At Jolly Pumpkin Local Food Pairs Well with Local Beer
“Know your farmer” is more than a slogan for Jolly Pumpkin Executive Chef Matthew Morrison; it’s a way of life. Now a year into his job at the popular downtown Ann Arbor café and brewery, he can name half a dozen farmers, a couple of bakeries and a creamery, all local, who supply his kitchen.
If it’s in season, it’s likely to be on his menu.
“I feel that keeping it local supports jobs in our area,” he says. “And the soils—Michigan has such great soils.” Local farmers don’t generally deliver to his door, and he doesn’t have time to get to their farms, but he’s able to aggressively buy local in part because of the nearby Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market.
“I spend my Wednesdays and Saturdays at the market, picking up what I ordered,” he says. “I just love going down there. There’s a whole energy and a vibe. “The farmers email him twice a week, sharing what is available, in what quantity and at what price. “It’s not about the pricing as much as the quality,” he says. “I’ve got my staple six farms, and I look at the market and see what I think our guests might like on the menu.”
The café has a set menu that changes twice a year, but the local produce can end up on a special menu at lunch or dinner. “I try to team up with local farmers and see what’s good and what’s not good, and they’re real honest with me,” he says. Special menus name the local producers and what components each has provided.
Morrison, who grew up in Novi, started working in restaurants at the age of 14. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, but left early to go to work for the C.A. Muer Corp. He’s also worked in airline and health-care food service, including a stint with a company that believed in bringing fresh food to senior care facilities.
Morrison favors certified organic farms. He’s purchased chicken, pork and produce from Ann Arbor’s Green Things Farm. Seeley Farm, a 30-acre family farm in Ann Arbor Township, provides seasonal greens. Tantré Farm, a family-owned and -operated farm in Chelsea, also provides organic produce, as does Robin Hills Farm, which was recently certified organic.
Guernsey Farms Dairy in Northville provides all the restaurant’s dairy products. Bread comes from Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s, as well as Avalon in Detroit and White Lotus Farms of Ann Arbor. Natural, free-range brown eggs for Jolly Pumpkin’s weekend brunches come from Grazing Fields cooperative in Charlotte.
For farmers who don’t go to the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market, “I do say if you can deliver, I’ll order,” Morrison says. “Most of them do.” But there is yet another option. Frog Holler Produce, a wholesaler serving Ann Arbor restaurants, delivers six days a week from Eastern Market and many local producers, including Guernsey Farms.
There is a lot of competition for the restaurant dollar in Ann Arbor, and Jolly Pumpkin is a popular destination. “We’re a very busy restaurant. I go through 400 pounds of chicken a week,” Morrison says. “Some of the farmers can’t do the volume I do.” So only a small amount of the chicken and pork served have been local. “A lot of these farmers have CSAs so they may only have so much available for restaurants, which I totally understand. So it’s constant communication.”
Cost, he says, isn’t really an issue because customers have realistic expectations. “I think they expect farm to table; I think they expect organic; I think they expect vegan, vegetarian,” he says. “The reason I really like it is we try so many things and come up with something different.”
Special dinner menus run for two weeks. There’s also a Wednesday sandwich special. This summer a kale salad proved popular. “We have a ton of repeat customers. They come back and say, ‘Where’d that salad go?’” Morrison says. “Things like that we’ll keep on the menu, because why take it off if it’s popular?” Droolworthy photos regularly pop up in the café’s social media feed.
Jolly Pumpkin Ann Arbor opened in 2009. There are two other locations, on Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula and in Midtown Detroit. Jolly Pumpkin’s all-natural beer is brewed in Dexter, where the tasting room in located. Morrison says he’s done a few dinners that pair food with the brewery’s sour beers. “It’s different than wine pairings,” he said. “It just takes time to try to get the flavor profile out of the beers.”
This being Michigan, local produce isn’t available year round. This summer’s heat, for example, put an early end to local lettuces, but they are expected to return for fall. Also for fall, Morrison expects to feature local arugula, squashes, jicama and kohlrabi—“whatever the farmers are producing. I’m kind of at their mercy.”
In August, as he spoke, tomato season was in full swing. Morrison says he loves heirloom tomatoes and features them—the funnier looking, the better. “Other places I’ve worked, I would take tomatoes off the menu if they weren’t in season,” he says. No tasteless, pale, perfectly symmetrical circles will do. If it looks odd, “That’s a Michigan tomato.”
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