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Posted on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 11:35 a.m.

Food and brews at Jolly Pumpkin make patrons smile

By Julie Halpert


Decorative kitchen utensil chandeliers hang inside at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery in Ann Arbor on Oct. 5, 2009.

Angela J. Cesere |

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it a fitting time to stop in at a new restaurant on Main Street: Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery. But there wasn’t any orange décor or a pumpkin in sight. Jolly Pumpkin takes over the long-vacated space that was previously an upscale restaurant called Pepperz, a place that was only open for a few months. Judging from two recent Sunday night visits, Jolly Pumpkin already seems to have more staying power. Nearly every table was full with people of all ages, including families with young children.

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.


The JP Burger at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery in Ann Arbor on Oct. 5, 2009.

Angela J. Cesere |

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.


Truffle pizza at Jolly Pumpkin.

Angela J. Cesere |

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 Café & 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.



Sat, Apr 3, 2010 : 1:59 p.m.

I thought the beer was really strange there. Do these people ever taste the beers they make?


Fri, Oct 30, 2009 : 9:35 a.m.

Right on. Jolly Pumpkin beer is fine, but overrated. ABC has much better beers. For food I give the nod to JP (but I like beer more than food).

Julie Halpert

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 8:26 p.m.

Spencer: Thanks for the tip on the non-alcoholic drinks. I'll definitely try one in the future! Julie

Chrysta Cherrie

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 5:52 p.m.

Anyone else want to weigh in on the chickpea sandwich? Between the positive review here and a negative review from a friend with similar culinary interests, I'm not sure whether it's worth trying. I did try the red chile tofu sandwich and liked it but thought it would've been better with fewer ingredients. Last week fellow Jessica and I shared a roasted acorn squash pizza with blue cheese, honey and arugula, which was delicious (though unexpectedly oily). But most of all I agree with some previous commenters; you gotta love those truffle fries.

Spencer Thomas

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 5:34 p.m.

I've been enjoying the easy access to Jolly Pumpkin beers, and the food is usually a winner. I was there the same night. I could have warned you about the risotto -- it was definitely undercooked. The beer and ownership situation is complex, and I don't pretend to understand it completely. Jolly Pumpkin is a "microbrewery" under Michigan law. That means that they can only serve beers (and wine and spirits) that they produce at their own facilities. Unless the law changes, there will never be any Labatts (or Bud or Miller or Coors...) at JP. There are 3 brewing facilities -- one in Dexter, one near Traverse City, and the little one in the Ann Arbor restaurant. The "up north" facility is also a winery and a distillery. They are all owned by "Northern United Brewing", which is, as I understand it, a joint venture between Ron Jeffries and some of the people involved in the Grizzly Peak / Blue Tractor / Cafe Habana family, which also includes brewpubs in Royal Oak and Traverse City. This is where it gets really fuzzy for me, because Michigan law prohibits an individual (or company) from owning establishments in different "tiers" of the "3-tier" system: manufacturer - distributor - retail. Grizzly Peak, et al, are brewpubs and are therefore in the "retail" tier. Jolly Pumpkin (NUB) is a microbrewery, and therefore in the manufacturing tier. I'm sure they've got some sharp lawyers who figured out how to walk inside the legal lines. But I don't really care about all that. I just want to enjoy the beer and the food. Julie -- you don't mention the great alcohol-free cocktails. You should have tried some. On our recent visit, my wife had a "berry mojito" and I had a "juniper and tonic". Both were very tasty.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 5:10 p.m.

I enjoyed the JP burger and really liked the beer at Jolly Pumpkin, but the truffle fries are what stood out to me. I'm looking forward to trying the pizzas. Definitely not inexpensive, but different enough that I'll be back.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 3:36 p.m.

Great food. Great beer. Great atmosphere. The pizzas are pretty much all fabulous, and the two or three sandwiches I tried were great as well (as are the fries). Yes, the bam biere is great, but I disagree with the writer - I thought the bam noire was fabulous as well and not AT ALL bitter.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 3:16 p.m.

Please do some research (maybe just give a shout down the hall to your co-worker?) before saying things like "...Jolly Pumpkin already seems to have more staying power". The reasons for Pepperz's closing are well documented and had little to do with business. A sudden rent-doubling will ruin *anyone's* day. "Nightclub Improv Inferno, restaurant Pepperz lose space Thursday, August 24, 2006 BY STEFANIE MURRAY News Business Reporter The heart of Ann Arbor's downtown Main Street area will lose two young, popular businesses in the coming weeks, as Improv Inferno and Pepperz restaurant plan to close. Improv will host its last show on Sunday, Sept. 10, the nightclub's second anniversary in business. Pepperz will close by month's end. Owners of the businesses say their landlord, Andy Gulvezan, asked them to leave. Both say they were surprised with eviction papers in early August after wrangling over rent payments and details of the operating agreements with him. In a sign posted in the club's front window this week, the Improv says its landlord wants to find a tenant who will pay double its rent. "


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 3:12 p.m.

Jolly Pumpkin makes a Jolly Belly. Love the place. I have to ignore the beer comment- Ron's beers are insane.

sun runner

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 2:54 p.m.

No Labatt's at a microbrewery? Oh the horror!! There are 500 other bars in the area that serve bland, tasteless beers. One does not go to a place like Jolly Pumpkin for that type of beer.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 1:44 p.m.

It seems that this space on Main Street has had trouble (maybe because it is rumored to be haunted?), so I hope that Jolly Pumpkin is here to stay. It is a beautiful space -- in fact I worked as a server/bartender at Pepperz when it was there and despite great food, fair prices and good service we couldn't seem to attract enough business. The owners were really nice people too. I had to quit after a few months because I simply wasn't making any money -- but I was sad to see it go. Anyway, sounds like I'll have to drop by JP soon!

Jessica Webster

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 1:33 p.m.

I love the burger at Jolly Pumpkin (and remember it being $11, not $13). I'm willing to pay a little extra for humanely-treated, grass-fed beef. The environmental costs of "cheap" food are far greater than the couple of bucks I'll save buying a burger that comes from a factory-farmed cow.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 1:31 p.m.

I was there on Tuesday and Julie's right about the Bam Biere. Yummy. We had a great waiter and the food was all good. Quite busy, too.

David Bardallis

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 1:08 p.m.

Yes, but "conners" doesn't have beer brewed by Ron Jeffries. Also: 5 bucks for a pint of Guinness? Please.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 12:51 p.m.

13 bucks for a hippie cheeseburger, no labatt, servers in jeans for high price, im going to conners, seven bucks for bigger burger.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 11:53 a.m.

i thought the same owners of the blue tractor and grizzly peak owned it.