“It is utterly insufficient to eat pie only twice a week, as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished.”
—New York Times editorial, 1902
You don’t get between an American and his pie. It’s a symbol of wholesomeness, stability and even patriotism that, quite frankly, I believe has gotten a bit too big for its britches. Throughout the history of our country, pie has been slowly shifting from its roots as a savory and hearty fixture of the American dinner table to a carefully latticed or meringued tower of sugar perched on a glass ensconced pedestal to be judged by a bald-headed freak who thinks he’s a “Sweet Genius.” Pie should be released from its gilded cage and allowed to once again run free and unconstrained on menus and dinner tables, be it savory or sweet, rustic or artfully designed.
In places like Seattle, New York and Washington D.C., restaurants are popping up with a singular devotion to pie and pie accessories. Last month, Chattanooga joined the pie renaissance with the opening of Fork and Pie Bar at 811 Market St. If you’re over 40, it’s in the old Ira Trivers shop. If you’re under 40, it’s the old Quiznos location. Either way, it’s not the same old pies.
The minimalist décor allows you to actually see the beautiful architectural elements of the historic space F&P occupies. Tables and display shelving left over from Ira Trivers clothiers have been restored and turned into dining tables and bar shelving. You can sit and imagine that you’re eating at a table where Mort Lloyd’s anchorman suits were crafted or Bob Brandy’s ’70s evening jackets were custom fitted for those wild nights at the Town and Country. Eat your heart out Hard Rock Café.
Owners Jennifer Rintelman and the BrewHaus’ Mike Robinson have put together a menu that reads like the greatest hits of pie, with some creative alt-pies thrown in for the culinary indie crowd. On the savory side, the menu comes out of the gate with strong favorites like chicken pot pie and quiche. Down the list you’ll see other offerings like shepherd’s pie, a veggie pot pie for the herbivores, and savory pies with the flavors of Mexico, Italy and Spain. Predictably, I was drawn to the pulled pork barbecue pie with a sweet cornbread crust. This pie nestles smoky pulled pork that’s covered, but not drowned, in a brown sugar barbecue sauce under a crunchy layer of slightly sweet cornbread. Because they care about you and your pie, there’s no bottom crust to this particular pie so there’s no soggy mess lurking underneath the tender porky goodness.
Each component of the pie was good, but eaten together it was great. Every forkful was packed with smoky meat, sweet sauce and crunchy cornbread crust—and every scrap made its way out of the pie tin and into my pie hole.
Don’t let your stomach trick you into thinking a four-inch personal pie won’t be enough to fill you up, unless you require a meal the size of your head to satisfy your cavernous appetite. When a situation arises that screams for maximum pie, you can get a big nine-inch that will satisfy all of your unholy cravings.
In the coming weeks, F&P will be getting a liquor license so that they can bring custom drink and pie pairings to Market Street through their relationship with one of their many local food partners, Pure Soda Works. Yeah, I said it—custom drink and pie pairings are coming to Market Street. Suck it Seattle.
Of course, they offer sweet pies in the traditional flavors and varieties you would expect, including chocolate chess, fruit and good old pecan. These are pies that Thiebaud would paint and eat—not pies vying for a spot on “Man vs. Food” or to be framed under glass.
I truly hope that this is a sign of a pie renaissance that will sweep across the nation and rescue pie from the applepious symbolism that has separated it from our daily lives. Pie to the people!
Mike McJunkin cooks better than you and eats quite a lot of very strange food. Visit his Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes.