Restaurant review: Zingerman's Roadhouse
Editor's note: Throughout the month of August, we're highlighting some of Ann Arbor's best options for outdoor dining.
Ever since one summer as a college student in Paris, sipping cappuccino on the Champs Elysees, I’ve been looking for that same type of European, al fresco atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re on vacation. But so often, outdoor dining means you’re just steps from a busy street, inhaling car exhaust.
The patio at Zingerman’s Roadhouse comes close to that European feeling. It’s a large, open-air space, with a wood-beamed ceiling, equipped with fans for hot summer days, a brick floor, and the scent of barbecue lingering in the air. Except for the wobbly tables and hard, rather uncomfortable seats, it’s a great way to spend a summer evening.
The first-rate food matches the graceful ambience. The Roadhouse menu highlights American fare with a gourmet touch. The restaurant’s rye bread — baked fresh with a thick, crunchy crust — is worth the carbohydrate indulgence. And our appetizers got the meal off to a great start. The Real Chesapeake Bay crab cakes were moist and delicious, served with an inventive tartar sauce that had a nice kick.What I most appreciate about the Roadhouse is that it does a superb job of preparing hearty, traditionally heavy, American fare, in a more healthful way. The basket of piping-hot Sea Islands sweet potato fries consisted of thick pieces that maintained their taste and weren’t drenched in grease. The mashed potatoes were dense and full of flavor, but not overly rich, despite the amazing gravy. The yellow mustard slaw featured a light mix of carrots and cabbage instead of the traditional, overpowering white mayonnaise mix. There was no grease running off the buttermilk-fried free-range chicken.
The arugula and red oak salad was simple — a mix of greens, beets, onions and smooth goat cheese from Zingerman’s creamery, but the fresh, local ingredients made it a great choice. If anything, the grilled Arctic Char was a little too healthful and could have used a sauce to jazz up the taste.
Standouts included the cream of wild mushroom soup, with a thick, creamy broth and wonderful, rich taste from the porcini mushrooms. Macaroni and cheese here has long been a family favorite. Made with Vermont cheddar, it didn’t disappoint.
The only significant drawback to the outdoor dining was the descent of tiny bugs on our remaining food at the end of the meal. Even so, we couldn’t resist ordering dessert and were wowed by the magic brownie sundae, made with rich Scharffen Berger chocolate sauce and vanilla gelato. The hazelnut gelato was the best; Zingerman’s really does this treat right. And the cherry pie we took home before insects could devour it had a sugary crust along with nicely tart cherries.
Zingerman’s remains king in knowing how to please customers, and our server was no exception. Though we wished she would have returned sooner to take our food before dessert, she was unbelievably cordial, and knowledgeable about every item on the menu. When she saw most of my son’s spare ribs left on his plate, she asked him if he didn’t like them. He said they weren’t the best — and I had to agree they were overcooked, with an overly bitter sauce — so she insisted on giving us the dessert gratis.
As for the cons, noise can be a problem outside. When crowded, it is virtually impossible to hear your fellow diners amid the din. And first-rate American fare doesn’t come cheap; prices are on the high side, with the macaroni and three peppercorn goat cheese at $17.
Even so, I still rate Zingerman’s as one of the best, most reliable, high quality dining experiences, and it’s even better al fresco.
On Wednesdays from 6-9 p.m., the Roadhouse hosts concerts called "Rockin' at the Roadhouse" on the patio. The schedule is on the Roadhouse events page.
Julie Halpert is a free-lance writer who covers food for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESTAURANT REVIEW Zingerman’s Roadhouse 2501 Jackson Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48103 734-663-3663 Zingerman's Roadhouse web site Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover. Liquor: Yes. Prices: Moderate to expensive. Most dinners are in the $20 to $30 range. Value: Very good. Noise level: Can be loud outdoors. Wheelchair access: Yes. Smoking section: No.
Photos by Melanie Maxwell: Top, the patio at Zingerman's Roadhouse. Middle, Megan Faunce, 4, eats a piece of chicken while dining on the outdoor patio at Zingerman's Roadhouse.