I never really liked most pimento cheeses I sampled from the grocery stores, but I'm hooked on the pimento laced concoction with a zesty cayenne kick from Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
We long knew of Zingerman's Deli near downtown Ann Arbor and often ordered cheese, bread, or other gourmet goodies from their mail order operation for Christmas, but when the company opened its Roadhouse restaurant in a unassuming strip mall nearly 10 years ago, we couldn't wait to make the hour-long drive out to its location on Ann Arbor's west side.
Zingerman's original deli opened in 1982 and earned fans like Mario Batali and Oprah Winfrey, who once had the deli deliver 400 hand-pulled beef brisket sandwiches to a studio audience at a filming of her talk show in Chicago, and awards like "best deli in America" from Zagat's and "the coolest small company in America" from Inc. Magazine.
The Roadhouse clearly had a lot to live up to when it opened in 2003, but it quickly earned fame as being named one of the nation's top 10 Barbecue Restaurants by Bon Appétit and, of special interest to cheese lovers, the gooey goodness of its mac'n'cheese wowed Food Network's Alton Brown, who named it as one of America's Top Ten Comfort Foods.
The regular Roadhouse menu includes several versions of mac‘n’cheese, including; macaroni with pimento cheese and peppered bacon; macaroni and three-peppercorn goat cheese; macaroni with smoked chicken and Monterey Jack; and classic Roadhouse Macaroni & Cheese made with 2-year-old raw-milk Vermont cheddar.
I usually opt for the classic macaroni & cheese, but on my most recent visit, I decided to live large and order the pimento cheese and bacon version. I'm not usually a big bacon fan, but this version is one I'll definitely order again.
The Roadhouse menu is always full of tempting choices, especially if you like comfort food with a bit of a Southern flair. Grits, catfish, buttermilk-fried chicken and all things BBQ will sometimes tempt me to have something other than mac'n'cheese, especially if we're dining in the restaurant's outdoor patio and can smell the BBQ pit-smoker going.
This isn’t the place for picky eaters, strict vegetarians or vegans, or a budget dinner, but we always find stopping well worth it.
During one visit, we chatted with our waiter about the various BBQ choices on the menu. He mentioned that pulled goat was one of the specials that day and that the goat, like a lot of the items on the menu, was from a regional source (in this case, a farm in Ohio).
Now, Tim and I both like pulled pork, but weren't too sure about the idea of ordering an entire entree of pulled goat.
Our waiter urged us to try it and quickly returned with a generous appetizer-sized sample for us to try. We ordered one pulled pork dinner and one pulled goat dinner, intending to share both dishes. Our server arranged to plate both of our dinners to include a half-portion of each meat, without an extra charge for the sample or special plating.
That experience was but one example of the emphasis Zingerman’s places on personal attention and customer service.
I’d heard that one of the owners, Ari Weinzweig, regularly visits the restaurant and talks to customers. Sure enough, we spotted him at the Roadhouse another afternoon—circulating around the outdoor patio, refilling water glasses, taking drink orders, bussing tables and chatting with customers.
We like going to the Roadhouse for a late lunch/early dinner as we start home from a day in Ann Arbor. We always have plenty to eat and usually have enough to take home for lunch the next day.
We've often ordered pimento cheese to go after a Roadhouse meal, and I was particularly pleased when I discovered I could order a full pound of it to go from the Roadhouse during our most recent visit--getting about twice as much for the same price that I would pay if I picked it up at Detroit's Eastern Market or one of the few gourmet grocery stores, like Plum Market, in the Detroit area that carry it.
You can also pick up things like bread and pastries to go from a retro trailer with a drive-through or walk-up window parked in front of the restaurant.
And be sure to check out the cool neon sign out front, crafted from antique glass tubes made by Detroit's Eureka Neon Company in 1953.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved