Like Zingerman’s Deli, Zingerman’s Roadhouse can be maddening. No matter how many people I go with, no matter how much I order, I am sure to walk out regretting I didn’t have a chance to taste, for instance, the yellow-and-blue-corn hushpuppies made from Anson Mills corn or the hand-pulled Texas cabrito or the buttermilk-fried chicken or the whole Yazoo catfish or the West Coast cioppino macaroni. You see, everything I have tasted is terrific, many items among the very best versions of the dish I have ever had.
If you described Zingerman’s Roadhouse to me, I would be skeptical. I love its motto — “Really Good American Food!” — but what is a place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, doing with a menu that lists iconic meals from the Deep South, New England, the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf Coast, not to mention the Midwest’s own heartland? I would think no kitchen could have such a broad reach and maintain a deep understanding of how all these diverse things ought to taste. But they do; and if you doubt that, have what is listed as “Eastern North Carolina Pulled Pork.” These pulled and chopped nuggets of long-smoked hog are right up there in a league with the Skylight Inn, the Brick Pit, and Wilber’s: just barely sauced with vinegar and only enough pepper to coax out all the exquisite flavor that blossoms in a fine veil of smoke. From a completely different culinary mindset comes “Really Wild-Wild Rice Roast,” built around hand-harvested Minnesota rice. Those earthy, al dente grains are mixed with radiant dried Michigan cherries and candied orange, plus fire-roasted local vegetables, all drizzled with organic cider vinegar syrup. Wow, what a flavor thrill.
I will leave more detailed descriptions to the photos and captions, but it is important to make note of the superb bread that comes to the table before dinner – slices from a dark loaf so crusty-good with delicious chaw that it was all I could do to refuse a refill when my basket was empty, which I did only because I had about six other things for which I was desperately trying to save appetite.
The dining areas, which include a lively bar with multiple TVs, are big and spacious, décor including lots of retro salt-and-pepper shakers as well as maps and postcards signifying trips along the great American road. I walked out glowing with joy and wanting to burst out singing Woody Guthrie’s “This land is your land, this land is my land…”