Q&A with Ali Garrison


Ali Garrison will be joining us for this years 11th Annual African American dinner, you can reserve your tickets to this event or get more information here!

Q: Can you share the story of your great, great, great grandparents?

With pleasure! It is something my family and I are very proud to share.
In 1830, my three-greats grandfather, Dr. Nathan M. Thomas, a birthright Quaker and ardent Abolitionist, walked all the way from Ohio to settle on Potawatomi Lands in Schoolcraft, Michigan. He became the first white physician serving the entire Western Michigan area. Pamela Brown, my three greats grandmother, had moved from Vermont with her brother, E. Lakin Brown and his wife, and took a job as one of the first schoolteachers in Schoolcraft. She and Nathan met and courted. When he proposed to her, he warned her about his life’s work helping refugees who were fleeing slavery in the South, and told her that if she were to agree to marry him, that this would have to be part of her life also. Pamela said yes, and they married in 1840 and began their family. In 1843 their home became a station on the Underground Railroad and over the next twenty years until the Civil War broke out, they assisted an estimated 1,500 Freedom Seekers to escape and settle in Michigan or keep going North to Canada. Nathan was called the conductor and Pamela was called the hotel keeper. Their house is now lovingly preserved as a museum by the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

Q: What was the Underground Railroad?

The Underground Railroad was a well-organized web of escape routes and safe houses in the early to mid-1800s that gave assistance to enslaved people of Afrikan descent who were fleeing the abominable, dehumanizing conditions of systemic slavery and human trafficking in the Southern US. The Underground Railroad was run by Black Abolitionists (both free and enslaved), White Abolitionists (often Quakers) and Native Peoples, working together for human rights.

Q: Why was Michigan such an important part of it?

Michigan was en route, a border territory/state to Upper Canada, where according to the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery, enslaved people became free persons upon arrival. There were also quite a few passionate Abolitionists who were living in Michigan and wanting to organize, provide aid and encourage Freedom Seekers to settle in the territory/state even though that was a big risk and did not guarantee their immunity from Southern raiders, kidnappers and bounty hunters.

Q: How did you meet Dr. Washington?

In December 2014, I had come from Toronto to Kalamazoo to help work on a social justice theatre project for Humanity for Prisoners. That play deals with one of the worst wrongful conviction cases in Michigan history, telling the story of Maurice Henry Carter, an Afrikan American man who spent twenty-nine years in prison for a crime he never committed. I had told the cast how pleased my ancestors, the Thomas Family, would be with this work and that their home nearby had been a station on the UR. Dr. Washington got very excited and said that he knew all about them and, in fact, had written about them in one of his plays. He told me that he and I were going to have to write a play about them together. The rest is history. LOL.

Q: What’s the name of the play and when will it show here in Ann Arbor?

In the new year, two evenings after your Afrikan American Foodways event, on Thursday, January 28th, Dr. Washington’s play, In Search of Giants: Ghosts of the Underground Railroad will be performed at the Arthur Miller Theatre on Univ. of Michigan’s North Campus, right across the street from where I studied music for five years. Alongside a cast of five others, Von plays himself, a griot in the traditional Afrikan storytelling style, and I sing and play myself and my three greats Gran Pamela.

Q: What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned working on it?

Oh, the countless things I have learned! Just, for example, I never knew about the treasure trove of Michigan archives housed at the Bentley Library on University of Michigan’s North Campus, or that all of Dr. Nathan M. Thomas’ papers and letters are preserved there- four big boxes of them!; By reading those letter and accounts, I learned that if Nathan, a white man, were alive today he would be considered a leader way ahead of his time because he was so actively advocating and lobbying for human rights and trying to change policy and legislation; I also learned that Edwin Stanton, the US Secretary of War under Lincoln, during the Civil War was a second cousin of Nathan’s and they were corresponding secretly; When I started digging, I discovered an intriguing visitor to the Thomas house, who I read about in the family accounts, and by following that little trail, stumbled upon the heart-stopping narrative of the brilliant Henry Bibb, Abolitionist, writer and former enslaved person who became one of our “Giants”; finally, I have immeasurably benefited from going back deep into my roots, learning about the power of exploring our past, how doing so informs our present and inspires our future.

Q: When did you work at Zingerman’s? What did you take away from the experience?

My brothers and I inherited our Mother’s passion for the art of food and cooking, and I had worked in some fine food establishments in Toronto. I was also curious about human interactions and the culture around food. So, when I was studying music at the University of Michigan in the mid-late 80s into the early 90s, I discovered the wonder of Zingerman’s, was utterly fascinated and immediately applied for a part-time job. The way that Ari and Paul taught us how to feel and think in an unlimited way about food and service and how to value each individual has stuck with me all these years. Plus the food itself is just incredible. They exemplified an unbridled enthusiasm and pro-activity that rubbed off on me and look!… now here we are, twenty-five years later, still curious and being inspired by our serendipitous meeting to come back into creative collaboration! I love it.

Reserve your tickets to this event or get more information here!

Summer Harvest Dinner Featuring Cornman Farms

An Interview with Amanda, Cornman Farms newest farmer

You know when you start working with someone and you can just tell that it is a great fit? That this person was destined to be a part of the team and destined for big things? Well, that is how we all felt when we met Amanda. Her story with Zingerman’s began just last November when she applied to work in the Roadshow as a barista. It was a no-brainer to hire her and she quickly became a favorite of staff and guests – she has such a calm and sweet demeanor, it comes out in every interaction, she truly does make you feel like you have been the best part of her day.

After a few months of working in the Roadshow, Amanda started sharing her passion of farming and love of flowers with Chef Alex. It became clear that it was a natural fit for her to move to the agricultural department of Cornman Farms. She joined long-time farm manager Mark Baerwolf in early Spring, and together the two of them are leading the agricultural department.

Roadhouse: Describe your journey that led you to working at Cornman Farms.

Amanda: I discovered farming while in grad school for environmental education in southwest New Hampshire. I had gotten an internship at a local CSA farm for the summer and was blown away by it. After that summer, my focus quickly changed to agricultural education. So, I come at farming with the mindset of an educator, I love teaching about organic and sustainable agriculture. What I love about coming out to Cornman Farms is how dedicated Chef Alex is to teaching and sharing his passion for farming. It is easy to hop on the bandwagon with him around. Mark too, he lights up when someone asks a question. His energy around farming is incredible to be a part of.

After finishing grad school I worked for a local non-profit organization that taught kids how to farm and manage a farmers market stand. Then, I worked as a garden manager at a working farm/non-profit educational center. I turned it into a year-round CSA and farmers’ market farm, and helped create the year round market in our little town of Keene, NH. After that, it was time to return to Michigan. I grew up in Ann Arbor, my parents are still here and my husband, daughter and I moved back to be closer to family. So here we are, and I am so grateful to have found the farm. This is the perfect fit for me.

Soil is one of the most important aspects of farming. What is the soil like here at Cornman Farms?

The soil here is variable, actually. Being in Michigan, the soil is pretty clay-like and wet, so it requires lots of careful tillage and timely workings. When you work clay soil that is too wet, it compacts and develops a crust, which makes it hard for the plants to get what they need to grow. Mark has developed a really amazing compost system, and over the years he has been adding tons of compost to lighten it up a quite a bit. The compost helps give the soil better water filtration, nutrient availability, and nutrient storage. It is pretty amazing to compare the fields that have received years of compost, and fields that have been opened recently, he and Chef Alex have put a lot of work into the soil fertility of the farm and it shows!

Companion planting is a term familiar to most professional farmers, but for the folks who garden or farm for more of a hobby, it isn’t as well known. What is companion planting and what is the importance of it? How does Cornman put it to use?

Successful companion planting means seeing the bigger picture, knowing the likes and dislikes of each of your crops, and having a wide diversity of crops. It can be done with a very specific plan, for example, we alternate beds of cabbage with beds of leeks. Why? Well, as you are aware, the veggies in the onion family (garlic, shallots, leeks, and…onions) have a very strong smell. Cabbage, on the other hand, is very attractive to a lot of pests, like the cabbage moth worm. By interspersing cabbage with onions, the onions act like a natural insecticide and help deter many of the cabbage pests. The big win is that we won’t have to use any chemicals to help control the pests, and therefore we keep the bees, butterflies, dragonflies, toads, and snakes happy. Companion planting can also be a more casual practice, like planting corn next to the flowers because the flowers need a windbreak, and the corn gets very tall and is very sturdy and can help block the wind. By seeing the bigger picture, and planting a diversity of crops, you can create a cropping system that works for you, and benefits the wildlife of the farm. We are encouraging insects, toads, birds, bugs, and wildlife to be a part of the ecosystem of the farm to create an environment where all things benefit from each other. These things wouldn’t be around, and we would not be benefiting from them, if we were a conventional farm using chemicals.

This is the first season Cornman Farms has been growing flowers and selling them. Amanda’s flower bouquets are available at the Roadhouse or you can contact her for custom arrangements, or bulk flowers.

Tell us about the flowers around the farm. Do you have a favorite?

That’s like naming a favorite child! I’ve been thinking about it, though. I have a few favorites, zinnias, which are a total classic summer favorite, sunflowers are AMAZING, and black-eyed susans. They are a simple flower but so beautiful in that way. Sometimes the simple ones are the most beautiful.

How many different varieties of flowers did you plant this year?

We’ve planted lots of perennials around the property that will keep coming back year after year, and on top of that we planted about 30 different kinds of annual flowers. But, within those 30 there are many different varieties (colors) of each. Snap dragons, zinnias, statice, cosmos, sunflowers. So many sizes, colors, and textures, the farm is really beautiful right now.

The first harvest dinner of the season is on August 18th, we’ll be highlighting the best of the fields at Cornman Farms. What are you most excited about on the menu?

Oh, what am I not excited about?! The potatoes and cucumbers are coming in beautifully this year, and the first tomatoes are starting to come in, and they are delicious! The Roadhouse’s fried green tomatoes are simply one of my favorites. And I saw on the menu the porchetta carving station, that sounds fantastic.

America’s Best Chefs Answer The Call To Serve Their Nation

by Melissa Goh
the salt, NPR’s Food Blog

The State Department is deploying a new, elite force onto the precarious stage of international diplomacy. More than 80 top chefs from across the nation were inducted into the first-ever American Chef Corps on Friday.

How will these culinary soldiers serve their country? The Associated Press says:

“These food experts could help the State Department prepare meals for visiting dignitaries, travel to U.S. embassies abroad for educational programs with foreign audiences or host culinary experts from around the world in their U.S. kitchens.”

The list of chefs is enough to make most Americans salivate: Jose Andres, Top Chef competitors Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio, Ming Tsai, Art Smith, Vikram Sunderam, Rick Bayless and Alex Young, to name a few.

click here to read the full article

Farm & Food Cool People Series

Learn about gardening, urban farming, harvesting, canning, freezing, pickling, drying, creative food storage, cooking and eating from some of the best and most creative minds in this community!

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
Chef Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse
a lively discussion with the James Beard Award-winning chef

The event is FREE at the Dawn Farm Community Barn.

RSVP to the event at 734.485.8725 or at [email protected]

Roadhouse Chef Alex Young Cooks Up a Better American Diet

Dexter, MI‚—Although his “day job” as chef and managing partner of Zingerman’s Roadhouse restaurant keeps him plenty busy, Alex Young has always found time to pursue new passions. In 2006, after experiencing the thrill of serving his restaurant guests vegetables that he grew in his home garden, Alex launched into farming with Zingerman’s Cornman Farms. Today, Cornman produces much of the produce served at the Roadhouse and raises livestock for much of the meat that reaches guests plates as well. These days, Alex has a new passion that he is working into his daily schedule: introducing schoolkids to new and different foods that are full-flavored, and sustainably grown and raised, and helping them learn the value and fun and of healthy eating.

“My dream is to get all processed food out of our school lunches,” says Alex. “There are lots ways we can improve our kids’ diets in schools.” Alex first saw the impact he could have on kids’ diets when he joined his son for “bring your parent to lunch” day at school. “I thought we could do more to get fresh, seasonal food on the menu,” he remembers. “As someone who grows food and raises livestock, the key for me is building relationships with the people in my community to help get the word out that there’s a better way to do this and then to help make that happen.” Getting the kids to try different foods can be a challenge too. Often they will walk right past the healthier choices in the cafeteria and choose something that their parents would rather they didn’t. “It’s all about educating the kids to stop and think about what they are putting into their bodies,” says Alex.

Timing can be a problem too. Schools often schedule lunch right before a recess. Rather than take the time to relax over nourishing food, kids rush through their meals so they can go play. “Perfectly natural reaction,” notes Alex. “But, let’s work on altering schedules so lunch doesn’t have to be rushed.”

In recent years, Alex has embarked on an ambitious plan to make a change in his community. He works with the Farm to School program in Ann Arbor giving talks on the health and environmental benefits of fresh vegetables; the importance of organic and non-genetically-modified foods; and the effect of “food miles” and the impact of time from harvest to consumption on nutrition.

He also works in the kitchens at the Chelsea and Dexter schools with the cafeteria staff preparing lunches for the students and bringing traditional but new (to the students) flavors for them to try. “Taste,” Alex points out, “is the most important thing to change kids’ habits. They really do enjoy preparing the food and learning its history, but getting them to experience the fuller flavor of truly grass-fed beef or the huge taste in a just-picked tomato—that’s when the light bulb goes off and you know there’s some progress in changing the way they approach food.”

Alex uses his Roadhouse restaurant as well to get the message out. He hosts dinners there and at local schools to raise money to build gardening programs in the Dexter/Chelsea schools, and his annual fundraiser dinner for the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation raises money for farm field trips in local schools. Alex hosts many such field trips himself at his own Cornman Farms in Dexter.

Currently Alex sits on the board of the Wellness Committee for the Dexter/Chelsea public schools. “This is where I can really develop the partnerships necessary to change our approach to eating in our community.”

Though he’s devoted to his family, farm, and restaurant, Alex doesn’t have any plans to slow down his education mission. “Right now the calendar has 10 school or library events through December. And, I’m sure it’ll pick right up after the school break.”

Roadhouse Chef Alex Young Wins Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region from the James Beard Foundation!

We just got news (a text actually) from Alex’s family at the awards that Alex took home the prize tonight in New York City at the James Beard Awards Foundation. Congrats Alex! Here’s a candid taken right after the award. I doubt you’ll ever see him in a tux again!

Roadhouse Mac & Cheese is the Best Comfort Food in America

The Food Network’s Alton Brown explores the nation’s best comfort food in a show called America’s Best. He’s traveled all over the country in a search for the top 10 comfort foods around, including a stop at Zingerman’s Roadhouse for the best: a creamy dish of Mac & Cheese.

Wear our mac-n-cheese home with you! Show your friends and family where your comfort food loyalty lies. Available at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, $20 each. Live out of town? Give us a call and we would love to mail one to you! 734.663.3663

Interview with Andre Williams

My Conversation with Andre

by Ari Weinzweig

While he’s hardly world famous, Andre Williams is definitely one of those one of a kind creative folks who make their mark.  He was basically doing rap before there was rap. And he stuck his neck out by writing and recording racy songs like “Bacon Fat,” “Greasy Chicken” and “Jail Bait” back when American society wasn’t used to watching pseudo-near-sex on network television.  And since he’s 75, it’s all the more special that we get the chance to have him here, live at the Roadhouse.  Andre will be up here in person in a couple weeks to kick off Camp Bacon by playing live at the Roadhouse Friday night June 18.  Anyways, I’m sure he’ll have more to say (and sing) when he’s here, but below are a few quick notes from my conversation with Andre.

Ari:  Well, for this audience, Bacon Fat is the obvious connection.  What’s the story behind the song?

Continue reading “Interview with Andre Williams”

The Spotlight is on Bacon

While, we at Zingerman’s don’t usually get excited about fads, the resurgence of bacon is a different matter entirely.  This is because the growing awareness means that new appreciation is gained for those people who have been following the traditional recipes and doing things the “old way” all along.  Kate Lawson of the Detroit News writes a great article documenting artisanal bacon and how it’s been in the spotlight recently.

Really Good American Food in a “Cool College Town”

Travel + Leisure recently visited a handful of college towns across the country, pointing out the unique cultures which have grown up around the universities housed there. In a visit to Ann Arbor, the Roadhouse was called the “…pride of Ann Arbor.” (Compare Ann Arbor’s collegiate atmosphere to the rest of the country, and find out what was exciting about the Roadhouse.)

“Breakfast of the Century”

bacon-pieceegg sunny-up low res

Yep, you heard that. “Breakfast of the Century” was how Jane and Michael Stern described their recent visit to the Roadhouse for breakfast during a visit to the Kerrytown Bookfest to lead a panel with Ari Weinzweig on food. There are some beautiful food pictures and a mouthful of praise from two of the most passionate foodies in the country. (Listen to them out every week on Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table.)

Just a reminder, the Roadhouse is serving breakfast every weekday starting at 7am, so you can get your early morning bacon and eggs (And just about everything else!) everyday!

Ask me about genwa gaa ezhi-zhitaatowaad gaantaagitowaad Anishinaabeg

Got your attention? I hope so.

The phrase you see above are the Ojibwe translation of, “Ask me about what the Anishinaabe prepared when they harvested.”

In October the Roadhouse is hosting four U of M professors for a very special look at Native American dishes of the Anishinaabe, or Native Peoples of the Michigan Territory. They will talk about their connections to Native American culture, speak about native foods, and bring the language to life through readings and even a language lesson! I interviewed Native American Studies Professor Margaret Noori and her colleagues Michael Witgen, Howard Kimewon and Philip Deloria to find out what brings each of them to our table in October. See Margaret’s answers below:

ROADHOUSE What is your personal connection to Native American culture?

M. NOORI I am of mixed American ancestry including – Irish, Scots, German, Anishinaabe (MN Chippewa) and Metis

ROADHOUSE What area of Native American history/culture are you most passionate about? Why?

M. NOORI Because my ancestors used the Anishinaabe language, and because this is the place I know, I write, teach and conduct research in this area. Most importantly, I am working to raise one more generation of speakers and to provide resources for teachers of Anishinaabemowin and a critical literary presence for modern Anishinaabemowin texts.

ROADHOUSE What makes this upcoming dinner a special event for you?

M. NOORI I love to see native culture represented as a part of modern American life. It’s nice to see Indians in the Roadhouse. I especially love that Zingerman’s is willing to include Anishinaabemowin and invite detailed extemporaneous discussions rather than reduce native culture to stereotypes and small slices of history.

Find out more about the dinner and the menu, then make reservations.

The Roadhouse is 6 Years Old Today

It sometimes seems like a lifetime since we opened our doors six years ago, but time has given us the opportunity to evolve and grow as a business. And we’re more passionate than ever about serving the community around us, and sourcing flavorful American foods. We’ve come a long way!

•We’ve added breakfast service weekdays starting at 7am with all-American dishes from around the country.

•Not only can guests enjoy our great food in the atmosphere of our restaurant, but our entire menu is available To-Go from that funky vintage trailer (the Roadshow) stuck onto the building out front.

•We have a farm! Our own James Beard-nominated Chef Alex Young has begun a farm (Cornman Farms) which grows heirloom produce to serve on Roadhouse tables.

•We’re going deeper than ever into little-known regional American foods. Dinners like the 2nd Annual Native American Dinner allow us to explore the diverse ways that many cultural heritages have sculpted the food we know today as American.

Thank You & Happy Birthday!

-The Roadhouse Staff

Breakfast is Served

egg sunny-up low res egg sunny-up low res egg sunny-up low res
Breakfast in America

The Roadhouse is now open for all-American breakfast during the weekday. Breakfast is served Monday through Friday at 7am until lunch service begins at 11am.

What’s Cooking?

The breakfast menu is similiar to the current brunch menu. Take a look at the breakfast menu get your mouth watering. We’ve got lots of great bacons, bagels and a flavorful benedict! You can count on farm-fresh eggs, Anson Mills grits, really great donuts, and waffles.

Mac & Cheese Making a Comeback?

by Ari Weinzweig

On November 25, 2008, the New York Times published an article about the quintessential American dish, Macaroni and Cheese. Featured in the article is the Macaroni and Three Peppercorn recipe made by Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Check out the article, then enjoy the recipe included below:

Zingerman’s Roadhouse Macaroni and 3 Peppercorn Goat Cheese
Serves 4

This is an easy-to-prepare and very tasty macaroni and cheese dish. The creaminess of the goat cheese is set off beautifully by the spiciness of the peppercorns. I like the diversity of peppercorns in color and in flavor. The better the quality of the peppercorn, the better the dish. I rely on the complex, full flavors of the pepper we purchase (and sell!) from the folks at Épices de Cru in Montreal.

The quality of the macaroni you use is critical to the quality of the dish. Industrially-made pasta never has the full flavor or sturdy texture that you get in a well-made artisanal offering. You really can taste the difference and as a result I really recommend using the macaroni from the Martelli family in Tuscany, but Rustichella, Faella, and Baia are all top-quality brands we use regularly at the Roadhouse.

We serve this dish with a slice of the Creamery’s Aged Chelsea goat cheese, breaded and pan fried, atop a bowl of this peppery, creamy macaroni—giving the dish an enjoyable contrast of textures and flavors.

For the macaroni:
Coarse sea salt for the pasta cooking water
1 pound macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cups Zingerman’s Creamery Fresh Goat Cheese
3/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
2 teaspoons freshly and coarsely ground black peppercorns, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly and coarsely ground white peppercorns
1 teaspoon freshly and coarsely ground green peppercorns
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

For the Aged Chelsea:
4 ounces Zingerman’s Creamery Aged Chelsea, cut into 4 rounds about 1/2 inch thick
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter for frying. You’ll be able to fry the Chelsea rounds just before serving, so have your ingredients ready.

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta and stir well. Cook for about 13 minutes (if using Martelli) or until the pasta is done. Drain it and set it aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter for the sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat (be careful not to scorch the butter). Add the onion and bay leaf and sauté until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the bay leaf. Add the flour, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.
  • Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When the flour and milk have been completely combined, stir in the cream. Keep the mixture at a gentle simmer (not at a high boil) until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the mustard, goat cheese, red peppers, peppercorns, and salt. Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Cook for 1-2minutes, stirring regularly, so the coked pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Cover and remove from the heat.
  • Beat the egg and milk in a shallow bowl until just combined. Spread the breadcrumbs on a plate. One at a time, dip each cheese round in the egg wash to cover, then completely coat in the bread crumbs. 
  • To fry the aged Chelsea goat cheese slices, melt the butter over moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Fry the cheese rounds, about one minute each side, until golden.
  • Serve each bowl of macaroni topped with a golden Aged Chelsea. Dig in!

Ohio Food Writer Tours Iowa Through Zingerman’s Roadhouse Menu

Toledo Blade food editor Kathie Smith visited the Roadhouse in early June to enjoy traditional Iowa foods at Zingerman’s Roadhouse Dinner From the Heartland. The dinner was a flavorful success with a menu planned by James Beard-nominated Chef Alex Young including ingredients such as Herb Eckhouse’s pancetta and Maytag Blue Cheese. It was entertaining as well with special guests Paul Willis, founder of Niman Ranch pork, visiting local Niman Ranch farmers Jan & Steve Petersen and Andy & Amy Pachay, Jacqueline Venner shared a few words–her family farm in Breda, Iowa supplied the heritage beef, and finally, guests heard a reading from Emily “Duff” Anderson, a native Iowan, who shared excerpts from her great-grandmother’s journal of life on a farm.

The article is online! Please check it out.

More Secrets from Iowa

I promised last week to share a couple more secrets about Iowa’s little-known food traditions. We talked last week about flavorful ingredients and shared about Maytag blue cheese, free-range pork from Paul Willis and American cured meats from Herb Eckhouse.

We’re going to be serving a beef entree at this event from Jacqueline Venner’s family farm. (She’s a long-time deli staff member.) Emily “Duff” Anderson, the chocolate specialist at the Deli will be reading from her grandmother’s diary, who grew up in Iowa.

In addition to the great ingredients, dishes we’ll be serving have deep roots in Iowa. Immigrants who settled there found rich, dark soil, good for agriculture and grazing. These immigrants brought their farming traditions and adapted their cultural dishes to reflect the availability of the ingredients they could grow and find in Iowa.

A large group of German Lutherans settled in a community in 1855, which eventually became known as the Amana Community. They developed their own agricultural traditions, which involved growing and preserving their own foods. From that tradition, we will serve a German Potato Salad.

Dutch immigrants found their way to Iowa as well. They brought with them the recipe for special cookies called Dutch Letters. Outside of Iowa, these marzipan-filled puff pastry “S” shaped cookies are made only in Holland.

As you can see, at first glance Iowa’s culinary tradition is understated, but the depth of commitment to their craft is unmistakable when you look at the traditionally made, full flavored foods making their way out of Iowa.

I want to leave you with one quote, written by the Matt and Ted Lee, one-time guests of the Roadhouse, authors of The Lee Bothers Southern Cookbook and regular contributors to Martha Stewart Living and the New York Times:

“Iowa has a great, if little known, culinary tradition. On a three-day tour in September, I found a refreshing unself-consciousness about Iowa that keeps its homegrown treasures unsung and underreported, even as the D.C.-style hucksterism of the Straw Poll and the Hollywood-born ‘Field of Dreams’ make national headlines.”

Remember, there’s still time to make your reservations! Call 734.663.3663 and if you need, let the event menu whet your appetite.

Dreamin’ of Dutch Letters,

Christine Darragh

Radio Free Bacon – Season Kick-off!

Radio Free Bacon kicked off its first show of the season outside on the Roadhouse patio. The first in a seven-week run, their energy is bigger and more focused than last year! With live radio broadcasting through Ann Arbor’s 107one, these guys are a force to be reckoned with! Their pictures from the show are online now! Check them out. Take a look at the website for up-to-date season information.

Accomplished Chef & Storyteller Visits Roadhouse

The Roadhouse is gearing up for Martha Foose, executive chef at the Viking Cooking School, owner of the Mockingbird Bakery in Greenwood, MS, expert storyteller and all-around great personality who will be a special guest on May 20 at 7pm for a special dinner promoting her new book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. An active participant in the Southern Foodways Alliance, Martha is already a great friend of the Roadhouse, and we’re happy to have her back.

Martha’s accomplishments preceed her, and we’ve accessed some videos of Martha in action! Here she is talking about making really flavorful croissants with Robert St. John of Eating the South. And, again, sharing with us how to fry up catfish!

The excitement carries into our specials for May 15-21. The Roadhouse chefs will craft a menu from Martha’s book and their selections will be featured on the weekly specials at the top of the Roadhouse lunch and dinner menus as well as listed online.

Flavorful French Fries Take a Starring Role

The Roadhouse has always had great fries. They’re made from fresh, local potatoes. We cut them daily. And, we’ve perfected a twice-cooked method which cooks them on the inside, while maintaining a crispy, crunchy exterior, which is what most people want in their fries. The best part of all of this commitment, is that the fries we serve taste like potatoes! The Boston Globe just wrote an interesting article on the fry, and it’s in line with the Roadhouse approach to flavorful fries. Check it out!

Gullah Cooking in the Ann Arbor News

Gullah Cooking
Posted by Nan Bauer, News Special Writer February 20, 2008 07:42AM
Categories: story

Nan Bauer
News Special Writer

Sallie Ann Robinson doesn’t shake hands. She hugs. I almost get one when I first meet her in the kitchen at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, but she and chef Alex Young are up to their elbows in cornbread stuffing for thick, rosy pork chops. “I’ll hug ya later, darlin’,” she tells me.
Later is at the Rhythm of Gullah Cooking dinner hosted at the Roadhouse that night, one of an ongoing series of dinners held there about once a month, sometimes more often. One reasonable price (in this case, $39) gets you four delectable courses centered around a particular theme. It takes place in a room where you can sit at your own table or share a larger table with other participants. (For the current schedule, go to zingermansroadhouse.com.)

What makes Robinson’s food unique from other Southern food is her background; She’s Gullah, and a native of Daufuskie Island, S.C. There is no Gullah Gullah Island, by the way, in case your kids watched the PBS series popular several years back. Instead, the Gullahs live on a group of small islands off the southern coast of South Carolina and the northern coast of Georgia. The area is the featured location in Pat Conroy’s book, The Water Is Wide,” about his year teaching there. Robinson’s in the book, as “Ethel.”
Gullah culture blends African, European and Native American influences, and has its own language (“Take two words and smash ’em together, and you got Gullah,” says Robinson), art, and cooking style.
A natural storyteller, Robinson introduces the meal with a highly personal history lesson. No electricity, no cars, and no plumbing meant a childhood where everyone worked pretty much from dawn to sunset. Additionally, without a single store on Daufuskie, everything, from the meat to the herbs to the fruit, was home-grown.
Robinson cherishes her heritage, and writes eloquently about it in her second cookbook, “Cooking the Gullah Way Morning, Noon and Night”:
“Our soil was rich and natural, and we grew many fresh organic vegetables in our gardens. The woods were filled with adventure and a variety of wild game, berries, nuts, and herbs. We learned of both their goodness and danger. God gave us the stars, the moon, the sun, the tides, as well as our changing seasons… I have memories of many moments of joy, pain, spirituality and love, but, most of all, memories of blessing. It is the blessings that have guided me this far.”
Her two books aren’t cookbooks so much as memoirs with recipes. Those recipes are outstanding despite, or perhaps because of their simplicity, as my sister, Becky, and I find out when the first of four courses appears.
The appetizer place has a Daufuskie-Way Deviled Egg, a roasted oyster, deviled crab cake and sweet potato fries. It’s just enough to whet our appetites for the soups; I get ‘Fuskie Seafood Gumbo, thick with okra and perfectly spiced, while Becky gets an incredibly rich lima bean soup. I can’t place the flavor, which is smoky, sweet and deep.
The next day I learn from Robinson that the soup only has four ingredients: lima beans, broth, cracklings (crispy pig skin), and pig tails, “but a turkey wing will work fine if you don’t eat pork.” (Kroger sells smoked turkey wings that do indeed make an excellent stand-in for ham bones in traditional Southern dishes.)
Next up is the entree; Becky gets one of the pork chops that I saw being prepped that afternoon, and I go for Country-Fried Fish with Grits. They are surrounded by spicy Crab Rice, grilled corn on the cob, and the best yams I’ve ever eaten in my life, melt-in-your-mouth sweet yet with exactly the right texture.
We nibble at our desserts, sweet potato pie and blackberry dumplings, both just sweet enough to leave us utterly satisfied and just a little stuffed. Mid-meal, Robinson makes the rounds to make sure everyone’s happy with the food. It’s kind of like having Michelangelo ask you if you like his color combinations.
“This is the way we ate, every day,” she tells me the next day over a cup of tea. “Nobody got fat; we were all working too hard. Mama would always cook like this, especially on Sundays. You never knew who would stop in, so you wanted to make sure there was plenty of food.”
Sadly, Daufuskie has modernized along with the rest of the world, and is now home to a golf course; many families who have lived there for generations now have to rent out their land in order to pay taxes on it. Robinson herself currently lives in Savannah.
But through her books, she helps keep the culture alive. The unique organization of her book, where recipes are featured based on the time of day they were served, impresses that Gullah is an entire way of life, not just a way to cook.
The final section of the book is one you won’t find in any trendy cookbook by some young whippersnapper fresh out of culinary school. Home Remedies offers a primer of island beliefs, as well as cures for warts, hiccups, high blood pressure, and, naturally enough given the location, choking on a fish bone. It’s a book you can take from the kitchen to your bedroom nightstand without missing a beat.
“No one ever left the table without a bellyful,” Robinson tells me. Spend some time with her yourself through one of her books (the other is “Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way”) and you’ll feel marvelously satisfied in both your belly and your heart.

Country Candied Yams with Raisins
From “Cooking the Gullah Way Morning, Noon, and Night” by Sallie Ann Robinson, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2007.

6-8 medium-sized sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pineapple juice
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 stick butter, softened
2/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

1. Put the sweet potatoes in a medium bowl and set aside. In a bowl, mix together the milk, vanilla extract, pineapple juice, and sugar. Pour this liquid mixture over the sweet potatoes. Add the butter, cinnamon, allspice, and raisins and stir to combine. Transfer to a baking pan and smooth out the top. Place the lemon slices over the sweet potato mixture. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven about 45-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and enjoy hot or cold.