Food & Drink: Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery opens on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor
Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery at 311 S. Main St. is officially open for business as of 11 a.m. today.
This reporter was able to obtain top-secret access to Tuesday night's “friends and family” soft opening, and needless to say, the place is cool. My fellow top-secret attendees included a special lady friend we’ll call Kimberly and Mike Bardallis* and Annette May, the world’s only husband-and-wife Certified Cicerone team.
(I’ll have a column soon about the secret ninja world of Cicerones, but for now all you need to know is that a Cicerone is a credentialed beer and food pairing expert.)We started out with a nice draft of Bam Biere farmhouse style ale, arguably Jolly Pumpkin’s most widely known and critically acclaimed brew. Wine-preferring Kimberly and I also ordered a platter of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, all of which we were assured were both wine and beer friendly — and so they were.
Said May of the Bam Biere: “This is a beer that is always best drunk fresh. Softly malty, slight lingering hop finish, a little woody, and a hint of sourness. Great aperitif. And, a splendid beer to pair with many foods.”
Next up was a glass of Autumn Bam, a variant on the farmhouse ale. Mrs. Cicerone’s opinion? “A nice treat. A little richer with hints of banana, maybe from a weizen yeast? I do believe that the Autumn Bam also contains some wheat.”
I was simultaneously working on a delicious draft of Bam Noire, yet another variant of the Bam Biere but made with darker malts. The expert’s analysis: “A little woody and sour, and the black malts give it a kind of ‘grape candy’ sweetness. I like this beer.”Turning away from the Jolly Pumpkin branded beers, we next tried the Vienna and the IPA that were on draft. The Vienna was probably Mr. Cicerone’s favorite of the night. Mrs. Cicerone again: “It strikes us as something like a ‘zwickelbier,’ that is, an unfiltered German-style lager. It’s delicious though, with a hoppier finish than one would expect from a classic Vienna lager.”
The Diabolical IPA from North Peak proved to be devilishly good as well. May: “A lovely ‘clean’ IPA with balanced flavors. A malt and hop-infused hard candy would taste just like this!”
With all of this good beer on tap, you’re probably wondering if the food lives up to the excellence of the beer. The good news is that it does, at least as far as what we tasted.
I enjoyed the “Carnivores” pizza, featuring pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, and bacon with charred tomato sauce and mozzarella on a thin sourdough crust. It sounds fairly typical, but it was really, really good. I washed it down with a draft of North Peak Siren Amber Ale, mild and refreshing after all that spicy pizza meat.Mrs. Cicerone opted for a different pizza, the Truffle, with creamed shiitake mushrooms; goat, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses, truffle oil, and arugula in a red wine vinaigrette. I can’t paraphrase her description:
“O truffle and shiitake pizza! Where have you been all my life? Your earthy flavors thrill me and make we weep tears of joy! Your goat cheese provides a tart, rich contrast, and your garnish of arugula makes the perfect icing on the cake.” (Yes, she really said this.)
Mr. Cicerone had the Porchetta, a garlic and herb infused pork shoulder stacked high on a ciabatta roll with salsa verde, fennel sauerkraut, and organic spinach. He was too busy trying to fit this monster into his mouth to comment much, but he confirmed the Vienna paired with this sandwich is—and I quote—“spectacular.”
Special lady Kimberly paired the Peninsula Cellars 2005 Merlot (made, like all the wines served at the cafÃ©, with grapes from the Old Mission Peninsula) with the Prime Steak Salad, which sported flat iron steak over romaine, tomatoes, potatoes, and crumbled blue cheese, all dressed with basil vinaigrette. I didn’t try it, but judging by the sated look on her face, I’d say she liked it.For dessert, we ordered a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga (other celebrated Jolly Pumpkin ales such as Oro de Calabaza and La Roja are also available in bottles). Mrs. Cicerone describes it thus: “It's been a while since we’ve had this, but the beer does not disappoint. It's a hoppy, light-bodied pale ale. Fantastic.”
Some quick notes on everything else. Although it was “practice night” for the staff, our service was great. The warm but whimsical decorations make the space immediately comfortable and inviting. The upstairs, while just as comfortable and inviting, won’t be open to the public for a while longer due to some bureaucratic wrangling with the city. (Beginning in October, I was told, the rooftop deck—including patio heaters!—will be open, too.) And eventually the distillery will come online and the cafÃ© will offer its own light and dark rums, vodka, gin, and rye whiskey.
What else is there to say? You can go on over to Main Street and check it out for yourself (and browse the full menu below for ideas).
* No relation. I mean, look at his picture. Nowhere near as handsome as me.