Jolly Pumpkin Adds Flavor To Detroit’s Most Vibrant Retail Block

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The block of West Canfield Street, in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood between Cass and Second Avenues, is practically its own zip code at this point. It’s home to a disorientingly vibrant cluster of high-gloss retailers, like Shinola and the new Third Man Records, and a trio of hip eateries.

The newest in the latter category is Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery, where I stopped with my family for dinner the other night.

This is the local outpost of the Dexter-based brewer of oak-aged sour ales that opened about a year ago in the former Willy’s Overland warehouse. It’s been a popular spot; President Obama even stopped in for lunch back in January (there’s a framed photo of the occasion near the open kitchen), and I’m told Usher stopped in for carry-out during his visit to the city.

What’s to eat?

They’re known for their Neopolitan-style pizzas, which are served on a thin and yeasty dough developed a block away at Avalon International Breads. They come in 12- or 16-inch pies, and you can choose between a standard Margherita ($12/18) or specialties like Korean Shortrib ($15/22), with arugula, scallions, mozzarella, black sesame and a sesame soy vinaigrette.

JP friesWe went for the Brussels Sprout pie ($13/20), with caramelized onion, mozzarella, lemon basil goat cheese and chile flakes. The dough really stands out, nice and crispy and well seasoned with that critical chewiness. The kids opted for a standard tomato sauce-and-cheese ($6), which checked all the boxes with plenty of piping hot, gooey mozzarella and a well-seasoned tomato.

For salads, we tried the standard Caesar ($8/12), which mixed romaine with Russian kale, and the Harvest Salad ($9/14), with kale and arugula, beets, carrot, goat cheese, dried cranberries, garlic pumpkin seed and a cilantro vinaigrette. I love the imaginative ingredients, but both dressings needed a little more zing and acidity, particularly to soften the hardy kale leaves. Also — and this is admittedly nitpicky — the lettuces are chopped to such small sizes that it’s hard to spear them with a fork.

Sandwiches are also available and are intriguing. They include a the Perfect Fried Chicken ($13) with sesame cilantro slaw, tumeric aioli and spicy pickles on a Sriracha brioche , and vegetarian options like a Warm Artichoke Sandwich ($12), with marinated artichoke hearts, a chickpea spread, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, feta and olive bread. Try an app like truffle fries with rosemary aioli ($6).

JP beersWhat’s to drink?

Jolly Pumpkin specializes in oak-aged sour beers, and they are tasty. I’m relatively new to this genre but am quickly becoming a convert. Rather than being mouth-puckering, the sour profile acts as a pleasant counterbalance to the bitter hops and would make a fine option on a sweltering-hot day, methinks. I enjoyed a Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale with raisiny notes.

If sour isn’t your thing, you can choose from more conventional but still diverse styles offered by JP’s sibling brand, North Peak Brewing Co.

Not into beer? You’re in luck. Jolly Pumpkin is part of the Northern United Brewing Co. family, which makes its own wines and spirits in Traverse City. There’s a small cocktail menu and a small number of wines by the glass.

Should you try it?

JP kitchenJolly Pumpkin occupies a handsomely appointed, airy space, with wood-paneled walls, huge windows looking out onto Canfield, custom label art on the walls and exposed duct work on the high ceiling. Seating is at communal tables.

Service was efficient and our food was delivered quickly despite being busy. It’s also counter service, which may or may not be your thing and has its quirks. For example, I ordered a second beer from the main cashier, went to the bar area to pick it up, and was informed by the bartender that I could order and pay for drinks there, though that wasn’t immediately apparent.

The crowd on my Sunday night visit was decidedly New Detroit. As we ate, we discussed the progression of businesses on the block, from longtime stalwart Traffic Jam and Snug to the recent explosion of retail spaces.

It’s a good place to sit and ponder how the city is changing over a tasty beer and pizza.

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