!

What we love about our donuts is that they are not overly sweet, but the flavor is a perfect balance of toasty, nutty, and cakey that goes hand-in-hand with a cup of perfectly roasted coffee. They are fantastic on their own, but the day we decided to turn them into a Sundae by adding Zingerman’s Creamery gelato should be recognized as a national holiday. The closest I could find is National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast day, coming up on February 18th – a great excuse to enjoy your breakfast donut in Sundae form and not feel guilty.

Our Sundae is served with Zingerman’s Creamery real vanilla gelato, then topped with bourbon-caramel sauce. A classic Southern staple typically found in bread pudding, this rich, buttery sauce is the highlight of our Donut Sundae. It is made with Jack Daniels bourbon, and the alcohol is cooked off so just the essential flavors of caramel and vanilla remain. The sauce swirls into the gelato, creating caramelly, sweet cream goodness as it melts into the donut. Virginia peanuts add the perfect amount of toasted saltiness to the dish.

Make mine a Wednesdae, please.

There’s a reason our Donut Sundae is available on our dessert menu every day. It’s a favorite of staff and guests alike. But did you know that in addition to our traditional Sundae, we have a different version for every day of the week? We couldn’t resist.

  • Donut Mondae: Everything is Better with Bacon Sundae
    A housemade Dutch donut, bacon chocolate gravy, applewood-smoked bacon, vanilla gelato, bourbon-caramel sauce, whipped cream, Virginia peanuts and a cherry.
  • Donut Tuesdae: Dulce Donut
    A housemade Dutch donut, dulce de leche sauce, dulce de leche gelato, whipped cream, Virginia peanuts and a cherry on top.
  • Donut Wednesdae: Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!
    A housemade Dutch donut, topped with chocolate sauce, chocolate gelato, chocolate shavings, whipped cream, Virginia peanuts and a cherry.
  • Donut Thursdae: Nuts about Nuts!
    A housemade Dutch donut, vanilla gelato, bourbon-caramel sauce, whipped cream, loads of mixed nuts and a cherry.
  • Donut Fridae: Double Donut
    Our classic Donut Sundae sandwiched between two donuts.
  • Donut Saturdae: PB&J Donut
    A housemade Dutch donut, Koeze peanut butter, fruit preserves, vanilla gelato, whipped cream, Virginia peanuts and a cherry.

No matter what day makes you go nuts over donuts, we’ve got you covered as far as Donut Sundaes go. Bring your sweet tooth, and we will provide the rest!

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The People’s Utility Beverage, or P.U.B. Lager: Exclusively at the Roadhouse

The people have spoken, and they want lager.

by Marcy Harris

22 ounce mug of P.U.B. Lager from Wolverine State Brewing CO

Did you know that the Roadhouse has a craft beer created just for us and nobody else? Wolverine State Brewing CO in Ann Arbor concocted our tasty brew, the People’s Utility Beverage, or P.U.B. Lager, in 2015. We’ve been rolling out kegs of it ever since.

Wolverine State Brewing CO is the first and only brewer in Michigan to produce only lagers. It’s really quite refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, I love all styles of beer–anything from hoppy IPAs to manly stouts. It’s just that sometimes only a lager will do, but there aren’t a great deal of local microbreweries making them.

Appreciating lager, from the bottom on up. 

Let’s not get our tap lines crossed, here. When I say lager, I’m not talking about that watered down stuff my uncles used to drink at the annual family picnic. You can do anything you want to a lager to give it character. Do you enjoy Dopplebock? Oktoberfest? Porter? Amber? All of these are lagers. They can be toasty and malty, or as hoppy as the Easter Bunny.

So what’s the difference between a lager and an ale? Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures, use a bottom-fermenting yeast instead of top-fermenting, and undergo cold conditioning to develop more clarity. They are designed to be crisp and clean on the palate. Does that mean pale and flat? Only if you are drinking the wrong stuff.

Wolverine State has mastered the art of lagers. They have been cranking out small-batches of them in a 10-gallon pilot brewing system since 2006, each one crafted to have style and character, and man are they tasty. A couple of our favorites we’ve had on tap at the Roadhouse include Gulo Gulo, an India Pale Lager, and Snakes on A Shamrock, an Irish Red.

From Pub Ale to P.U.B. LagerDave Newsted and Marty Hueter brewing P.U.B. Lager at Wolverine State Brewing CO.

Not to be biased or anything, but we really do love the P.U.B. Lager the best. For those of you familiar with Wolverine State, you may have met Dave Newsted and Marty Hueter. Together, they make up a dynamic duo known as the DME, The Dave and Marty Experience–and they craft really good beers.

The People’s Utility Beverage, or P.U.B. Lager, is their brainchild. Their inspiration came from a beer the Roadhouse used to have on tap, Sprecher Pub Ale. Dave loved the ale, and when he found out we no longer carried it on draft, it became the mission of DME to brew a lager that was similar. Marty and Dave crafted the P.U.B. Lager to be the cold fermented brother to the English Mild Ale. Our version is meant to have the caramel, toffee, nutty malt flavors associated with the Mild Ale style but with a brighter hop finish and more straightforward, sessionable complexity.

Tapping into good flavor.

The light body and incredible malt of this lager pair well with pretty much anything on our menu, especially our BBQ. It stands up to our pit-smoked flavors without overpowering them. Wolverine does their own pit-BBQ, so we trust their skills in this department. They get us. And they also know our crowd, so it makes sense for them to come up with something that is approachable to our friends in Ann Arbor. 

So the next time you are at the Roadhouse, order a plate of BBQ and a P.U.B. Lager. You know what, make it a tall one and hang out with us for a bit.

A Letter from Dave Newsted

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since the People’s Utility Beverage became a staple at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Back when I used to bartend at Wolverine, I’d occasionally swing by the Roadhouse for a beer and a bite before heading into work. My go to was the Sprecher’s Pub Ale, because Zingerman’s had it on the reg. It was beautiful. Not overly complex, malty but easy to drink, I felt I could drink this with anything they had on the menu.

One of those days, after leaving the Roadhouse and coming into work, a debate was sparked between Marty and I. The question of the hour being, “If you could only drink one beer forever, what would that beer be?” Of course, my answer was the Pub Ale.

This inspired us.

Marty and I had been brewing small batches of experimental lagers for Wolverine at the time, putting them on display for our Sunday shifts together (many of which were spent with our favorite Zingerman’s employees). Searching for a new beer to make, we decided to make an homage to our glorious Pub Ale, but in lager form. Taking a step back from the extreme, we focused on making a beer that could be enjoyed in a sessionable, but flavorful way. After tinkering with the recipe, P.U.B lager was born.

With the dedication to craftsmanship and unwavering consistency from our brewmaster Oliver Roberts, and the pursuit of quality and passion of Zingerman’s, P.U.B has morphed into more than an outstanding draft lager for the Roadhouse. Not only can you find P.U.B in a pint, but also as the beer batter enveloping your onion rings and their fish and chips. Who would have thought that two bartenders/home brewers and a couple of awesome Zingerman’s employees, could take a Sunday special and turn it into a brew that Wolverine State makes exclusively for one of Ann Arbor’s staple venues.

This beer has come a long way from our early days of inspirations, and we hope that you enjoy our new forever beer as much as we do.

Cheers!
Dave, Wolverine State Brewing Co

 

Make a reservation at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Hudson Vineyards’ New Harvest Olive Oil at the Roadhouse

Peppery and terrific award-winning 2017 oil

by Ari Weinzweig

Cristina Hudson at the Good Food Awards with her award-winning olive oil.

Shots of whiskey…shots of espresso…but what about a third kind of shot? One that’s savored much more slowly and is probably the healthiest of the bunch. It’s time to think about ordering olive oil by the shot.

I’ve been friends with Cristina Salas-Porras and her winemaker and farmer husband, Lee Hudson, for a good twenty-five years now. I’m honored and touched to have their great oil available at the Roadhouse.

Lee started growing grapes right around the time we opened the Deli in the early ‘80s on his property in Carneros, an ideal location, with it’s cool bay breezes and stony, volcanic soil. Shortly after beginning to produce his own wine in 2004, he started growing olives. The farm also grows vegetables that are sold to top Bay Area restaurants like Chez Panisse, Bix, A16, and Quince (all places I eat at regularly when I’m out that way).

This year’s oil has been recognized by the Good Food Awards as one of the country’s best (congratulations, Lee and Cristina!—Cristina is posing with the oil and the award above). It’s made with classic Tuscan varietals resulting in a really wonderful peppery, green, front forward, fresh-tasting oil.

“The oil is the result of many hands coming together at the farm to make something we are all proud of,” Cristina told me. “Having been a long-time admirer of all things Zingerman’s, we are honored to have a place at the Roadhouse table.” The flavors are big, bold, meaty and memorable; the agriculture is sustainable, and clearly, after all these years, so are the relationships.

Visit us at the Roadhouse and order up a “shot,” pour it out on a plate, and enjoy it with some warm sourdough bread from the Bakehouse. Kudos to our courageous Roadhouse kitchen crew for presenting it in a way that most folks aren’t used to! If you like olive oil even half as much as I do, for $5 (like seriously—$5) you can take your evening from average to excellent.

P.S. Hudson Vineyards is right across the road from one of our favorite wine suppliers and long-time ZingTrain client, Domaine Carneros (they love open book management, you might too!) in Napa, California.

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Chicken and Waffles: A Brunch Secret Special

We’ve got chicken, we’ve got waffles. Together they make something really special.

by Marcy Harris

Golden Belgian waffle topped with crispy fried chicken breast and maple syrup.

I looooove chicken and waffles. Every time I find them on a menu when I am out dining, I will order them. There is nothing quite like crispy fried chicken and hot, golden waffles, drizzled with real maple syrup. The flavor combination is comforting, delicious, and just the thing to satisfy any brunch appetite. I’ve enjoyed many different recipes over the years, but none will come close to the chicken and waffles we have here at the Roadhouse.

The secret is out! Tell your friends.

They are not listed on our menu, but our chicken and waffles are one of our favorite secret specials for brunch. And they are perfect for brunch! If you are undecided about whether you would like breakfast or lunch for your meal, you can have the best of both worlds.

We love our fried free-range Amish chicken, with it’s buttermilk batter fried crispy and a touch of Tellicherry pepper from Épices de Cru. Our waffles are also made with buttermilk, creating that perfect melt-in-your mouth texture inside layers of delicate pockets. Pour our real Snow’s Sugarbush Michigan maple syrup into these pockets, and you will get a balance of round sweetness with a slight peppery kick with each bite.

Top of the waffle to you!

As with many things we offer at the Roadhouse, we like to have options for our chicken and waffles. The beauty of our chicken and waffles is that you can change it up by adding the chicken on top of our Grits n’ Bits waffles for a flavor bonus. With the addition of Anson Mills’ organic grits and bits of smoked bacon, the chicken and waffle experience becomes incredibly complex and amazing. Are you a white meat or dark meat person? We can fry up a breast or two thighs to top off your waffle. Interested in drizzling on something different from maple syrup? Try or Tennessee sorghum syrup, one of Ari’s favorites!

It doesn’t stop there! We can make this dish gluten-free! Add a piece of fried chicken made with rice flour to our rice waffle or rice Grits n’ Bits waffle, and now you have two of our favorite gluten-free options on one plate!

We will have our fryers and waffle irons hot and ready for you this weekend! See you for brunch!

Make a reservation.

 

Thursday Blue Plate at the Roadhouse

All the BBQ on one plate!

By Marcy Harris

Roadhouse BBQ plate, with pit-smoked pork and beef, BBQ wings, braised greens, and mashed potatoes.

Let’s be honest, there’s good BBQ, and then there’s really good pit-smoked BBQ that takes time and investment. When I say investment, I don’t mean fancy equipment or the best BBQ sauce money can buy. You can dig a hole in the ground and make pit-smoked magic happen right out of the earth if it’s done right. At the Roadhouse we do it right, and it takes time and investment. You can try it every day on our menu, but sometimes it’s hard to decide which kind of BBQ to try. That’s why we feature a sampling of the best of what we do on our Thursday Blue Plate.

From North Carolina to Ann Arbor…

BBQ varies by region, and our BBQ pork is a traditional style from Eastern North Carolina. More specifically, our pit-masters have been trained to smoke pork by Ed Mitchell, whose North Carolina BBQ is so heavenly he must use hogs with halos. We use whole hogs from Niman Ranch and slow-cook them over oak for 14 hours, hand-pull the pork, then dress it with a vinegar BBQ sauce.

It is said that BBQ originates from the Caribbean, and when the Spanish introduced whole hogs to the States, it became popular to smoke the hogs over pits in the ground (and here you thought I was kidding about the hole in the ground). It is possible that this cooking method was brought to the mainland with slaves in the early 19th century. The traditional Caribbean sauces used lemon, but lemons were hard to find north of Florida, so vinegar became a substitute to create the acidic flavor in the sauce.

Our BBQ pork is finished with this Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce, so as it comes on the Blue plate, it boasts a tangy bite.  The ingredients include Gingras apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne, pequin pepper, marash pepper, Tellicherry black pepper, and salt.

A little Tennessee on your plate, too!

Not too far from the pork on the Blue Plate, you will find our BBQ beef, which is slow-cooked over oak for 8-9 hours. We braise it lovingly in our housemade Red Rage sauce and beer by wrapping it in foil while it is smoking, then hand-pull it. Most BBQ done in Memphis has a sauce that is tomato and vinegar based, and this is the inspiration for our Red Rage. Don’t be fooled by its name, it actually boasts a perfect balance of sweet, spicy and zesty flavors. We toss Amish free-range chicken wings in the Red Rage, too, and add them to the Blue Plate for bonus deliciousness.

Now we could stop there, but what would a BBQ Blue Plate be without braised greens? They are a Southern favorite, and ours are a perfect pairing with our BBQ. Fresh locally farmed collard greens are slowly braised with bacon and ham hocks, bay leaves, thyme and black pepper, resulting in a vitamin-rich, tender side dish packed full of bacon flavor. You know those bottles we keep on the tables? They are full of red chili peppers marinating in cider vinegar. Add a dash (two, tops), and the pepper vinegar will really brighten the flavor of the greens.

For all you BBQ lovers out there, Thursday might be the best day of the week! Come on by, we will have a Blue Plate just for you.

Check out all of our Blue Plate Specials!!

Pimentuna Casserole

Big new hit at the Roadhouse

by Ari Weinzweig

I probably shouldn’t be surprised anymore—the best ideas so often start out as silly jokes. Same here. It began with a bit of light culinary humor and has ended up with what I’m pretty sure is a signature dish in the making.

The whole thing started about six weeks ago with my girlfriend Tammie Gilfoyle’s idea to mix our pimento cheese with tuna. I tried it. She was right: it was delicious. The idea turned into the Pimentuna melt, which has already become a really popular sandwich at the Roadhouse, grilled on one of my favorite Bakehouse breads, the Country Wheat.

Then, a few days or so ago, I made a joke that maybe we should use our new mix to make Pimentuna Casserole. You know, a throwback and takeoff on the tried and true mid-20th-century classic. That sounded a little crazy, too, but about 20 minutes later, what had started as a silly statement was sounding better and better and I decided to make it. Pimentuna Casserole turned out to be really good! And now it’s on the Roadhouse lunch menu.

If you want a bit of tasty comfort on one of these cold winter days, come on in for a taste. It’s our mash-up of West Coast tuna with pimento cheese, tossed with the Martelli family’s marvelous bronze die-extruded maccheroni.

The Roadhouse crew had the great idea to seal the deal by topping the whole thing with a handful of Zingerman’s Tellicherry black pepper potato chips to add some crunch. What can I say? Killer! Comforting. Compelling. Definitely worth coming across town to have for lunch!!

Check out the Roadhouse lunch menu!

Wednesday Blue Plate: Mama’s Meatloaf at the Roadhouse

Made with love every time!

By Marcy Harris

When it comes to comfort food, meatloaf is a classic. For me, it conjures up all the feels of my mom making it from scratch when I was growing up. She slathered ketchup on it before baking it, which I thought was the best thing ever. When we originally started making our meatloaf at the Roadhouse, we topped it with our housemade spicy ketchup. It definitely gave it some Zing (pun so intended)!!

As a child of the ’80s growing up in the Midwest, I was brought up on store-bought ground chuck. It was what we used in our meatloaf, burgers, meatballs–anything that required ground beef. Looking back, I now realize that ketchup was the overwhelming flavor in my mother’s meatloaf because the beef didn’t really taste much like anything.

There is no mystery to our meatloaf.

Like anything we serve at Zingerman’s, the key is really good ingredients. At the Roadhouse, we use the same dry-aged quality beef that goes in our burgers, and you can really taste the beef. We get it from local, pasture-raised steers that are grass and grain fed, no antibiotics or hormones. By using different cuts of the cow, including chuck, leg, and belly, our ground beef takes on more of a full flavor. The meat is dry-aged for a few weeks, just like our steaks, and marinated in salt and Telicherry black pepper

In addition to the beef, we add in ground pork shoulder from the whole Old English hogs we buy from Niman Ranch. Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw have been working with Niman Ranch for over 30 years. We use their hogs because they are known for quality meat and raise their animals humanely and sustainably. If you’ve tasted our pork BBQ, then hopefully you’ve tasted the difference with how good it is.

As with our burgers, we do a course grind with the beef and pork so that the texture of the meatloaf offers a more rich and flavorful mouthfeel. There is something to be said about a meatloaf that is not mush, but instead offers more of a structured and tender bite.

It’s all gravy!

Years ago, a server at the Roadhouse named Melina Hinton recommended that we try gravy instead of spicy ketchup. I had the pleasure of meeting Melina recently, and when she shared her story about the meatloaf, she was very passionate about helping to effectively improve this particular recipe. We started serving our meatloaf with a housemade beef gravy, and it really added that extra bit of saucy goodness. For Melina, seeing the difference in the way the guests enjoyed the meatloaf after adding the gravy was very rewarding. Ours is already moist, but with the gravy poured over, soaking into the meat, each forkful creates a memorable experience.  I feel a bit guilty because when I eat it I know it’s better than my mama’s, but I won’t tell her that.

Check out all of our Blue Plate Specials!!

Uncle Joe Burroughs’ Whole Fried Catfish at the Roadhouse

Wonderful taste of the American South on Ann Arbor’s westside

by Ari Weinzweig

The other night there were two guys sitting up at the chef’s counter at the Roadhouse. They were bigger guys in good shape, so I had them down for ordering a couple of big steaks, or maybe a big bowl of mac and cheese. But swinging back through the dining room about twenty minutes later, I was surprised to see that:

  1. They’d both ordered the same thing
  2. There were eating with great passion and enthusiasm
  3. They were both working away at a lovely-looking whole catfish.

Fried catfish has, flat out, been one of the steadiest best sellers on the core menu at the Roadhouse since we opened. It has a lot of really loyal fans. We source whole catfish from Yazoo City, Mississippi, roll it in Anson Mills organic cornmeal (a blend of five varietals from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries) and then deep fry it ’til it’s golden brown. We sprinkle on a pinch of garlic salt—my Alabama-born-and-raised friend Peggy Markel’s dad’s (he’s Uncle Joe Burroughs) secret ingredient. Serve it up with long-cooked collard greens and Anson Mills organic old-school grits.

It’s a pretty darned good-looking platter. This is a whole fish—not just flat filets, so you need to eat it right off the bone. (We can help you if you’re not used to eating whole fish—it’s not hard!) The fish comes out to the table with the “kitty’s” crisp, cornmeal crusted-tail curled, and we serve it along with sides of Roadhouse coleslaw, homemade tartar sauce, and hot sauce. The crunch of the fried cornmeal, the tender sweet earthiness of the catfish, complemented by the long-cooked greens and the crunch of the slaw. Add a good beer or a glass of iced tea, and it’s a great dinner for pretty much any occasion!

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Blue Plate Chili Tuesdays at the Roadhouse

Take the chill out of your Tuesdays with our chef’s choice chili.

By Marcy Harris

A bowl of Roadhouse Tuesday chili with a piece of spider bread.

It’s that time of year. When I was growing up, I remember my father cooking a big batch of chili for the winter. It’s one of my favorite cooking traditions, and as an adult I enjoy chili cook-offs with my friends. Everyone has a different spin on what they like to throw into the pot, and you get to try something new and different with every bowlful. At the Roadhouse, we feature the chef’s choice chili as our Tuesday Blue Plate.

What’s in your chili?

Admittedly, when I make chili at home it tends to be an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. At the Roadhouse the chefs put much more thought into their chili each week. The Roadhouse team loves trying to figure out which ones are their favorites. Over the years, there have been many, cooked to reflect what is seasonal and fresh, but also to capture the creativity of the chef who is making it. Whether it has been a Chicken and Green Chili, or a vegetarian recipe made with local farm produce, each one has its own character and flavor-style.

Spider bread–It’s not as scary as it sounds.

No matter what the chili, the Blue Plate always comes with a side of a wonderful thing called Spider Bread. Sometimes referred to as Spider Cake, this heavenly cornbread hails from New England. It is cooked in a cast iron skillet, and cream is added to the batter while it is cooking. The result is a beautiful golden edge and a custard-like center. As one who was raised on Jiffy cornbread mix, my mind is blown every time I eat our Spider Bread. A ribbon of cream creates a soft richness that is warm and inviting. The transformation of everyday cornbread is incredible.

What’s brilliant about the Spider Bread is that it offers a perfect balance of flavor with the chili. The sweetness of the corn and the cream rounds out the spiciness. Our Blue Plate Chili is good all year round, but during the winter months, it will warm you right up.

Check out all of our Blue Plate Specials!!

Mac and Eggs at the Roadhouse for Breakfast

Great way to get your day going

By Ari Weinzweig

If you like the macaroni and cheese at the Roadhouse—and clearly a lot of you do since we sell a ton of it—you might try starting your day with it.

It’s the same Martelli macaroni we use for the regular Roadhouse mac. To quote Corby Kummer writing in The Atlantic, “You should buy or order Martelli at least once if only to have a standard against which to judge other dried pasta.”

We take that very terrific macaroni and toss it with diced up applewood smoked bacon from Nueske’s in northern Wisconsin, and top it all with a couple fried eggs. I like to grind on lots of the Tellicherry #10 black pepper that’s in the grinders on all the Roadhouse tables. Great, great way to start your day!

Take a look at our Breakfast Menu!

Our Monday Blue Plate: The Roadhouse Burger

By Marcy Harris

One of our favorite questions to ask people at the Roadhouse is: What’s your favorite thing on the menu? It’s difficult to pick just one thing, but my answer without hesitation is always our burger. I will never forget the first time I tried it–I fell in love.

You can add all the toppings, but you can’t top the flavor.

I’ve tried many burgers over the past few decades, and there have been a few that were particularly memorable. Typically this was because they had amazing toppings–delicious melty cheeses, over-easy eggs, thick slices of bacon, fresh avocado, or even some sort of amazing secret sauce. But the Roadhouse burger tops them all for one simple reason: it doesn’t need all the stuff.

The flavor is in the burger. We don’t add anything except salt and pepper. There’s no chopped garlic or onion, no additional seasonings are needed. The beef just tastes so good on its own, there is no need to mask the taste. It all comes back to using really good ingredients.

Respect the animal, respect the product.

We source our beef from pasture-raised steers to ensure better tasting beef and a more pronounced texture. By selecting animals that are farm specific from Northern Ohio or Southern Michigan, the Roadhouse can make sure we know exactly where our beef is coming from. We also make sure it is processed locally, leaving a much smaller carbon footprint. This way we can constantly evaluate the quality of our meat. The animals are grass and grain fed, no hormones or antibiotics.

We use different parts of the cow, including chuck, leg, and belly, because a variety of cuts imparts more of a full flavor. The meat is dry-aged for a few weeks, just like our steaks, and marinated in salt and Telicherry black pepper. We then course-grind the beef fresh daily at the Roadhouse, and form the patties by hand so as not to over pack them.

The flavor is astounding. I have not been able to find a burger on par with it anywhere else. The grain in the feed gives it a round buttery beef flavor, yet because of the grass given to the cows, the meat also tastes clean. The course-grind makes a huge difference. It provides more of a chew that allows the flavors to roll over your palate, instead of a mashed up bite of what inevitably just tastes like everything else on the burger except the actual beef.

I take my burger rare and one-of-a-kind, please.

The burgers are cooked over oak on a wood-fired grill, giving them just the right amount of smoky flavor. Because of the organic form of the patties, which are not uniform and squished into pucks, the result is what Ari Weinzweig calls an “imperfect burger”. They are not going to cook perfectly, but they are are going to taste better than anything that is mass-produced.

According to Ari, “Burger cooking, in the context of my systems work, is what we call a ‘craft system.’. . . . You can systematize up to a certain point but there’s still the skill of the artisan, the nuances of nature in the raw material, etc. that bring a bit of variation into play. This, I have to admit, is where my new angle on imperfection comes in. The craft, the beauty of the imperfection . . . . it’s the poetry of the product.”

While we do take temperatures for the burgers, they are not always exact. Because of the course-grind, the color will always be just a touch more pink than what you might see from a burger down the road. But it also means that our burger will be that much juicier and full-flavored.

I love my Roadhouse burger with our famous pimento cheese and sliced pickles. I also love it with on its own, because sometimes I just want to taste the beef, and nothing else. But no matter how you order your burger from us, it’s going to be an incredible experience. Stop by on Mondays for our Blue Plate burger special, and order anything you want on it for $13.95, with fries and a side salad. It will give you reason to feel differently about that one day a week we usually prefer to skip.

Check out all of our Blue Plate Specials!!

Grillades and Grits: A New Orleans Brunch Favorite at the Roadhouse

by Marcy Harris

Once you’ve tried our Sunday Blue Plate, Grillades and Grits, at the Roadhouse, it’s hard to go back to anything else. It’s super popular for brunch and dinner alike, even though it is considered a classic brunch dish in New Orleans.

Grillades are not grilled.

Grillades, pronounced GREE-ahds, are thin medallions of beef, pork, or veal that are dredged in flour, browned, then pan-braised in crushed tomatoes and a delicious roux-thickened sauce. In order to achieve the fork-tenderness that makes this dish so special, the meat is typically braised for a couple of hours. It is smothered with the pan gravy and served over cheese grits.

Whether it is enjoyed at home on a laid back Sunday, or served up in silver at a debutante’s ball, Grillades and Grits are a New Orleans staple. There are definitely disagreements about how this dish came about, but many folks believe that the dish originated when country butchers prepared thinly sliced pieces of pork to pan-fry with onions. They would do so after la boucherie, the Cajun tradition of butchering and preparing a whole pig, and the grillades could be eaten throughout the day with grits or rice.

Smother me with flavor.

Our servers often describe it as something of a stew, and it is no wonder that it is a staff favorite with its comforting, hearty flavors. While it is a decent way to describe for people who have never had it, it’s better than a stew. The ingredients are simple, and the integrity of the dish stems from the focus on simple full flavors. It is thick and velvety, with prominently deep beef flavors. We serve our steak grillades over Anson Mills’ stone-ground grits with Cabot aged white cheddar cheese. The creamy grits soak up the gravy and drippings, further intensifying a rich, lingering mouth-feel.

What are you doing this Sunday? Swing by the Roadhouse to savor this NOLA classic, and don’t forget to ask for housemade buttermilk biscuits to dip in the gravy.

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Martelli Maccheroni

Totally marvelous macaroni from Tuscany

by Ari Weinzweig

I taste a lot of new foods—I’m always sampling new stuff, experimenting at home, and eating in restaurants every time I go out of town. But, what really gets my attention is when something I’ve been eating, say, for decades, still blows my mind because it’s just so freaking good! I’ve been eating Martelli Maccheroni for 30 years now. But lately, I can’t get enough of it!

If you’ve eaten Martelli you’re probably already sold. If you haven’t, give it a try! To quote Corby Kummer writing in The Atlantic, “You should buy or order Martelli at least once if only to have a standard against which to judge other dried pasta.”

It’s made in the tiny Tuscan hill town of Lari, which is about half an hour east of Pisa. Martelli pasta is so special because it’s…

  • Made with very hard durum wheat
  • Mixed at low temperatures with cool water
  • Extruded through bronze dies to get the old-style, very rough surface on the pasta (so that the sauce clings to the pasta, not the bottom of the bowl)
  • Dried for 50-60 hours at modest temperatures to protect the fragile flavor of the wheat.
  • Takes a lot longer to cook—10-13 minutes—but you can smell the wheat when you drop the pasta in the pot.
  • While most commercial pasta is very bland, Martelli actually has flavor!

Martelli Maccheroni makes THE BEST macaroni and cheese. So good that we’ve been using it at the Roadhouse now for fourteen straight years! The Martelli’s only pack their pasta in retail-sized bags, so we open dozens of them every day! I checked in with Beatrice Ughi, the importer of Martelli into the US—the Roadhouse is indeed the BIGGEST user of Martelli maccheroni in the country!

At home, we cook Martelli maccheroni often. When I’m having a rough day, one of my favorite comfort meals is a bowl of Martelli maccheroni (very al dente!), dressed with some very good olive oil (the olio nuovo above would be a knockout), a lot of Parmigiano Reggiano and a healthy dose of the new crop 2017 Tellicherry black pepper. Oh yeah, don’t hesitate to add a spoonful or two of the Bellwether Ricotta from the Creamery, too!

Speaking of Parmigiano Reggiano, our new Parm Club made The New York Times!

PS: Here is a recipe for the Roadhouse Macaroni and 3-Peppercorn Goat Cheese!

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Sunlight in a Glass: Scotch Whisky at the Roadhouse

By Felipe Diaz, Roadhouse server and Scotch aficionado

I’ve been a fan of Scotch since I first discovered it in the early 1990’s. I was a bartender at an upscale pool hall in downtown Ann Arbor, and the Single Malt Scotch craze swept through the US. We went from carrying a couple of middling blended whiskies, to a full slate of over thirty single malts and blended Scotch. The sheer variety that came out of using the same couple of ingredients blew me away, and I eagerly tasted and talked Scotch with regulars and first-timers alike.

The makings of a really great whisky.

All Scotch whisky is made from a handful of ingredients, chiefly barley malt and water. From those humble beginnings comes a myriad of aromas, flavors, and textures. The way the malt is dried over a peat fire, the type of water, the height and shape of the still, the way the whisky is blended, the barrels in which it’s aged, even the storage conditions, influence the final product. If it is all made and blended in one particular distillery, it is known as a single malt Scotch. Blending houses, like Chivas, Johnnie Walker, and Dewars, get whisky from other producers, then blend them together in house to produce their own signature flavor profiles. These are known as blended Scotch. Oh, and it has to be made in Scotland in order to be called Scotch whisky.

As time has passed, I have enjoyed the resurgence of bourbon, and the growth of craft distilleries making artisanal gin and vodka. Scotch, however, blazed the trail that these others have followed. So, when our Roadhouse Beverage Specialist, Kim Green, suggested adding a Scotch flight to our list, I was excited to help see it through.

 

About our Scotch Flight…

The flight starts with the Cragganmore 12 year, a single malt Scotch. An aroma of citrus with toffee and almonds, followed by citrus, malt, and biscuits on the palate, make this a great introduction to Scotch. The Macallan 12 comes next, with a hint of ginger, vanilla, and dried fruit on the nose. Aged in sherry casks, the finish boasts sweet toffee, wood smoke, and spice. The Dimple Pinch rounds out the trio. Its blend of whiskies (the youngest of which is 15 years old!) give aromas of caramel and oak, with smooth notes of spice and vanilla fudge. No wonder Breaking Bad’s Walter White chose this as his drink of choice!

George Bernard Shaw once said, “whisky is sunshine in a glass.” As winter sets in, whether it’s commuting through bad weather, navigating holiday shopping, or shoveling snow, the Roadhouse has plenty of little rays of sunshine ready to warm you up!

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‘Nduja Mussels: A Bowl of Powerful Flavors

By Marcy Harris

Bowl of steamed mussels with 'Nduja sausage and tomatoes.

Our Blue Hill Bay mussels have been a favorite on the Roadhouse menu for years. Plump, sweet, and tender, they are a satisfying starter to any meal at the Roadhouse. Recently our chefs decided to spice things up by adding ‘Nduja to our mussels. It’s been a favored special for anyone who appreciates a serious jumpstart to their palate, as the flavors are explosive.

The Boot kicks up really great flavor!

Zingerman’s loves Italy, for all its simple, fresh, high quality foods. Every now and then, we source out something that is truly unique from this beloved boot-shaped region, and ‘Nduja has been a most welcome addition to our menu.

The best way I can describe it is like chorizo. It is a soft Calabrian sausage, made from salumi and hot peppers, and comes from a clique of sausages called “salami dal spalmare,” or “spreadable salamis.” The name ‘Nduja pronounced “en-doo-yah”, possibly came from the French word, Andouille, which is a spicy sausage in its own right. When I say ‘Nduja, I sound like a Yooper.

‘N do ya’ know, it’s so good.

'Nduja sausage spread on sliced bread.

The pork meat is ground with Calabrian chiles, and can be aged for a couple years or stuffed incasing to be served fresh. We get ours from ‘Nduja Artisans in Chicago. Once it is prepared, it is amazing on bread, served with fresh soft cheese, like ricotta or burrata. It can be served with grilled or roasted meats and fish, used as a base for a pasta sauce, or cooked with eggs. Due to its soft texture, it is quite versatile when you want to add a powerful, lingering heat to a dish.

Ari Weinzweig describes its flavor best: “Spicy, slightly sweet, buttery, powerfully porky, yet as smooth in texture as homemade strawberry jam. ‘Nduja is, almost inconceivably, both subtle and strong at the same time.”

Soak up the heat.

Adding it to our mussels is just inconceivably out of this world. It complements the fresh sweetness of the mussels perfectly, and adds a smokiness to the tomato broth we steam the mussels in. I love to soak thick slices of our Roadhouse bread in the broth and scoop up the ‘Nduja with the mussels. Our ‘Nduja Mussels are a hearty meal, and now that it is getting cold,  a bowl of them may be the perfect thing to warm you right through to your toes.

Stop by and try it after your holiday shopping and snowman building. Your heart will melt with each spoonful of this unforgettable dish.

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‘Nduja!

Super Spicy, Spreadable, Calabrian Style Salami

by Ari Weinzweig

Over the years we’ve done a pretty darned good job of getting the great foods of the world to Ann Arbor. But this is one of the ones that all my wishing and hoping couldn’t seem to make appear. I’ve been wanting to make ‘Nduja part of my regular eating routine ever since I first encountered it in Calabria five or six years ago. I use the word “encounter” intentionally—eating ‘Nduja is not an insignificant experience. If you eat some casually at a party, I guarantee you’ll remember it. Like the Velvet Underground in its heyday, there’s nothing else like ‘Nduja on the market. And also like the Velvets, ‘Nduja isn’t for everyone. It’s anything but middle of the road and it’s not something for folks who aren’t up for eating on the edge of exceptional. Spicy, slightly sweet, buttery, powerfully porky, yet as smooth in texture as homemade strawberry jam.’Nduja is, almost inconceivably, both subtle and strong at the same time. And like the Velvets, if you like it, you’ll remember it and return to it regularly (as I have) for the rest of your life. I loved it when I first tried it, and I love it just as much six years later.

To be clear on the name, it’s pronounced “en-doo-yah.” It’s part of a subset of the Italian salami world that’s little known in the U.S. called “salami dal spalmare,” or “spreadable salamis.” In Calabria,’Nduja is every day fare. It shows up everywhere there, but I’ve almost never seen it anywhere else. Until, now! It’s made by finely grinding pork fat and meat, seasoning it with lots of spicy Calabrian chiles, and then aging the paste in a casing. If you don’t know Calabria, it’s remarkable for being one of the poorest of Italy’s provinces. It’s also the only region of Italy where almost everyone thrives on super spicy food. Chiles in Calabria are as commonplace as they are in Central America. The area around the city of Spilinga is the ancestral seat of ‘Nduja. Peppers arrived there from the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century, around the same time as tomatoes. If you’re familiar with French charcuterie, you could probably best describe ‘Nduja as a spicy, smooth-textured Calabrian pork rillettes. I’ve seen someone else say that it is to pork as Nutella is to chocolate. If you like it as much as I do, then it’s close to addictive. And if the Velvet Underground had been eating it, the song might have been titled “White Light, Red Heat.”

I’m super excited that this pork treat that I’ve been dreaming about for years is now available in the U.S. Although American import laws make it illegal to import ‘Nduja from Calabria, it is okay to import Calabrian ‘Nduja makers. Antonio Fiasche is one of those. He’s the fifth generation in his family to craft this special recipe on a regular basis, and his grandfather still lives in Calabria. In my hometown of Chicago, Antonio’s making some terrific ‘Nduja. Just as good, or dare I say it, even better than what I’ve had in Italy. Antonio uses only pork from old-school Berkshire hogs, a proprietary blend of five different chiles, and then ages his ‘Nduja for months. At the Fancy Food Show we sampled a specially made forty-pound piece that was aged for over a year! Antonio’s ‘Nduja really is remarkable.

What do you do with ‘Nduja Almost anything. Let it first come to room temperature to soften and let the full flavor come out. I spread it on toast. Add a spoonful or two to an omelet. Crumble a bit atop a pasta dish. But more often, I just eat it with bread and other antipasti— cheese, cured vegetables, some olives. In Ireland we tasted a dish that used it in the broth for steamed mussels—delicious! My personal favorite experiment is a bit of a Calabrian-American hybrid: a Zingerman’s Roadhouse burger on a bun that’s been spread on one side with a generous amount of ‘Nduja, on the other with a bit of mayo, and a small handful of fresh arugula leaves on top. It’s the Calabrian version of a burger with bacon. Man, was it good!

Whatever you do with it, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get some powerfully good, memorable eating out of the deal. This one alone made the food show trip totally worthwhile. If you like pork, you like spice and you like to eat, then ‘Nduja might change your life.

13th Annual African American Foodways Dinner at the Roadhouse

By Ari Weinzweig

The Roadhouse’s 219th Special Dinner will be the thirteenth of this special series that have, very appropriately and importantly, honored the foodways of the African American culinary community. This year’s dinner has come together in particularly fun and inspiring ways.

Each of these special dinners is, of course, not “just another meal.” We try, with each event to make the meal educational as well as offering good eating. Over the years we’ve covered cooking from pretty much every region, from dozens of the cultures and cuisines that come together to make up what I call “American cooking.” This year we bring together a special menu—the foods of the late and great chef and writer Edna Lewis, and a tribute to the work of African American wine-makers, represented for this evening by the rather remarkable, witty, and very skilled André Hueston Mack and his Oregon winery, Maison Noir.

Insight and Identity

While pieces of who we are may overlap, patterns may seem pro-found, and cultural continuity within a community can count for a lot, at the end of the day we’re all really just ourselves—a unique combination of complexities that come together in our hearts, our souls, our minds and our bodies.

Just as mono-cropping isn’t sustainable in the agricultural ecosystem, I’ve begun to believe with ever greater strength the diversity we desire in society is all the more likely to work when we embrace our own diversity from within. As M. Maalouf writes,“I haven’t got several identities: I’ve got just one, made up of many components in a mixture that is unique to me, just as other people’s identity is unique to them as individuals.” I agree. My work in life, I’ve come to believe, is to seek out that unique-ness, and to work my tail off to honor it in every human being I come in contact with. Whether I like them or not isn’t really all that relevant. My assignment to myself, my challenge, my inquiry, my art…is to find the artist in them. “Every individual,” Maalouf makes clear, “is a meeting ground for many different allegiances, and sometimes these loyalties conflict with one another and confront the person who harbours them with difficult choices.”

The key is to honor the uniqueness of the individual and, within that framework, the communities with which they choose to be connected. I say all this because on January 30th we will convene at the Roadhouse for our 13th annual African American foodways dinner. We’ll feature and honor the work of two amazing individuals, interesting and important contributors to an exceptional community. One of the two, Edna Lewis, is a special part of African American culinary history, who sadly passed away a decade ago. Her work inspires me, and I know many others, to this day.

The other guest for the evening, André Hueston Mack, is in the prime of his life, a marvelous African American winemaker, entrepreneur, award-winning sommelier and designer. Both he and Miss Lewis have contributed creatively and significantly to African American—and hence, it’s important to note, American—culture. And yet both are far more interesting than their titles would ever let on. Neither fits the standard, socially-imposed molds. Both are amazing, inspiring individuals who live and lived life in their own, authentic, individual, one of a kind way. Both I would argue, are living Thelonious Monk’s super marvelous statement, “A genius is the one most like himself.” These two, in their own way, qualifies. With honors.

Through them, my hope is that this dinner is a chance to honor the complex, creative contributions of the African American community, in particular, through the work of two wonderful individuals.

Miss Edna Lewis

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, posited that there “is a fundamental misunderstanding of art on the part of most people. Because they think of art as learning to draw or learning a certain kind of self-expression. But in fact, what artists do is they learn to see.” Edna Lewis saw very clearly, elegantly and eloquently, with her own two eyes a particular perspective on the world of food and cooking. She also helped me see. Her African American food, her Southern food, her American food is something special, something different from what so much of the world would tell you. It’s inspiring. Great. Graceful. As New York Times writer Kim Severson said, “I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Southern cooking until I started reading what Miss Lewis had written.”

I wish I’d met Edna Lewis in person. From what I’ve read and heard from friends, she was an exceptional woman. John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, shared that, “Long before the term came into common parlance, Edna Lewis advocated for what we now call farm-to-table cookery. Her lyrical writing and honest palate proved models for the movement that surfed her wake.” Writer Francis Lam wrote, “Lewis took the story of rural black people, formerly enslaved black people, and owned it as a story of confidence and beauty. She didn’t have an easy life, even in her Freetown years. Her family suffered through two stillborn children and two more who died young of pneumonia. But she chose to see, and to show us, beauty; and under the shadow of oppression and slavery, that is a political act.” And an inspiring one in which she made a meaningful difference for many. Kim Severson said, “Politics were very important to Miss Lewis. She had been the first in her family to vote, and said her greatest honor was to work for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential race. Later, she would march with Dr. Martin Luther King at the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968.” Lewis was not in the least naïve to the social struggles, or to what it meant to be African American in the 20th century, or for that matter, still today in the 21st. She was very much an activist. “When I first came to New York just before World War II,” she wrote, “I joined the communist party. They were the only ones encouraging the blacks to be aggressive. To participate.” Francis Lam writes that, “Lewis’s niece, her youngest sister Naomi’s daughter, Nina Williams-Mbengue, who, at age 12, took her aunt’s handwritten sheets of yellow legal-pad paper and typed the manuscript for The Taste of Country Cooking. Her aunt never said her book was meant to be political. But she often spoke of being inspired by the people and the humane, communal spirit of Freetown. Williams-Mbengue said: ‘‘She just didn’t have any notion that these people were less-than because they were poor farming people. She wanted to make their lives count.’’ And then she added: ‘‘Imagine being enslaved, then rising above that to build your own town. Aunt Edna was always amazed that one of the first things they did was to plant orchards, so that their children would see the fruit of their efforts. How could those communities have such a gift? Was it that the future had to be so bright because they knew the past that they were coming out of?’’ From everything I’ve read, heard and understood, Edna Lewis was a lovely soul, one that the rest of us can aspire and admire, even if we never had the chance to get to know her in person.

Best as I can tell, she and I had completely opposite culinary backgrounds. Lewis grew up the granddaughter of slaves in Freetown, in rural Virginia; I grew up the grandson of Jewish immigrants on the streets of Chicago. Edna Lewis wrote that, “When I was a girl, we ate fish only when it was caught in a nearby stream, lake or river.” I was raised on Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks pan-fried in margarine. As a child she and her siblings regularly went to the woods to pick wild berries; I grew up going to the supermarket hunting down boxes of my favorite breakfast cereal. Lewis writes lovingly about ash cakes (corn cakes baked in the ashes); I have fond memories of walking on hot asphalt. Granted, my grandmother did make roast chicken every Friday night for the Sabbath meal but given that we kept kosher I can tell you it was never like it was for Ms. Lewis—her family supped on skillet-fried chicken cooked in a mix of leaf lard and freshly churned butter seasoned with a slice of long smoked country ham. Amin Maalouf wrote in his book, In the Name of Identity, that, “each of us has two heritages, a ‘vertical’ one that comes to us from our ancestors, our religious community and our popular traditions, and a ‘horizontal’ one transmitted to us by our contemporaries and by the age we live in.” In that sense, Edna Lewis and I clearly had completely different vertical heritages. And yet, our horizontal heritage, have a very high degree of overlap. We share a set of very similar beliefs. About food. About cooking. About culture. About people. About life. The food philosophies she learned as a child are the ones that I came to learn as an adult working my way through the food business. I’m not all that big on heroes, but if you have to have one, you don’t do much better than to elevate Edna Lewis. Here’s a bit of Lewis’ philosophy in her own words:

“I learned about cooking and flavor as a child, watching my mother prepare food in our kitchen in Virginia…Living in a rural area gave my mother the chance to cook food soon after it was picked. I just naturally followed her example. In those days, we lived by the seasons, and I quickly discovered that food tastes best when it is naturally ripe and ready to eat. As a result, I believe I know how food should taste.”

“One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been that I never stopped learning about good cooking and good food. Some of the recipes here are old friends, others are new discoveries. All represent a lifetime spent in the pursuit of good flavor.”

“If you eat a vegetable when it has been grown under all the right conditions, including reaching maturity at the right time of year, it tastes as good as it can be. I think it is important to keep this in mind—which is why I’m so delighted that so many cities have established farmers’ markets where local farmers can sell their produce.”

“…Wild things never fail us. They always taste good, which is why if you see only a handful of wild nuts or a cupful of berries, you should pick them. They have a flavor nothing else has. If you transplant a wild plant to the garden it will never taste the same.”

“I think the cheese tasted so good because of the tender grass in the fields where the dairy cows grazed.”

“These meats might cost more, but as with all good-tasting things, you may not need as much—the honest flavor compensates for the quantity.”

Edna Lewis’ loving approaches to nature and food are very much aligned with how we work with food here at Zingerman’s. You only need to read a small bit of her work to know that Ms. Lewis knew the seasons, she knew nature, she knew herself. I hope that I can get even halfway to what she knew.

Cooking Edna Lewis’ food at the Roadhouse, Head Chef Bob Bennett, who’s been at the Roadhouse since we opened the restaurant in 2003, shares a lot of these same beliefs about food and cooking. Bob shared: “I like Edna Lewis for a lot of reasons. Three things stand out that hit home for me. The first being the simplicity of the food, from the raising of it, through to the way it’s cooked. There is a certain air of ‘this is how real food is made’—it’s a style of cooking where the products do all the talking. The second thing is the sense of community and family that comes through. All her food is gathering food. It’s the food you want to see on the table when you sit with family, because it’s the work of the whole family to make it from seed to table. The third thing is that for some reason, for myself, being able to cook her food instills a sense of connection to the past. It’s an honor to be cooking it, and a responsibility in presenting it.”

Mr. André Hueston Mack


While the food for the meal will come from the work of Lewis, the wines are from Mr. Mack. André is African American, and I am not, but our culinary backgrounds appear to have more in common than either of us did with the food with which the young Edna Lewis lived every day. He was largely raised in Texas, yet grew up all over the place, a far cry from the countryside of rural Virginia that gave Lewis her culinary roots. Wild berry picking was not on either of our weekly agenda of activities; neither of our respective families drank or knew much of anything about food or cooking.

Unlike Lewis, who had a lifetime of lovely food and a deeply-rooted culinary philosophy to share with the world, André and I began working in restaurants really only because we needed jobs. Granted, he started in the dining room and I dove in by working the dish tank, but neither of us got into it with the idea that food service would stick as our vocation. Restaurants, André explained, felt like a diversion, killing time and making some money while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Which is how my life was “supposed” to go as well. I took my first restaurant job simply so I could afford to stay in Ann Arbor and avoid moving back home. I didn’t know what would come next but I never imagined I’d spend the rest of my life working with food. Same for André. “Everyone waiting tables thinks that at some point they’ll go on to bigger and better things,” he told me. “Or, they used to think that they were going on to bigger and better things, until they realized that they actually like the food business! Well, I went to ‘bigger and better things’ by getting a job in finance.”

André’s choice probably would have made my mother much happier than my decision to keep cooking did. He took a high-end job in finance. Maybe I saved myself some stress by failing to get where I was supposed to. “But when I got into finance,” André explained, “I missed the instant gratification that you get from dealing with people face to face. I missed that connection with people.” Fortunately for him and for all of us who now enjoy his wines, he had the courage to quit. I admire the way André honored his intuition—it’s not easy to walk away from the identity society says certifies you as a “success.” “I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna do,” he told me. “So in the interim I went back to work in restaurants. And I started watching old episodes of Frasier. And that’s really what gave me the courage to invite wine into my life. Not that I thought I was going to be a winemaker. It was more like, “Hey, you should go into a wine shop. And hey you should look into this and maybe have a glass with dinner.” Wine, it turned out, was about to become his way of life. “I’m a Type A personality so when I gravitate to something, I’m all in. I don’t just nibble, I devour. That’s what wine was for me. Everything else in my life is the same way. Chess, horses, basketball…I let things consume me!”

Edna Lewis grew up with good food and cooking, so much so that she said no one ever really taught her to cook; she just knew. André, on the other hand, started learning his craft “late in life.” He was 30 before he really got into wine—about the age at which Edna Lewis was already running the kitchen at NYC’s then-famous Café Nicholson serving folks like Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. “I started to study as a sommelier,” he said. “The place I was working wasn’t known as a wine place so I got into sommelier competitions to see where I stood up against my peers. I’m highly competitive, but, really, I’m more competitive with myself. I wanted to see if I really knew the stuff I was memorizing for the tests. And then I won all these competitions and that got me ready to work for Thomas Keller at Per Se. And there I was working for one of the best chefs in the world, at one of the best restaurants in the world. But then I had this epiphany that that wasn’t going to be ‘it’ for the rest of my life. And that’s really when I got into wine.” He founded Maison Noir in 2007, a year before Edna Lewis passed away.

André and I have very similar views on life, “To be a master of anything is to be forever a student,” he said. “I wanted to live and to learn and the best way I thought to do that was to make my own. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and be more creative, to have more creativity in my life.” A creative and meaningful life of study in anything, is, of course, built upon a philosophy. In André’s case, a philosophy of wine. “My philosophy is always food first,” André said. “To make food-friendly wines. Not just wines that were honest and spoke of the place. And not just wines that weren’t over-adulterated. We wanted to make clean wines that had some acid. Acid is an amplifier. It’s like salt in your food. It’s not really the actual flavor you’re tasting but without it the other flavors don’t come out well. That’s what really interested me.”

André and I also have a high affinity for t-shirts. André designs and sells his own. “I was always a t shirt guy,” he told me. “Chef Thomas Keller had a rather keen sense of humor and it was great to see how he wove it into the menu. When I worked at Per Se they made t-shirts for the staff any time there’s something going on. When you saw someone wear the shirt you knew they worked there. I wanted to do it, too, for the wine.” They’re part of André’s efforts (successful, I’d say) to infuse some humor and casual context into a wine world that often takes itself awfully seriously. Like Randall Graham at Bonny Doon, he brings intelligence and wit to his work, all the while making really good wines. He’s even designed what might be the world’s first culinary-centric coloring book. He’s anything but mainstream. Building on that sense of fun and deeply held philosophy, André works very hard at his wine making. You can see the results in the awards he’s won. Best Young Sommelier in America in 2003, the first African American to win that distinguished honor. His wines are on the lists of many of the country’s best restaurants.

“What are two or three things that you wish more people knew about wine?” I asked André.

“You know…the biggest thing that wine is intimidating for all the wrong reasons! I think you know people are drawn to wine because of its sophistication. But for me it’s just a beverage… it’s not a meal unless you have wine. The further it gets from the vineyard the snootier it gets! But winemakers are farmers. In that sense, it takes a lot of the pretense that surrounds wine out of the picture. When you realize the winemaker is just a farmer…the whole thing is a lot more down to earth.” And? “I wish more people would try more things with wine. You know that saying, variety is the spice of life. People are so set in their ways with wine. I just want people to keep trying them. That’s what makes it all great. I want the guy who just wants to have a cheeseburger every night to have a glass of good wine with it.”

André was speaking my language. “For me,” he went on, “it’s just taste, taste, taste! The biggest thing is that we want people to know is that you’re an expert in your own taste. You taste and you know whether you like it or not. You don’t need an expert to tell you what you like. You like what you like. Be confident in that.” To Amin Maalouf’s well-made point about each of us having multiple identities,André Hueston Mack is a self-taught artist who also has a graphic design business. Just your typical African-American winemaker, t-shirt wearing, award-winning sommelier, graphic designer, coloring book creator.

Dinner with Andre and Edna

To honor the work of these two exceptional individuals, to celebrate the significant contributions made by African-Americans to what we know as “really good American food.” And wine. If you feel as positively and as strongly as I do about the import of recognizing that contribution, I hope you’ll join us at the Roadhouse for a dinner with André, featuring Edna Lewis’ recipes. Even if you can’t make it that evening, I hope that you’ll consider the lesson that their meaningful lives have left with me. Frances Lam, writing lovingly about Lewis in the New York Times closed his piece with this story:

“It has been almost 10 years since Lewis died, 40 since she published The Taste of Country Cooking. Who carries her torch? There are many calling for seasonal, organic eating, but who else has been afforded the iconic position Lewis held, to keep showing us the rich history and influences that black cooks have had on American food?…Is America looking hard enough for the next Edna Lewis?” It’s a question that has weighed on Toni Tipton-Martin (who came to Ann Arbor to speak at one of our earlier African American foodways dinners back when her book was coming out) for years, as she pored over hundreds of African-American cookbooks to write The Jemima Code. She got to speak to Lewis at a food writer’s event and, while still in awe of her, steeled herself to tell her that she was not the only one. ‘’I told her that I wanted to tell the world that there were more women like her than just her,’ she said. A while later, Lewis sent her a letter, written on the same kind of yellow legal pad that she used to write The Taste of Country Cooking. ‘’Leave no stone unturned to prove this point,’’ she wrote. ‘’Make sure that you do.’’”

For me, Miss Lewis’ last point, might really be the message of this meal. Because although Edna Lewis was amazing, and André Hueston Mack is so today, I would argue that the world is filled with equally amazing, unique individuals who society tends to pass right by as if they didn’t exist. Millions of them. They are, as poet Gary Snyder said so beautifully, “like sages growing melons in the mountains.”

For me, the point of the evening might well just be that social stereotypes, bias, stigma, quietly placed roadblocks, and a failure to understand unspoken beliefs, has left so many people—just as special as Miss Lewis or Mr. Mack—behind. They may, from afar, look like just another kid on a street corner or a college sophomore lost in their life, but if we get up close and take time to really look, and to listen, to look past the social stereotypes in which society attempts to imprison them, we’ll find their wisdom. While this dinner is clearly a tribute to its two “guest stars,” I’d really rather frame it as being in honor of the melon-growing sages all around us, in the African American community, in the Ann Arbor area, and in the world at large.

Join us on the evening on January 30—two weeks before the anniversary of her passing—to celebrate her work, the wines of André Hueston Mack, and the marvelous, intricate, creative and exceptional culinary contributions of the African American community.

Make a reservation for our 13th Annual African American Dinner here.

The Roadhouse is Sweet on Sorghum Molasses

And our sorghum molasses is sweet on waffles.

By Marcy Harris

Sugary, sticky, and delicious. That’s how we like our sorghum molasses at the Roadhouse. We also like it on ice cream, biscuits, and even waffles. Made from grain sorghum, the texture is like honey that melts on your tongue. The caramelly, burnt sugar flavor slowly expands on the palate, providing a lingering flavor that you can cozy up to like a good nap after breakfast.

Is it sorghum or molasses?

Sorghum molasses is not to be confused with regular molasses, a by-product of sugar cane. Rather, it is made from a sorghum cane, which happens to look a lot like corn, but without the ears. The plant produces a cluster of seeds, which are harvested when brown then milled to collect the juice. Similar to maple syrup, the juice is boiled and evaporated.

The sorghum we are currently using at the Roadhouse comes from an Old Order Amish family in Kentucky, the Yoders. The family actually uses mules to plow their land and mill their sorghum, no machines. They also refrain from using technology, so Zingerman’s places orders through a friend who hands it to the family at their farm. As a result, our jars of this gooey goodness are few and far between, so we like to make sure we use it for something really special.

Move over maple syrup…

This weekend, Head Chef Bob Bennett has gone above and beyond for a brunch creation that will highlight this rare treat. The Kentucky Waffle will feature the very best of the Bluegrass State. We have added Newsom’s Country Ham to our Grits n’ Bits waffle batter, along with cheese curds made with Kenny’s Farmhouse cheddar cheese. We then top it off with more Newsom’s ham and Yoder’s sweet, sweet sorghum molasses.

The complexity of flavor is through the Roadhouse roof: Salty, smoky and sweet, with pockets of melty cheese and forkfuls of tender ham. But the sorghum is key. The thick syrup pools in each square of the waffle and drips into the ham, making each bite candied perfection. It will be on the brunch menu this weekend at the Roadhouse. I’ve made my reservation, have you?

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Potlikker Fish Stew at the Roadhouse

A classic in the making

by Ari Weinzweig

While up here, hardly any of us Northerners have ever heard of it, down South, potlikker is an iconic, much admired culinary staple. In the South, potlikker is seen as powerful stuff—the southern equivalent of chicken soup. It’s the broth from the long-cooked, bacon-loaded collard greens we make every day at the Roadhouse.

To make the dish, we use the potlikker to poach some of our seafood—selections vary daily. It’s three or four fish, and often some of those amazing day boat scallops we get in twice a week from the East Coast. The fish and the poaching liquid is ladled atop a bed of hot Anson Mills grits. If you’ve never had ’em, you’re in for a treat with those alone.

Rich, slightly spicy, a bit vinegary with the good-looking local greens, all served over those amazing traditionally grown and ground grits. This dish has West African roots—a stew served over a starch; lots of fish, lots of leafy greens. The historical note only adds to my enjoyment when I eat it.

This dish has a very loyal following at the Roadhouse. Count me in!

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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!

Limeade: The Roadhouse has a New Squeeze

A refreshing homage to an Ann Arbor favorite!

By Marcy Harris


There’s nothing quite like freshly squeezed juice, and over the years the Roadhouse has mastered the art. Orange, grapefruit, lemon.. we’ve got you covered as far as tropical fruit goes.

So why stop there? The Roadhouse has taken things up a full flavor notch by now offering limeade! And it’s fantastic. Just the perfect amount of sugar and tang. Once you’ve made up your mind to have a glass, honestly nothing else will do. For me, it’s like being whisked away to a tropical beach for vacation instead of going to the lake. Every glass is full of sunshine, a prism of sweet refreshment. There’s something that’s just so homey and satisfying about anything freshly squeezed. It’s simple, and it’s good.

Drake’s in Ann Arbor. Courtesy of Oldnews.aadl.org (Ann Arbor District Library)

Sip into a fond memory.

For Ari Weinzweig, it’s not only about the taste, it’s about the nostalgia. The drink was a popular offering at Drake’s, a sandwich shop that opened in Ann Arbor in the 1920s, and closed in 1993. The restaurant was a classic, with lime-green booths and a vintage candy and soda look. Just like the Roadhouse, it was a great place just to hang out – a home away from home. The menu was simple and yummy, and everyone loved their limeade.

 

So we brought it back, as a tribute to an Ann Arbor legend and a way for all of our friends at the Roadhouse to be able to taste local history. We make it just like Drake’s did, by squeezing the limes, add just the perfect amount of water and sugar, then garnishing each glass with a bit of the lime rind. And then we took it up even another notch – by adding it to our swordfish.

A perfect marry-nating of flavors.

Our sous chef, Chris Bungard, created an amazing dish by marinating fresh New England swordfish steaks in our limeade. He grills the steaks over oak, then tops them with an amazing avocado salad. The swordfish soaks up the limeade perfectly, and every bite is delicious. What started as a special is now a regular feature on our menu.

There’s no rush, our limeade is not going anywhere. Stop by anytime. If you’re feeling like trying it with a bit of a twist, we’ll add Rhum Barbancourt for you. Just ask!

 

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Butterscotch Pudding at the Roadhouse

A delicious dessert with a tiny terrific touch of sea salt

By Ari Weinzweig


When you read the menu at the Roadhouse, you’ll see my name attached to the donut sundae. It’s our biggest selling dessert, and it is very good. But, if I were eating dinner at the Roadhouse, our new Butterscotch Pudding is what I would order to close out my meal.

I’m not 100 percent sure what it is that makes this pudding so darned good, but I surely do love it. And so do a LOT of customers. It’s definitely one of our most requested items. Made with butter, cream and a lot of dark muscovado sugar, it’s served with sprinkle of fleur de sel. Honestly, it might be worth stopping by just to have this dessert.

Pair it up with a glass of something good. Felipe Diaz, long time server, trainer and all around good guy at the Roadhouse recommends either a light Madeira, like the New York Madeira we have on hand at the Roadhouse. Or try it teamed up with a cocktail, like the Kentucky Bedwarmer. Felipe says, “The spice and the citrus counter the sweetness, and the bourbon picks up the caramel notes of the butterscotch.”

If you’re taking some of this stuff home, try it with a bit of a Bakehouse Ginger Jump Up cookie crumbled on top. Pretty terrific!

It’s Official!! Monday is Gumbo Day at the Roadhouse

The Roadhouse now starts the work week off with great gumbo!

by Ari Weinzweig


The kitchen crew at the Roadhouse has committed to making their marvelous gumbo every single Monday! While it’s been added to the specials list here and there over the years, the days of waiting ‘til you arrive to see if gumbo’s “on tap” are now over.

There are, of course, a zillion variations on gumbo, so I’m not here to say that the Roadhouse version is “the right” one. But ours is authentic, well made, and pretty marvelously delicious. Gene Bourg, whose Cajun ancestors have lived in Louisiana for over 200 hundred years, wrote in Saveur, “There are as many gumbos (in Cajun country) as there are cooks.”

Like the language and the music, Cajun cooking is itself a blend of influences: the dishes of the original Acadiana, the foods of France, native American ingredients, the cooking of Africa, and the spice and style of the Caribbean. Gumbo is a true culinary stew that showcases various cultural influences. Beyond that, the only thing you’ll get most Cajun cooks to agree on is that a well-made gumbo is very, very good.

The Roadhouse gumbo starts with a four-hour roux—flour and butter slowly cooked together to become the thickening agent for the gumbo. A roux (pronounced “roo”) is a Louisiana specialty and perhaps the single most critical component of a good gumbo. The longer you cook it, the darker and more flavorful the roux. Add in a whole mess of good stuff: gulf shrimp, celery, onions and peppers (known as the Holy Trinity in Cajun cooking), fresh oysters, andouille sausage, lots of okra, oak-smoked chicken from the pit, and plenty of spices. Garnish with gumbo file (dried sassafras powder), serve over Carolina Gold rice from Anson Mills (organic, field ripened, 18th century heirloom varietal), and you’ve got an amazing meal!

That’s what we’re serving up at the Roadhouse MondayEvery Monday, lunch and dinner in a cup or bowl (and another one to go)! Put it on your calendar.

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Gluten-Free Pasta at the Roadhouse

Mac n’ cheese is for everybody!

By Marcy Harris

Mmmmmm, mac and cheese. It’s a classic – warm, melty, and comforting. If I see a pan of macaroni out at party, I’ll elbow everyone out of the way to get to it first. Pun so intended. Not that I won’t share. Everytime I eat at the Roadhouse, I make sure one of our macs is on the table for everyone to enjoy. But the point is, there has to be a way for everyone to enjoy it, including my gluten-free pals.

As long as the Roadhouse has been serving really good American food, our mac has been a favorite on the menu. So why wouldn’t we want to make it available to as many of our friends as possible? And now we can do that with our gluten-free pasta.

“Macaroni and cheese is pasta.”- Ari Weinzweig

When your macaroni and cheese is named one of the America’s Best: Top Ten Comfort Foods by the Food Network, naturally you’d want to make sure it’s being made with the best ingredients possible. The Roadhouse typically uses a superb macaroni pasta made by the Martelli family in Tuscany. So when we make it gluten-free, we use a gluten-free pasta that is of comparable quality – it has to taste good and hold up to our yummy sauce.

The key to any good pasta is that the texture stays al dente. For our gluten-free pasta, we bring in RP’s from Madison Wisconsin. RP’s uses all-natural ingredients and Old World artisan techniques for making their pasta. They actually hand-roll the dough and extrude it through brass dies in small batches, resulting in a better texture. What I really love about RP’s is that all their pasta is fresh, so there is a consistent quality of taste and texture when the pasta is cooked.

It really does taste like pasta!

When it comes to gluten-free pasta, there might be concerns about how it will compare to a flour based pasta. Most gluten-free pastas are made from corn flour, quinoa flour, rice flour, or some grab-bag assortment of mixed starches. And what happens when you add water to a grab-bag of starches? That’s right. A gummy mess.

So there could be issues with texture, not only with the gummy factor, but also with the potential of the pasta losing its shape. RP’s uses brown rice flour, which allows for a firmer texture. The taste is also pretty fantastic with our mac and cheese. You know that “cardboard” flavor that is often associated with other rice pastas? You are not going to get it with this one.

We use RP’s fusilli, which is a spiral shaped pasta. I’ll be honest, I actually like the spirals with our béchamel based cheese sauce (which we can also make gluten-free using rice flour!). The ridges on the pasta trap the sauce, so you get more flavor with every bite. Every time I have it, my mind spirals over how delicious it is!

Are you gluten-free? Do you want to try our mac? Stop by the Roadhouse and ask your server about it! We will make it happen.

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Anson Mills’ Old-School Organic Grits

At the Deli and the Roadhouse

By Ari Weinzweig 

In his wonderful book The Unprejudiced Palate, Angelo Pellegrini writes: “I have sought and found the significance latent in little things.” I agree. One of the best things I can imagine eating as the weather cools is a simple bowl of the exceptionally excellent grits that we get from Anson Mills in South Carolina. Topped with a bit of butter, maybe a touch of grated cheese, and definitely a good bit of freshly ground black pepper (I’ve been loving the 5-Star Black Pepper Blend from Épices de Cru), Anson Mills’ grits are really an exceptional meal.

These are grits the way they would have been two hundred years ago. They taste and smell of corn! Sadly these historically sound grits nearly passed out of production. Glenn’s original search started in 1995—he explored rural back roads looking for the old Carolina white corn. He remembered his mother eating grits all the time when he was a kid. Near Dillon, SC he found an old bootlegger’s field where he discovered the corn that is now the basis of all the great Anson Mills grits we get. It’s called Carolina Gourdseed White and dates back to the 1600s!

A big part of what makes Anson Mills products so exceptional is the cold milling process that Glenn uses. Everything is designed to keep temperatures down and, in the process, protect the flavor of the corn (or the rice). The corn during the milling stays very cool—never gets above 58°F. By contrast, mass market milling basically “cooks” the corn during the milling, killing all the live enzymes and most all of the flavor. Anson Mills pumps carbon dioxide into the mill in order to keep oxygen off of the corn, preventing oxidation and protecting flavor (this is much the same as is done with wine by using nitrogen).

Warm, filling, comforting, cozy. Fantastic finish. When I’m feeling down, a bowl of grits will bring me up. In the N.Y. Times a few years ago, Glenn framed it this way: ” Great corn is like great wine.” I agree wholeheartedly. An exceptional meal at any time of the day!

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French Broad Chocolates

Fine Chocolates from Asheville.

By Ari Wewinzeig

These are some superb handcrafted chocolate bars made near the banks of the French Broad river in Asheville, North Carolina. If you’re looking for a great gift, or just some really good chocolate to eat after dinner tonight, these could be the ticket. Jael and Dan Ratigan are doing some great work with growers through Central America and crafting some exceptional bean to bar chocolates. They also happen to be great clients of ZingTrain and are working to adapt many of our Zingerman’s approaches in their own business. I’ve always been a fan of their work. But since we started carrying their chocolates at the Roadhouse I’ve been eating them regularly! The Malted Milk bar is caramelly, calming, comforting. For those who like a lighter, milkier chocolate this one is a sure hit! My own tastes run darker—I’ve been drawn again and again to the French Broad Guatemala and Nicaragua origins. But really, I can say with certainty that they’re all good. Oh yeah, the box! A beautiful work of packaging art. Light blue, heavy cardboard stock, it opens like a little book, with a chocolate bar in the middle, sandwiched by messages about the chocolate from Dan and Jael. Nibble a bit of the bar while reading more about their work. It’s hard to ask for more—this is a great chocolate in a great package made by great people!

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Nashville Fried Pies at the Roadhouse

By Ari Weinzweig

Fried pie? Yep! You read that right! If you’re from Tennessee, it’s likely that you know fried pies, or “hand pies,” quite well. If you’re not, the entire concept might seem sort of strange. Take my word for it, these babies are delicious! Best I can tell, the fried pie is a long-standing tradition in the South. They’re called hand pies because unlike a slice off a bigger, round pie, fried pies can easily be eaten out of hand. They could be brought to work, to the fields, really anywhere! Zingerman’s Bakehouse has been making them regularly and shipping them across town to the Roadhouse where they’re quickly becoming a staple on our All-American dessert list. Hot out of the fryer, they’re good with a scoop of Zingerman’s Creamery gelato. Of course, you can also do what farmers in the south might and pick one up to go. They’re really just as excellent when you eat them at room temperature. Flavors change regularly—cherry, apple… we’ll see what other good offerings emerge from the Bakehouse pastry kitchen. Order one up soon. Better still, buy a box and bring them home!! They are hard to resist!

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Breakfast Burritos at the Roadshow

By Ari Weinzweig

I don’t even eat breakfast, but I’ve long thought the Breakfast Burrito, or the Diez y Uno, is one of the most delicious foods in the entire ZCoB. And that’s saying something given the thousands of great tasting food you can find around here. They’ve grown so popular over the years that we now have people who pretty much refuse to start their day without one. There’s something about the combination of flavor and texture that is just so good. Soft flour tortilla wrapped around freshly scrambled eggs, a healthy dose of traditionally handmade Monterey Jack from Vella cheese in Sonoma (where they’ve been making it since 1931), deliciously spicy fire roasted and hand peeled New Mexico green chiles, and a couple strips of Nueske’s superb applewood smoked bacon. (Vegetarians can order without the bacon, of course.) Once you try one you may find yourself planning your morning routine to join the line of cars at the Roadshow.

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