There’s a great new farm-to-table place to eat right here in Dexter. For years we’ve known them for their beverages, but now they’ve added great food to go along with their award winning drinks.
We know Jolly Pumpkin and Northern United Brewing is good at beer. Awards keep coming and business is booming. But what many of us many not realize is that they have a commitment to outstanding fare that matches their dedication to their beer craft.
Next time you’re up in the Traverse City area, it would be well worth the jaunt up the west side of Mission Point peninsula to enjoy a meal at Jolly Pumpkin. Unless you’ve been there before, you’ll need your navigation because it’s easily missed tucked away among the hardwoods along the shore. Or maybe you’ve already been to Grizzly Peak or Jolly Pumpkin here in Ann Arbor. If you have, you know what I mean.
Several years ago, Jolly Pumpkin joined the Northern United Brewing family and moved from their location behind Hackney Hardware out to the new facility on Bishop Circle across from the Cornerstone Elementary, soon to be Anchor Elementary and Beacon Elementary when the new construction is completed.
Northern United quickly added Null Taphouse to their facility. The spacious retail operation was stylishly built with reclaimed woods and fixtures. The bar supplied drinks for patrons but there was no kitchen. Customers could bring their own food or, in the case of at least one group meeting to discuss their next backpacking trip out west, could have it delivered, in this case in the form of pizza.
Because they’re good at food, Northern United/Jolly Pumpkin wanted to do food in their taphouse. It was a bit of a struggle. There was a gray water issue with the City of Dexter that had to be corrected. A couple years later, the engineers and architects finished their plans which were approved and a state-of-the-art filtration system was ordered. More time passed as it was intricately assembled.
At long last the filtration system hit the road in Canada bound for Dexter, Michigan. As bad luck sometimes has it, the semi transporting the customized water filtration system was in an accident and the system was ruined. It would have to be rebuilt. Months more in delays.
Last spring it arrived and was installed. After a few months of testing and tweeking, the stage was set for building a kitchen. A kitchen was built this past summer and the chef who had opened Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor was brought in to infuse her style and flare into the operation.
Meet Maggie Long, farm-to-table chef extraordinaire.
Having eaten here twice now, I asked Maggie if she would be willing to sit down for a few minutes and tell me more about her restaurant here. She did, and if I wasn’t already a big fan, I’m more so now.
My first question was why they changed the name from “Null Taphouse” to “Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales & Kitchen”.
“The question of the name came up in discussion as we were conceptually forming the new restaurant,” says Maggie. “(Owners) Ron and Lori wanted the name ‘Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales’ for branding purposes. To let people know we also offered food, I wanted ‘and Kitchen’”.
Maggie is well-acquainted with the Jolly Pumpkin family. She started as the Executive Chef at Grizzly Peak in Ann Arbor in 1999. This is where she met Ron Jefferies who was head brewer at the time before he broke off and started Jolly Pumpkin.
Maggie has a wide experience as a chef; from running an operation, to catering, to opening new restaurants. In opening the Dexter location, there haven’t really been any surprises typical of a new restaurant. She attributes the ease of opening partly to the hours of operation which is less than your typical restaurant. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales & Kitchen opens at 4 pm for five evenings a week, Tuesday through Saturday.
I mentioned the recent article, Hunting Down the Best Burgers & Fries Around Dexter, and how much I enjoyed the burger I ate here. So much so that I came back again. The burger patty so delicious just plain, without bun or condiments, that I actually preferred it that way. Maggie explained the ground beef comes from a small butcher shop in Ferndale called Farm Field Table. It’s a Michigan source of protein that is absolutely phenomenal.
This is the first clue as to how Maggie operates – fresh foods, real foods, not processed, local, light and clean.
“The way we do things here is how I was raised, and how I’ve raised my kids,” Maggie says. “It’s pretty important to me to know where our food is coming from.”
“Is it fair to say this is a farm-to-table restaurant?” I ask.
“Yes,” Maggie answers. “It is. Most of my friends are farmers. I love the way they live. It’s not It’s not an easy job, farming, and you just have to appreciate what it is they’re doing.”
Being a farm-to-table restaurant, the menu is constantly changing based upon what is available in the area at the time. It gets especially tricky in the winter when nothing is being harvested.
“That’s the biggest game,” says Maggie enthusiastically. “I love that game. I love to switch it up and have to create from what’s being provided for me. I don’t ask farms to grow specific foods for me. I take what they’ve got coming in season.”
Maggie’s menu strategy begins with taking a look at what’s available. From there, she uses her chef skills to imagine dishes she would like to eat. But then, she tweeks it to place it just a little bit outside of the box. She wants the food to be familiar for people, yet different enough to pique their curiosity and make it fun.
Relationship with the surrounding community is a big deal to Maggie, a really big deal. As a chef, cooking for a living, she sees food as a primary way to build relationships. Staying in touch with the customer base is certainly integral to running any business.
“You have to be engaged with the people that are coming in and spending time with you,” she explains. “That’s what I do. I’m passionate about this relationship.”
But it’s not just the business relationship between customer and proprietor that motivates Maggie. “Food kind of brings people together,” she says. “It’s an even playing field for folks. What amazes me in this place is that when I look around, nobody is on their phone. They’re all talking to each other. I love that.”
She takes a holistic approach to her operation. The food has to fit the décor, the drinks, and the feel of the place. The staff collaborates with that vibe to create one harmonious environment. Maggie expects each component to play its role within the bigger picture. “When people walk in, I want them to think ‘Oh yeah. I totally get this,’” she says.
Before leaving, I asked Maggie my favorite question for chefs and cooks. “So when you go out to eat, where do you go?”
“Very few places,” she laughs. “I really don’t have the time. I enjoy making food at home. I’ve still got one kid left at home and mealtimes are a time when we’re together. It’s special and I want to keep it going for as long as I can.”
I’m already thinking of my next reason to visit, maybe to write this article. You can check out Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales & Kitchen’s entire menu here.