Food and brews at Jolly Pumpkin make patrons smile
The ambience has changed little from Pepperz, aside from some very inventive chandeliers made of giant, dangling cutlery. It still has a very dark feel. There are two bars, one downstairs and one upstairs. The owners, Ron Jeffries and his wife, Laurie, run Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter and a majority of the beers on the menu are theirs: a total of seven on draft, plus roughly 10 in bottles. You can order five-ounce samplers of the drafts. All the wines on the menu are produced at the owners’ distillery on Old Mission Peninsula.
Of the five beers we ordered in our sampler, I most enjoyed the Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere, a golden ale with a light, grapefruit-like taste. The Tortuga ale company chocolate stout was a nice, dark contrast. I found the Bam Noire to be exceptionally bitter, but then one of my dining companions, who considers himself to be a beer connoisseur, thoroughly enjoyed it. Regardless, there’s certainly enough variety in beer here to satisfy all kinds of taste buds.
The menu features appetizers, salads, sandwiches, a variety of pizzas, some specials and a few desserts.
A crunchy crust and chile dipping sauce added the perfect amount of pizzazz to tofu cracklings and the grilled flatbread, lightly warmed pita, was wonderful when paired with the inventive mix of hummus, red pepper walnut, and edamame spreads (which was the blandest of the three). But the hands-down standout appetizer was the farmer’s fritto. It features a seasonal vegetable fried in tempura batter. On our first visit, this was butternut squash. We inhaled these delectable treats, with just a thin, flavorful coating of batter. It was served with a heavenly, slightly spicy sambal mayonnaise dipping sauce. The same sauce nicely complemented a delicious piece of ocean fish in the sweet and spicy cobia sandwich, served on a crunchy fresh baguette.
Even a salad of basic greens, cucumber and cherry tomatoes was well orchestrated. A light dressing of red wine vinaigrette, dijon mustard, olive oil, shallots and garlic made it a healthful delight.
Sandwiches are all great here. I opted for the smashed chickpea panini, one of the heartiest vegetarian dishes I’ve had in some time. It consisted of a crushed chickpea salad with cucumber yogurt dressing, grilled eggplant and arugula, grilled on rustic Italian bread. With just a hint of Middle Eastern flavoring provided by the chickpeas, this was an inventive mix of ingredients, and it was absolutely delicious. My husband’s walleye, a special of the day, was nicely complemented by a rich apple cider reduction sauce. My mammoth “JP Burger” - served with melted cambozola cheese, crimini mushrooms and thick strips of bacon - was overwhelming, served on a fresh challah roll.
Jolly Pumpkin also specializes in granite-baked pizzas, on either a gluten-free or sourdough crust. We opted for the sourdough for our margherita pizza, which was coated with fresh mozzarella and sprinkled with dried cherry tomatoes. It was light and tasty.
Among the few misses was a watery, bland, black-bean soup and wild mushroom risotto with a red-wine sauce, which was undercooked and tasted overly bitter. Apple pie more closely resembled strudel — albeit plain strudel that tasted more like bland dough. I did enjoy the coconut ice cream that accompanied it, as well as the rich dark chocolate ice cream that was served with the heavenly vegan chocolate cake. A chocolate sampler was merely a few pieces of mediocre chocolate cut into pieces — worth skipping.
Servers were enthusiastic. In a hurry on our second visit, the server honored our request to be finished within an hour, despite the heavy customer traffic.
Dishes are moderately priced, and many are offered in smaller portion sizes, at a lower cost.
Jolly Pumpkin CafÃ© & Brewery 311 S. Main Street Ann Arbor 734-913-2730 Jolly Pumpkin web site Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, noon-11 p.m. The upstairs bar is open until 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and until midnight Sunday. Plastic: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Discover. Liquor: Yes. Prices: Moderate. Many dishes are in the $10-$12 range. Value: Very good. Noise level: Loud, as is typical in a tavern atmosphere. Wheelchair access: Yes. Smoking section: No.