May it Please the Palate


By the time you read this, I hope I will have successfully provided breakfast for upwards of 200 people at “SELMA Cafe” in Ann Arbor ( I am a guest chef this Friday for this worthy cause, which is closing on two years of providing weekly breakfasts to support local farmers. SELMA has featured some of the best chefs in the metro region, who strive to make creative and delicious breakfasts using local ingredients. I’ve “cheffed” about six times now, and competing with pro-
fessionals is daunting for this lawyer/weekend kitchen warrior.

The joke at SELMA is that you can throw an egg on anything and call it breakfast. Or jelly. I once made breakfast barbeque, marinating babybacks with orange marmalade. The goal is to leave guests impressed, and gastronomically satisfied at least through lunchtime.

This week, teaming up with my friend and professional pastry chef Chris Wick, we’ve decided on what I call the “deconstructed breakfast Reuben.” A couple of months ago, for my St. Patrick’s Day column, I provided a recipe for homemade corned beef. In preparation for this week’s breakfast, I have three briskets brining in my downstairs refrigerator. The yeasty smell of the Harp’s Lager in the marinade wafts up the stairs. Thursday night I’ll boil them and we’ll have the corned beef.

Chris will then make what I’m sure will be some amazing homemade biscuits for the Reubens. What makes them “deconstructed” is that they’ll be open faced on the plate. On one side will be an approximation of Zingerman’s ( Russian dressing, a couple slices of corned beef, and a poached egg, dusted with a few chives for color. On the other side will be butter and a homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. Completing the plating will be a few spears of roasted young asparagus, and a dollop of locally made sauerkraut from “The Brinery” (, made with cabbage and caraway.

Below, alas, is not Chris’ biscuit recipe, but a workaday one from chef Alton Brown. You could make these biscuits savory by adding some shredded Swiss cheese and perhaps some chives, which would make them splendid for a NON-deconstructed breakfast Reuben – but this one is a traditional buttermilk version - versatile enough for both the savory and sweet ingredients, side by side on a plate.

Easy Southern Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

1.      Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2.    In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

3.    Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

4.    Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

When I began my column I told my editor, Frank Weir [from the Washtenaw County Legal News], that Ann Arbor lacked its own signature dish, a la Philly Cheesesteak or Cincinnati Chili. Will this become Ann Arbor’s signature? Will local hash houses fall all over themselves trying to make versions of the breakfast Reuben, deconstructed or not? I can’t pretend I will start a trend, but I will tell you that the combination of the corned beef, runny poached egg, and sweet Russian dressing on a buttery biscuit is a sublime one. The other half of the biscuit with the homemade jam suffices as dessert.
Hmm, now there’s a trend that might really take off – dessert after breakfast. Perhaps the next column.

Nick Roumel is a partner at Nacht Roumel Salvatore Blanchard and Walker PC in Ann Arbor. He writes a food column for Current magazine, and hopes his column for the legal newspapers around the state is “to provide a fun outlet for those in the legal profession, and a break from the usual adversarial nature of our business.”