Zingerman’s Roadhouse- Ann Arbor, Michigan
2501 Jackson Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
By Melissa D. Corbin
The University of Michigan moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor (A2) in 1837, which fueled rapid growth Michigan’s county seat. These days U of M is a leading research American university which has affected A2’s economy in a profoundly positive way. Still, scattered around this pituresque college town of about 113,000 folks is a group of inspiring Michiganders making a monumental impact on their community in their own rite. We like to think of the Zingerman Communities of Businesses (ZCoB) as the Kevin Bacon of Ann Arbor.
By stressing kindness and generosity through visioning, Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw co-founded Zingerman’s in 1982. (They chose the name because the “Z” would be easy to find at the end of the Yellow Pages.) Watch Weinzweig talk with Maria Shriver about anarchy, rye bread and other philosophies here:
Since their humble beginnings, the ZCoB entrepreneurial duo has grown the community to more than 15 expressions of their infamous collaborative spirit.
It was in 2002 when Chef Alex Young came aboard as Managing Partner/Executive Chef of Zingerman’s Roadhouse. He would go onto receive the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes after five, count them, five nominations. Mind you, this is no "highfalutin" chef. His calm, salt-of-the earth personality shines through in everything he does.
“We’re kind of self-taught. Like our approach to food, we try to learn how things are done traditionally, and go from there,” Young talks about his farming style. He learned from “old school” farmers and applied what he learned to the 2014 addition to ZCoB, Cornman Farms.
The day we caught up with Young, he was preparing halibut cheeks with black cumin seeds for a Roadhouse Rosh Hashanah dinner special (you can grab a tin of these lovelies and a plethora of other curated notions from the ZCoB online mail order business.)
“Zingerman’s is a Jewish deli of sorts. When we opened the Roadhouse, we chose to focus on Sephardic Jewish food, and so it opens the world up in a whole lot of ways. But, we also do truly American regional food. We cook a lot of bacon and a lot of pigs, that is true,” Young smiles as he explains how the Zingerman's brand could embrace all things pork. They have a Camp Bacon for goodness sake!
So, it only stands to reason that bacon would make a stand-up showing in our Michigan “50 States of Biscuit” biscuit. It’s the Zingerman’s Roadhouse Biscuit with Chocolate Bacon Gravy.
“We knew we wanted to have biscuits when we started serving breakfast and brunch about 10 years back,” explains Young. In true form, he researched old biscuit recipes and made it his own. Other than quality ingredients, Young says “there’s nothing special” about the biscuits themselves. “Biscuits are all about technique in my opinion,” he continues. His kitchen team uses their fingers, rather than pastry cutters. Young says that they work the dry ingredients in with the butter until the dough is in pea-sized pieces that are then refrigerated in gallon batches. This way, the butter is cold again. It’s not until they’re ready to bake the biscuits that the buttermilk is added, and the process continues to final product. Whether they roll or pat out the dough, we’ll never tell. He might say there’s nothing special, but we told you he wasn’t "highfalutin."
These biscuits are a huge crowd pleaser, selling out regularly.
Some folks like their Roadhouse biscuits with organic, raw honey from Traverse City. Young’s 12-year-old apiarist daughter, Lucy, will occasionally part with her personal stash for guests. “She’s amazing. She learned from our neighbor who keeps bees, and now she knows a lot about bees,” he says proudly. Then there’s the sorghum and butter. Young continues, “It’s sort of a Kentucky thing, where you swirl the sorghum and butter on a plate. Northerners aren’t as hip to the sorghum thing. They prefer the honey.”
Topping the Zingerman’s Roadhouse biscuit condiment list is Chef Young’s Chocolate Bacon Gravy!
Young starts with raw chopped bacon cooked in a pan, and when it’s mostly cooked, he stirs in flour to make the roux. He then adds cocoa powder, sugar and milk. “Whisk it through, and simmer the flour out and you got yourself chocolate bacon gravy,” smiles Young. This savory, sweet delight is mildly sweet, but not like a chocolate sauce. Think mole without the spice.
Oh, who are we kidding?!? This gravy is not a mole at all. It’s in a class all it’s own and so delicious. It’s just something you’ll need to try for yourself. If you can’t head up to the A2, may we suggest Chef Alex Young’s gravy recipe for a little kitchen therapy?
Chocolate Bacon Gravy
4 slices Nueske's Applewood Smoked Bacon
1 c granulated sugar
3 T all-purpose flour
1/4 c cocoa powder
1 c whole milk
1 t sea salt
¼ t freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper
Fry bacon in a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove from skillet to dry on paper towels. Pour off accumulated bacon fat through a fine strainer. Return 4 tablespoons rendered fat to skillet.
In a separate bowl, whisk together, sugar, cocoa and flour. Sift mixture into the pan, stirring constantly until blended and beginning to dissolve, about 3-4 minutes.
Add ¼ cup of milk. Mixture will bubble up. Turn up the heat to medium high, and stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Add remaining milk ¼ cup at a time, stirring to thicken with each addition, until gravy thickly coats the spoon. Add sea salt to taste.
Serve hot, ideally, over buttered and toasted biscuits. Crumble the bacon over the top.
Corbin is a Nashville-based freelance food and travel journalist. She’s also the founder of Corbin In The Dell, a company connecting those who care where their food comes from through content development and strategies that matter. Follow her on instagram @melcorbin and twitter @mdcorbin.