6 Ways to Fill Your Cup with Roadhouse Joe

6 Ways to Fill Your Cup with Roadhouse Joe. The Coffee Blend Creating a Buzz Around the Zingerman’s Community.

The Coffee Blend Creating a Buzz Around the Zingerman’s Community

Roadhouse Joe Coffee is the house brew at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, specially created by Zingerman’s Coffee Company for the Roadhouse’s 2003 opening. (Are you new to Zingerman’s? The Roadhouse is our full-service restaurant and bar on Ann Arbor’s west side, known for its mac and cheese, barbecue, and more.) As Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig tells it:

Back then, we were already working to get going on what was soon to be opened as Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Our intention, as per the vintage neon sign (done by Mark Chalou, “Mr. Neon,” with old neon tubes he found in a warehouse in Detroit), was to serve “Really good American food.” To go with it, we knew we would also need a really good American cup of coffee, a cup that consistently would please nearly every (no one gets ’em all) palate. The result was—and still is, decades down the road—Roadhouse Joe.

Roadhouse Joe is beloved in its original form, of course, but its popularity has continued to grow throughout the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB), too, as over the years, Roadhouse Joe has evolved to be a key ingredient in other Zingerman’s-made products. Here are all of the ways you can enjoy it, from the original coffee blend that started it all to an improvement made from a buzz-worthy switch and more.

1. Roadhouse Joe Coffee

Roadhouse Joe is one of the best blends on the market. It’s smooth, rich, full-bodied, clean, and craft roasted to highlight the nuances of each of the coffees in the blend.

Comprised of not just one type of bean, but an ever-evolving combination, Roadhouse Joe has remained one of the Coffee Company’s most popular blends since its debut. “The point of a blend—as opposed to the many single origins we do,” Ari explains, “is that we can adjust it a bit regularly to keep the flavor profile consistent.” Currently, the Roadhouse’s signature coffee (psst: weekly breakfast Blue Plate Specials include a free cup!) is a crowd-pleasing blend of Papua New Guinea, Costa Rican, Indian, and Brazilian Peaberry beans. Designed to complement food from breakfast through dessert, the Coffee Company describes this blend as emphasizing body and balance over sharpness and acidity. Steve Mangigian, long-time managing partner and head roaster at the Coffee Company says,

I believe today’s Roadhouse Joe is one of the best blends on the market. It’s smooth, rich, full-bodied, clean, and craft-roasted to highlight the nuances of each of the coffees in the blend. India for a little pepper and spice, Brazil for its nuttiness, Costa Rica for the body and richness, and Papua New Guinea for adding a solid base of cocoa; all designed to complement each other when it strikes the palate!

Enjoy a cup at the Roadhouse or visit the Coffee Company to taste the difference in brewing methods. At the Coffee Company, you’ll notice their Big Brew Board, a board that outlines the different flavor profiles each type of coffee can have depending on its preparation. Of the Roadhouse Joe, the Coffee Company crew says, “Amazing in a Chemex, which highlights the sweetness and complexity. The Aeropress gives it a wonderful thicker body with a nice dried fruit finish. In the press pot, we noted flavors of rye, wood, and spice.” To brew up a batch at home, pick up some beans at the Coffee Company or Deli, or ship a bag to your favorite coffee connoisseur.

2. Rhode Island Coffee Milk

Coffee milk is a cold drink made with coffee syrup and milk. The Roadhouse’s version starts by slowly cooking Roadhouse Joe coffee and sugar until it reduces to a rich, thick syrup, and then the housemade syrup is mixed with milk and cream from Calder Dairy. As the name suggests, coffee milk is the official beverage of Rhode Island, but it has a pretty solid local following, too, at least among Roadhouse regulars. And, interestingly enough, it actually has a local connection, too. Janice Longone was an esteemed food historian who most of her life in Ann Arbor. She hosted a radio show, “Adventure in Gastronomy,” on Michigan Radio, founded the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor, and donated her extensive culinary archive to the University of Michigan, which became the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. And, as she mentioned one day in passing to Ari, her uncle invented coffee milk. As Ari explains:

Jan’s Uncle Meyer was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who loved to tinker with things. And, according to legend, he took the Rhode Island love for strong, sweet coffee—likely based in the heavy concentration of both Italians and Portuguese people living there—and turned it into a cold drink.

Head to the Roadhouse to try Ann Arbor’s take on an East Coast classic. When the weather’s nice, we recommend sipping yours outside in Roadhouse Park.

3. Red Rage Barbecue Sauce

Red Rage also made its debut when Zingerman’s Roadhouse opened, but the recipe had been in development for years—decades, actually! This barbecue sauce was created by Chef Alex Young, a James Beard Award-winning chef, and former Roadhouse managing partner and chef, when he was just 13 years old! As the story goes, like a typical teenager, Alex invited friends over one day when his parents were out of town. In perhaps a not-so-typical teenage move though, it was a hundred people that were invited over… for a barbecue! He made the first version of the Red Rage we know and love today (and presumably ticked off his folks in the process!). Its name is likely due to the fact that it’s a tomato-based sauce with a kick, but we like the idea that it could have originated from a rager that had Young’s parents seeing red!

The recipe has been tweaked slightly over the years, mainly to swap in higher-quality ingredients, as we love to do here at Zingerman’s. Its fantastic full flavor comes from spices (like Turkish Urfa pepper, Tellicherry black pepper, chipotle peppers, and Mexican piquin peppers) that are balanced out with some sweetness (Muscovado brown sugar, molasses, and honey) and acidity (ketchup and apple cider vinegar), plus some pilsner and Roadhouse Joe coffee, of course. Don’t let the name (or those chile peppers) leave you concerned that indulging in a little BBQ will leave your mouth on fire. As Mo Frechette, Zingerman’s Mail Order managing partner says, “There is heat, but it’s a creeping, seeking heat that never gets in the way of the food.”

Head to the Roadhouse to enjoy Red Rage on a rack of ribs. Ship a bottle to a fellow BBQ lover from Mail Order, or order a few for yourself and pick up your order from their Warehouse Shop. Or mix up a batch for yourself at home. Use it on your favorite barbecued meats of course, but also try it slathered on a burger, drizzled into a burrito, swirled into mac and cheese, or as a more flavorful stand-in for ketchup with fries.

4. Spicy Coffee Rub

This intensely flavorful blend is packed with Urfa pepper, Tellicherry black pepper, cloves, sea salt, and yes, Roadhouse Joe coffee.

This intensely flavorful blend is packed with Urfa pepper, Tellicherry black pepper, cloves, sea salt, and yes, Roadhouse Joe coffee. Just like Red Rage, the Spicy Coffee Rub was created by Alex Young a few years after the Roadhouse opened. Young developed it with turkey in mind, so it was initially used on roast turkeys and a turkey sandwich dubbed the Dexter Reuben. Francine Maroukian lauded the blend in Esquire magazine as a way to make your Thanksgiving turkey memorable, saying, “One little jar will leave your turkey succulent and beautifully browned. Believe us, your guests will appreciate the gesture.” (Should you prefer to let someone else handle the bird, coffee spice-rubbed turkey reappears on the Roadhouse’s Thanksgiving To-Go menu—and, fair warning—then quickly sells out). The spice blend’s versatility was quickly uncovered though, so over the years it’s been featured in all sorts of Roadhouse specials including chicken, pork, and wild boar.

If you’re ready to wake up your cooking, grab a jar of Spicy Coffee Rub at the Deli or have Zingerman’s Mail Order ship you one. Follow Ari’s lead and try it on catfish, potatoes, or roast chicken (find his recipe for Roast Chicken with Bacon and Spicy Coffee Spice Rub on page 200 of Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon).

5. Coffee Gelato (aka Roadhouse Joe-lato)

It doesn’t take much to imagine Roadhouse Joe’s smooth flavor churned into a creamy batch of gelato, especially if you typically take your coffee with a splash of cream or milk. Luckily for all of us, there’s no imagination necessary, since that’s what the Creamery is doing! In 2023, they updated their coffee gelato to feature Roadhouse Joe—quickly earning itself the nickname of Roadhouse Joe-lato. Using this best-selling brew along with milk and cream from Calder Dairy—one of the last farmstead dairies in Michigan—and demerara sugar created a gelato with a jolt of big, well-balanced coffee flavor. Gelato & Retail Manager Lexi Stand declares, “It tastes so good!”

Pretty sure we don’t need to tell you how to savor a scoop of gelato, but just in case… try one straight up, paired with another Creamery gelato like Vanilla or Chocolate Hazelnut, or doused in espresso for an affogato with serious pick-me-up power. Pick up a pint at the Cream Top Shop or the Deli, or enjoy a scoop for dessert at the Roadhouse. Flavors in the Creamery’s case vary, but when you spot the Coffee Gelato you can enjoy a scoop or two on the spot. Or, enjoy it in one of the many other ways they finesse their frozen treats, like in a shake, malt, float, or frozen cooler—in which the flavor of your choice is blended with any soda flavor.

6. Mothfire RoHo Joe Stout

Mothfire Brewing Company has been making a rich, roasty stout with Roadhouse Joe since 2021.
Not only has Roadhouse Joe conquered flavor sensations from savory spices to sweet treats, but it’s also proved that it can move from coffee mug to pint glass (or tulip glass as the case may be, but you get what we were going for, right?). Mothfire Brewing Company has been making a rich, roasty stout with Roadhouse Joe since 2021. This flavorful collaboration began at the picnic tables in Roadhouse Park, when Mothfire head brewer Alexis Jorgensen started envisioning what the recipe might look like. As Ari describes:

The beer really is something special. When you sip the stout, the coffee comes through without dominating the whole drink; it hints clearly of coffee, and yet it’s something else altogether. The RoHo Joe Stout has a good hint of vanilla, a touch of sweetness, and all the grain-forward fullness you’d expect in a good stout!

The sweetness is due to the brew, of course, but perhaps also to the bond of Ann Arbor townie businesses who share a passion for great ingredients and community. As Noah Kaplan, one of Mothfire’s founders, elaborates:

We believe that craft breweries are an essential part of a community’s culture. A place to create beers and atmospheres that are truly unique to the region, and a place to bring people together. We focus on collaboration, creativity, and quality craftsmanship. We also focus on using local ingredients and building on local culture.

We definitely don’t need to tell you how to drink a beer. (Other than to enjoy this sensational sipper responsibly, but you already know that.) Try the RoHo Joe Stout on draft or pick up a 4-pack at the Roadhouse. Cans are also available at Mothfire Brewing Company, select Plum Market locations, and (soon) other Zingerman’s locations.

Who knows where Roadhouse Joe might moonlight next!

To keep up with the buzz on all of the latest happenings in the Zingerman’s Community, follow us on social media: @zingermanscommunity on Instagram and Facebook, and @zingermans on X (formerly Twitter).