Most of the food at the barbecue comes from Michigan farms and distributors. (The Henry Ford)
Local foods are staples on the menus at The Henry Ford, but it’s the series of Local Roots dinners where Michigan produce, meat and other fare are kicked up a notch.
Consider some of the standouts at Friday’s Local Roots Blues, Brews & Evening Dining BBQ at Greenfield Village. Leg of lamb (from a Michigan farm) with a dry rub will be grilled. Faygo’s Root Beer will infuse a barbecue sauce. Local portobello mushrooms will be marinated, seared and worked to resemble bacon. And fresh peaches will add summer flavor to a bread pudding with rum sauce.
“These dinners are really an example of what we do every day,” says Jesse Eisenhuth, director of food service and catering at The Henry Ford, which includes eateries in the museum, village and school. “Buying local is a priority and a passion for us. We can’t say that everything is 100 percent Michigan, but at least 95 percent is locally sourced.”
The Local Roots dinners are held four or five times a year, and the summer barbecue is typically the most popular, attracting 200-300 people. Part of the appeal is the chance to spend an evening in the village. The doors of the pavilion (next to the Carousel) are opened to create an outdoorsy feel. Barbecue is always the focus of the summer dinner; the themes of the others change each year.
“We do change the menu up and do new things, but the framework is still the same — it’s a barbecue ,” says Eisenhuth (who also should be considered locally sourced; he’s a Rockford native who graduated with a degree in hospitality from Michigan State University).
The grilled leg of lamb was on the menu last year and went over well, and Eisenhuth sees its return as an opportunity to reintroduce guests to an often over-looked meat option.
“Some people aren’t familiar with grilled leg of lamb. Done properly and cooked right, lamb is a wonderful source of protein,” he says. “People are familiar with lamb chops but may not have had a good experience. People really enjoyed this last year.”
Some of the more traditional fare on the menu includes barbecue pork ribs, bacon-wrapped grilled corn on the cob, Slow Jam-glazed drumsticks, corn and tomato salad, country beet salad and roasted fingerling potatoes. And while you might find county beef ribs at a traditional neighborhood cookout, they’ll get an Asian workover for Friday’s event.
“We’re trying to make things a little different,” Eisenhuth says. “It’s a nice marriage of Asian influences and flavors to country beef ribs. Everything we do (at these dinners), we try to make upscale and high end.”
The Asian spices used in the seasoning the ribs and accompanying sauces are examples of ingredients not native to the Great Lakes State. Still, The Henry Ford purchases them from Michigan companies that import and sell the products.
And while Michigan craft beer had been a part of the offerings at the cookout, this year is the first in which a beer brewed especially for The Henry Ford will be poured. Industrialist Ale, crafted through a partnership with Mount Pleasant’s Mountain Town Brewing Co., will be on tap. Two other specially made beers are available to day-time visitors: Eagle Tavern Ale, poured from a wood cask and served at the village’s Eagle Tavern, and Old Liz Amber Ale, sold in bottles in the village and the museum.
With peach season in full swing, Eisenhuth and his staff thought it was the perfect addition to bread pudding.
“It’s a great time of the year for Michigan peaches. It’s one of the freshest fruits out there right now,” he says. “People can get bread pudding other times of the year, but you can’t get it like this. We wanted to give people something different. There’s a reason people want to come back to these one-dinner nights.”
Rounding out dessert will be ice cream novelties — remember Strawberry Shortcake? — served from a classic Good Humor truck.
“We’re a history institution. We want to (touch) those senses of when you were a child,” Eisenhuth says. “We do a nice, elegant bread pudding, but let’s have some fun, too. Let’s do both.”