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Posted on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 5:18 a.m.

Restaurant review: Zingerman's Roadhouse

By Julie Halpert


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 She can be reached at

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.



Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 1:33 a.m.

Oh, and I'm not fearful of a large bill. I love good casual dining and fine dining (not a fan of chains)...but this was just bad news.


Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 1:30 a.m.

I have to disagree with the positive aspects of this review. I took friends to the Roadhouse about a year and a half ago, knowing it would probably be expensive - but excited to try Zingerman's take on a full menu. I was so embarrassed by the menu and the food, that I haven't been back. Zingerman's is the essence of Arbor - good, but overpriced :) This food was way WAY overpriced, and not even that good. Anyway, the four of us, not picky eaters, picked at our food and my husband had to order a second dish because his first portion was so tiny, he ate it in a few bites (his food was okay). The prices were insane for what we were served, and it was an all-around poor experience. I stick to the bakery over on Airport and avoid mainstream Zing properties the like plague. The server did bring a sample of some sort of root beer, which was nice, and the service was pretty good despite the food.

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Aug 8, 2009 : 8:11 a.m.

Speaking of 'kid friendly', were were on the patio last night, it wasn't extremely crowded, might have been a tiny bit 'too kid friendly' if you catch my drift.


Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 2:12 a.m.

People need to understand that fresh, local, and scratch kitchens cost a little money. Go to one of the three Applebees in Ann Arbor if you do not want to spend money. They have plenty of frozen food to please the pocket book.

Top Cat

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 2:21 p.m.

For very good pub food that is consistent, reasonably priced and always promptly served, Conor O'Neills still ranks number 1 in my book.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 1:55 p.m.

I barely recognized the restaurant in this review. Maybe wildly inconsistent is the real theme here. I can't say the food is bad. But definitely mundane at best, and the prices are astonishing. Add crowded and noisy to the mix, and it's not a place that's on my list any more.

sun runner

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 1:09 p.m.

It's my favorite place for an after-work beer, and I've eaten a full meal there for less than $10. A mini salad for $3.50 and a cup of chili for $4.50 makes for a perfectly-sized, quite affordable lunch. If one wishes to complain about waiting for a long time for a table on a Saturday's Saturday evening, what does one expect? One is pretty much asking for it in that situation at any popular restaurant. I've found the easiest time to breeze in and sit right down is around 5:30-6:00 Sunday.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 12:22 p.m.

The patio is an excellent spot. However the food is over priced and severely over rated. if the restaurant did not have Zingerman's in the name it would have closed ages ago.

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 11:36 a.m.

The Roadhouse presents a dilemma: it's noisy, but serves great food. It's expensive (every time we bring out-of-town guests, they comment on the prices), but if you're wise in your ordering ways, you can actually eat quite economically, due to the tremendously-sized portions. And the owners' commitments to helping the community, specifically through Food Gathers and the Carrot Way project, are unequaled by any similar Ann Arbor business.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 11:31 a.m.

As others have noted thZingermans experiance can put a hurting on the monthly budget...but we save up and go there maybe 3-5 times a year and Zingermans is such a GREAT member of the community while giving back allot...I don't mind the costs as much, I feel like I am helping subsidize their community giving. Buy Local including your product purchases!!

Matt Sussman

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 10:55 a.m.

You should have given Zingerman's a terrible review so it would be less crowded on Saturday nights, allowing me to wait less time for a table.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 10:11 a.m.

Missy - you are absolutely correct on Zingerman's being great for this community. Their businesses could not have survived this long had service and quality not been at the heart of what makes them unique. Just don't see how 'atmosphere' 'European feeling' and being located in a strip mall go together!

Missy O

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 10:04 a.m.

I heart the Roadhouse! The Zingerman's Community of Businesses are wonderful and do great things in the community.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 9:59 a.m.

I like the Roadhouse but comparing it to a Paris cafe? And why does it have to be compared to that anyway? Secondly, the food is good but the barbecue is NOT great, and for those complaining it's too expensive, you're paying for the quality of the ingredients--fresh, local, organic ingredients, aged meats, high quality cheeses, etc...that stuff costs money. If you're not interested in those kind of ingredients, then no, the Roadhouse is not the place for you. Staff though, always excellent.

Patti Smith

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 9:58 a.m.

I agree that they are way over-priced (I think Fred said it best--bring prices down about 30%...I know that can't happen) but they do have all you can eat fries. I never knew that until recently and it delighted me.

Art Vandelay

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 9:36 a.m.

So "uncomfortable seats", "bugs on our food", "overcooked ribs, with an overly bitter sauce", "noise can be a problem", and "prices are on the high side" yet it's "one of the best, most reliable, high quality dining experiences." This is the contradiction of myth and reality with Zingerman's. The Roadhouse has been inconsistent since it opened but it's always expensive. I've had the ribs and sometimes they are great, but often they are not. The reviewer really needs to get out more. There are dozens of better restaurants in Ann Arbor that don't have overblown reputations.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 8:13 a.m.

Great restaurant but to compare the experience to some Paris cafe is rather silly. Good grief! Sort of stretching the thesis statement a bit I think.

Sarah Smallwood

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 8:08 a.m.

I agree that the Zingerman's restaurants can be pricey, but keep in mind that they are largely sustainable. They use the mussel shells from the oyster bar in their landscaping, and they grow their corn right outside the front door. They also get their bread and gelato from their own bakery and creamery--and when therun out of a dish, they're out, period--a lot like those European restaurants referenced. It's an authentic farmhouse experience for otherwise citified people. There's not a whole lot of options for vegetarians, so while I can't go to ZR often, I'm happy to tuck into a plate of biscuits with sorghum molasses and a cup of coffee knowing that my money is supporting a good cause.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 7:38 a.m.

Zingy's RH is my all-time favorite restaurant on the planet... the food... the service... the friendship... the humor... the fun... the food... My spouse agrees... the kids agree... Infinite thumbs up!

Fred Posner

Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 6:17 a.m.

I thought the food was "ok," service was good, but priced very expensively for what was served. If the prices came down 30 - 40% this would be a great place to recommend.


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 6:09 a.m.

... the patio at Zingermans Roadhouse comes close to that European feeling... Are you kidding me? On Jackson Road! Please. I love Zingerman's food. The ingredients are top notch but it is expensive - on the side of being overpriced at the Roadhouse. $17 for macaroni and cheese and $9 for a bowl of soup is not a 'very good' value, as the review notes. Blast away A2 food snobs!


Thu, Aug 6, 2009 : 4:25 a.m.

Absolutely agree. Was there last Sunday evening.....fabulous crab cakes...thought I was at the shore!