Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Sad Day in Pie Land

(unfortunate) Apple Cheddar Pie at Hill Country Chicken

While spending far too much time trying to get from Point A to Point B the other day, I decided that what my journey really needed was a Pie Break. Luckily, I was right in front of a restaurant I'd been meaning to try when my stomach reminded me that woman cannot live on coffee alone.

Hill Country Chicken (located in Manhattan's Flatiron District) boasts authentic Texas-style home cooking (fried chicken, barbecue) along with an extensive pie list, and is one of those places that always seems to get a mention on lists of New York's top pie places. Hmmm. Either they have a really good publicist or I caught them on a really "off" day. While I'd like to believe that they truly do serve fantastic chicken and live up to their slogan of being a "Fresh Fried Chicken Joint," I did not come for their chicken or their barbecue (and, being someone who doesn't actually love fried chicken, would be a terrible critic on that particular subject.) I came for pie.

It started out with mild promise. They had a giant sign listing about seven or eight "Pies of the Day," but I only saw three different pies in the display case when I walked up to the counter. They weren't labeled, but after learning they were cherry, coconut cream, and pumpkin pies, I tried to order a slice of cherry (Double Cherry with Streusel Topping, to be exact). The server then told me that only pumpkin was being served by the slice, the other two were being held as full pies. While I love a good pumpkin pie, I knew that I would be eating plenty of that this coming Thanksgiving (one of my invited guests makes a mean pumpkin pie - T-Day pics to come) and had gone in search of anything but pumpkin pie, so I headed for the door.

Luckily (or so I thought), I spotted a second display case near the register, and noticed some mini pies that turned out to be for individual sale. I decided upon the apple cheddar (full name: Classic Apple Pie With Cheddar Lattice Crust) because, hey - I like apples, I like cheddar, I should love this pie!

Red Flag #1: The server put the pie in a to-go container, I said "oh I'll eat it here," she shrugged and handed me the to-go container.

Red Flag #2: The server didn't ask if I wanted my pie to be heated.

Dear Food Service Workers Everywhere: People want the option of their fruit pies heated. I know it pains you to go all the way into the back of the kitchen where the microwave is inconveniently kept, and I know you'll endure an awkward conversation with the cook staff while you wait for 1 minute and 30 seconds while the pie is being heated, and I know you'll run the risk of bumping in to your manager who'll again ask if you can work this Friday night, but please, offer to heat the pie. It's like an intrinsic need within people to eat warm pie on a cold day. It makes people happier.

Red Flag #3: The server didn't ask if I wanted something to drink, which I did, but couldn't think about due to fluster caused by Red Flags 1 & 2. While fishing for my plastic fork at the condiments counter (and realizing I might have overestimated the level of classy this place had to offer) I saw they had an impressive offering of old fashioned sodas and a few micro-brewed beers I had never heard of, one or both of which I might have tried had someone attempted to sell me a drink.

Oh, right. The Pie Itself.

Well, it looked good. There was a cute little star-shaped biscuit on top. That was a nice touch.

Unfortunately, said five-pointed embellishment was doughy and not worth my time. Nor was the rest of the pie, which had a slightly rubbery top crust, a slightly more rubbery bottom crust, and gritty, cheap-tasting apples inside. Let's just say I had a much better time taking photos of the pie with a new app I downloaded for my phone (still love my phone) than I did actually consuming the pie.

Granted, the entire dessert cost about $3, which isn't much in the grand scheme of life. However, there are a bajillion bakeries in the city that serve beautiful little pastries, cookies, candies, cupcakes, truffles, mini-donughts, scones and muffins for right around $3 each. The snack bar has been set high, and it's the duty of every restaurant that offers a quick dessert option to meet, and then hopefully surpass that bar in both taste and service.

On my way out of the restaurant I noticed a sign reminding customers to "order your Thanksgiving pies." I feel for anyone who has to spend a holiday with these pies, and look forward to my Thursday of wonderful homemade goodness.

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