Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tick Tock Diner, Clifton

281 Allwood Road
Clifton, NJ 07012
Cherry Pie: $3.75
Coffee: $1.25

There was an element of destiny in it.

We were heading out on Rte 3 for breakfast, not pie, watching the "conventioneers’ hotels and discount stores and fast-food restaurants and office complexes and Home Depot and Best Buy and Ethan Allen" roll by, when - Ding! - it's the Tick Tock, and Evy T. Chevy makes a legal-"ish" right turn (scrreeeee!) into the parking lot around noon... It's packed. We find a space, get out. Smack, smack, the doors pop shut, and seconds later we are in the vestibule checking out the gum ball and novelty machines. Sweet. They have smokin' tattoo transfers (we scored a butterfly and a hawk). Little red-headed girls were groovin' on the necklace machine. Happy diners (surprisingly healthy-looking) filing in and out. Talkin' 'bout diner paradise. Let's do it.

Tick Tock Diner is a gleaming beacon of comfort on Route 3 in Clifton. We'd driven by there many tired nights after long journeys out into the Jersey hinterland and had been brightened by her shining chrome, flawless neon, and retro chic. She always beckoned, but by the time we passed the Tick Tock we were just over the hill from our favorite view of the Manhattan skyline which meant a home-cooked meal was not far away. So, we hadn't stopped in, until today.

Inside, the Tick Tock has gray detailing in its curved ceiling, and classic brown Formica table tops that match the red-toned, large-speckle floors. She has capital "C" clean booths with easy-wipe seats, balanced by comfy fabric backrests. A good diner has got to be a lady, 'cause she serves up what sustains us, and at the Tick Tock that comes on custom made diner-ware tastefully decorated with the Tick Tock logo and their motto: eat heavy. Breakfast was good, and then we asked the question we know you've been waiting for: Do ya have any cherry pie? Yes!

The TickTock passed the white-glove test for cleanliness, but could she pass the cherry pie test for yumminess? Plenty of perfectly good Jersey diners before them have fallen down on a slice of cherry pie. It's not an easy dessert to do right. Turn over has to be high to keep this low-demand item fresh. The clock is always running ...Tick, tock, tick, tock...

Our waitress got extra points for bringing the coffee, cream, and pie out together. Come to think of it, she's the first waitress to pull off this feat since we began our search. Kudos! Mmmmm... let's have a look at that pie. It's a healthy slice, and it's holding its form due to a fair number of cherries in the matrix. There is some flake to the crust, and whoa!, what's this? Before we can fully dissect the slice, forks are sliding in around those fulsome cherries; bites are accelerating.. Yes, this pie...it has that certain je ne sais quois; it is calling to something deeper within us, and that mysterious radar is bang on. That's a good pie. Right to the last bite something joyfully seductive had our forks jousting for the best position on the slice, and we ate every bit of the pie, crust and all. Coffee was just fine.

Let's not quibble about whether the pie was properly classified as a "gourmet dessert" as their menu asserts. This pie had no refrigerator damage and artfully split the difference between a shortbread and pastry crust. It had a thickened matrix, but not that cling, and it tasted tart but sweet, as a cherry pie should. If we could shame Jersey diners into accepting the Tick Tock pie as the acceptable standard in cherry goodness our work would be done. Hats off to you, Tick Tock! We'll be back.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jersey Pie Road Trip IV

Old Hook Farm
650 Old Hook Road
Emerson, NJ 07630
Cherry Pie: $12.99

We may have found one answer for Los Lonely Boys. As is often the case with deep, deep questions: How far is heaven? The answer comes in the form of another question: How far are you from Emerson, New Jersey? Los Lonely Boys, if you are reading this, we found a piece of heaven there.

Not cherry pie heaven, alas. So, this will be brief. The pies sold at Old Hook Farm come from Connecticut. They are frozen in season, then baked at Old Hook. Shipping notwithstanding it is a very good pie, a somewhat sophisticated pie. Pie for grown-ups is what we have here, by which we mean that the sugar content in the filling is low, as is the salt content in the crust. Your inner child may want ice-cream on the side. Your adult will be satisfied with the pie as is. We must point out that the matrix was not the juicy, free-flowing one that we prefer. A baker that allows the juice to flow is, we acknowledge, taking a risk that the bottom crust will be mushy, and maybe even pasty, but we know what we like. Was this matrix gelatinous goo? No, not that bad. Still, pies that are thickened with gelatin or over-thickened with modified food starch get points taken away here at Jersey Pie. To be fair, had this pie been served at a diner, we would have been blown out of our socks.

As for the heaven at Old Hook Farm, look no further than the small baskets of organic vegetables with signs proudly proclaiming "our own." We brought home baby white turnips, Boston lettuce, chives, baby bok choy, tomatoes, and apples. Their goodness cannot be shared except by convincing you to experience this for yourself. We just hope that you will eschew the convenience of mega-corp superstores and their tasteless, lifeless produce one time this year before the farm stands close at the end of the harvest season. As for us, this may be our last road trip. Look for another trip to a local diner next week, as we search for a nice slice with a cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guest Blogger: A Jersey Pie First

September 13 and 17—A stranger here, myself
NJ Turnpike, Walt Whitman Service Area and Matthew’s Colonial Diner

As a visitor from the left coast, I was kindly invited to submit a guest blog to Jersey Pie. In keeping with the Summer Road Trip theme, this submittal recounts, in part, a trip with half of JerPie to Washington DC via the New Jersey Turnpike. This being a four-hour drive, it was necessary to take our chances with lunch at a turnpike service area. It was a service area, apparently much like any service area, offering: Carvel, Nathan's Cinnabon and Roy Rogers fare. JerPie enjoyed RR’s fried chicken and biscuit, my other half dined in characteristic, health-minded manner on Caesar salad, while I can’t remember what I ordered. Chicken Caesar, maybe. No matter. The important item, displayed near the cash register as a last-minute, impulse gottahaveit, was a small box, measuring 4 _ inches square, picturing three plump, shiny, cherries, and cooing, “Baked CHERRY PIE.” Yes, the capitalization is correct. Yes, they seemed to feel it necessary to assure me that this CHERRY PIE was baked. I have the box before me now, and next to the plump, juicy cherries is the legend, “table talk.” Now, I have been a follower of Jersey Pie since it began, and I knew my duty. Further, I knew the words, “gelatinous,” “goo,” “irascible” and “booger.” Unafraid, I paid me my money down, stoutheartedly prepared to dive into a confection to which those words might well be applied. This baked cherry pie contained no nut shells, even though it was “manufactured in a facility that also produces products containing treenuts.” Thank god for that. Enough for the praise part of this report. This lackluster little product of Worcester, MA 01610 contained 7 rather deflated cherries in a matrix of gelatinous goo. The crust was what passes in almost all eateries as pie crust, as opposed to cookie or shortbread or puff pastry crust. Well, I’m sorry, but as a pie baker I must assert that merely being clearly recognizable as pie crust does not an A+ pie make.

When I make a cherry pie, the ingredients are cherries, flour, sugar, Crisco, water, almond extract, cornstarch and salt. When table talk makes a cherry pie, the ingredients are “wheat flour, water, cherries, sugar, palm oil, modified food starch, salt, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate (preservatives) nonfat dry milk, dextrose.” More water than cherries? So that’s how they make their goo! Here is a sentence from a blog: “Modified food starches are used in a mind-boggling variety of products - luncheon meats, orange juice, baked goods, biofuels, bioplastics, and the list goes on. . . .” So THAT’S why we all want to nibble bioplastics! Another ingredient, palm oil, is discussed in a pdf download titled, “Cruel oil: how palm oil harms health, rainforests and wildlife.” Read it and weep. It does, at least, explain how this tiny dessert came to have a whopping 9 grams of saturated fat. My personal daily allowance of sat fat is 10 grams. And that baked cherry pie was not a good way to use up my quota. I’m beginning to feel a bit mean-spirited and critical. After all, table talk must, at its inception, have said to itself, “Let us try to insert a bit of tasty home cooking into the monotonous life of the long-distance traveler,” then run up against the vagaries of mass production. Maybe this is the best that can be done under the circumstances. But when far from home, in a 7/11 or service area, stricken by a NEED for a sweet treat—oh, yes. It’s Snickers, hands down.

Washington, DC was a whirlwind of concentrated activity, all very nourishing and satisfying. Upon return to Jersey, a wonderful field trip to a most-refreshing nature preserve restored my biobalance, and I was delighted to return to the search for a passable cherry pie. New Jersey rightly deserves the sobriquet, “The Garden State.” It is truly lovely, with tall, stately hardwoods gracing its gently rolling hills. The Palisade is a natural wonder that I could stare at for days on end. My own state is heavily forested, too, but with evergreens that offer darkness, not shade. Our hills are steep and challenging. Our tunnels of trees offer no vistas beyond the road’s edge. I love the eastern landscape. And so I did enormously enjoy our drive through one hamlet after another to Waldwick, and Matthew’s Colonial Diner.

Matthew’s Colonial Diner. Oak paneling and box-beam ceilings. Tasteful chandeliers, supplementing can lighting. Paned windows. Brick fireplace. A man cleaning the windows in the doors between the kitchen and the dining area. I mean, he was polishing that little window. So I looked at the floor, typically not a good idea. This floor was CLEAN. A clean, green carpet. Clean. Oak tables. Comfortable chairs. The waitress: dignity. Blonde hair, tastefully pulled back from her tawny face. Dark brown eyes. A touch of the cat, but controlled. Cool. Professional. We each chose from their ample menu a luncheon special, including a main dish, beverage and dessert. Mm-hm. Dessert. You can guess what I was thinking. But first, JerPie ordered a Florentine omelet, in which she detected a hint of dill, accompanied by home-fried potatoes. Better Half (BH) got a tuna sandwich on whole wheat, with slaw, while I opted for egg salad sandwich, identically accompanied. Those sandwiches were no less than 2 _ inches thick. Generous, homey, delicious sandwiches, not made out to be more than they were by the addition of way too much mayo. They were loaded with tuna and egg, respectively, with crisp lettuce for crunch. We each ate half, and took the second halves away with us. Matthew’s Colonial Diner was lookin’ good!

For dessert, BH chose strawberry ice cream and received a most generous serving. Jerpie took the brownie, but I’m telling you, that looked more like pure chocolate decadence with a walnut on top. This so-called brownie was fully 3 by 1 _ inches, probably more. It was a double-decker, more than 2 _ inches tall, with dark chocolate icing. JerPie declared it “the best brownie.” You probably know that that was high praise, indeed. And I? I asked if there was cherry pie. “Yes, but it’s not part of the lunch special,” says our serving person. I’ll have the cherry pie, and coffee, please, says I. I think my dessert was delivered somewhat proudly, with a wonderful, smiling, “Here you are, Darlin’.” and look at this!



Now, that’s presentation. That’s class. That’s diner pie???? Maybe in New Jersey. It’s fancy restaurant pie where I come from. Two florets of real whipped cream, a zigzag of raspberry puree, very pretty indeed. Ah, but let’s taste. Off comes the crust, and Jerpie detects a modicum of flakiness. Not like grandma used to make, but okay, it’s a commercial product. I like my crust sparkling with sugar, but this one was brushed with something shiny and sticky. I think that might be a regional preference. Is it milk? Egg white? Dunno. Cherry count: 17, which JerPie declares quite respectable. Taste: cherries are a good sweet/tart, flavorful mouthful. Matrix: Oh, no! Gelatinous goo which disrespects the cherries. It hints at refrigerator taste, it is cold, sweet and flavorless. This goo really has elastic strength, as proven by this photo, this forkful being held in place while I rummaged in my purse for my camera, removed it from its case, turned it on, aimed and shot, while that irascible loogy just hung there. That’s just not right!


To grasp the difference between goo and juice, may I respectfully refer you to the painting of “The Slice” at the top of this blog. Certainly, the juice must be thickened, and there are tapioca, cornstarch, and flour people. But the gelatinous goo we keep finding in bought pies must be the result of that Modified Food Starch that table talk confessed to. And I have a theory about the reason for that. My cherry pie, before baking, has cherries piled as high as the piepan can contain.



When baked, this mountain of fruit has settled down to the level of the top of the piepan. Can it be that filling a pie with gelatinous goo allows one to add cherries only up to the top of the piepan, knowing they can’t collapse, being held snugly in place by the goo? Perhaps an expert will check in on that score and elucidate us all.

Back to you, Jersey Pie. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

Love,
Mom

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jersey Pie Road Trip III

Melick's Town Farm
Oldwick Farm Stand
170 Oldwick Road (523/517 North)
Oldwick, New Jersey 08858
Cherry Pie: $12.99

Our lazy summertime efforts at pie reporting led us into the great wild yonder of Jersey farmer's markets, where baked goodies take a back seat to grown goods. Having recently read with (unexpected) interest the succotash recipe in the Joy of Cooking, Jersey Pie found ourselves at Melick's farm stand, face to face with fresh, local lima beans. Had we known that they grew in big, fuzzy, friendly pods? Enamored, we shucked and jived all the way from Oldwick to Jersey City, east on I-78, releasing those gorgeous legumes from their pods while listening to a Michael Jackson tribute on the radio. Now, having tasted the genuine article, we would argue that a canned lima bean is an altogether different thing, and we champion any five-year-old shuckin and jivin before a plate of those pale, tasteless beans.

We brought home the fresh corn as well and an enormous red and yellow heirloom tomato to eat in slices with salt and pepper. And peaches. Melick's peaches may be the best in New Jersey. While selecting corn in our cleavage-revealing summer top, we were told this by a nice gentleman who was leaning over, choosing his corn. Unsure of whether his true subject of interest was cleavage or peaches, we are withholding our opinion, and jokingly refer to the reviewer as "Mr. Cornpeaches." Our supper of succotash and tomato was delicious. However, we have to confess that we suffered from the succotash and will henceforth substitute lowfat milk for the rich, reduced cream the recipe calls for.

And yes we had a pie. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner. Melick's woven-lattice cherry pie is very, very good. The crust, oh, the crust, it was perfect. Crust is so important, as it rescues the sweetness of those jubilant cherries from falling headlong into sour or cloying. If we could convince our local diners to order their pies from Melick's, our cherry pie troubles would all be over. But Melick's charges a tad more than a pretty penny to transport their pies. Nota bene the mark-up you pay for buying your cherry pie at the Hoboken Farmer's Market, where HALF a pie sells for ELEVEN dollars! Sorry, but half of even a Melick's pie, even with its flaky pastry crust sprinkled with delightful sugar crystals, even with its tart Michigan cherries, even with its perfect fruit to crust ratio that allows even a sliver of pie to have a fruit filling, is not worth ELEVEN dollars!! We could not, would not, never will pay it.



While we've enjoyed our trips to the hinterland of Jersey for alternative pie sources, our quest is for a good old slice of pie and cup of Joe at a local eatery, so don't un-follow Jersey Pie yet. We will return to our diner-diving ways once the farm stands close, some time in the autumn. If you prefer our ranting and raving (about the poor local choices) to our engorged, ecstatic prose (about the farmer's markets) ... we'll be back. In addition, we have a first, a guest blogger who recently sampled the pie at Matthew's Colonial Diner in Waldwick, so check back soon!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jersey Pie Road Trip II, State of Maine

If you find yourself within 2 states of Maine, you owe it to yourself to have breakfast at 2 Cats in Bar Harbor. Our meal was ludicrously delicious. It began with a mug of Equal Exchange coffee, then purred into a Summer Scramble: eggs, tomatoes, onions, and herbs grown on the premises. Spicy home fries and fresh baked bread with a garnish of cantaloupe and kiwi completed the plate, but don't let us forget the butter. Butter you say? Yes, the butter. Strawberry butter. That's what we're talkin' about. The service was as nourishing as the meal, superb.



After breakfast, if you still feel worthy, if the heights of excellence attained by your 2 Cats breakfast haven't blown you completely away, roll out onto US Route 1 heading south, and just about lunch time you will be in Waldboro, where really, oh, yes, really, you should pull off the road at Moody's Diner. If 2 Cats is ludicrously delicious, Moody's is insane. You will want to ravage yourself, dress up in a monkey suit, run down the highway shouting, "this is what life is supposed to be like," and then fall down in a heap weeping when you taste that PIE. We set the stage with a CheeLT, (That's a cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.) a bowl of home made corn chowder, and a home made biscuit. Yum.

While we ate, the waitress walked by with a tray of pies for a table of six nearby. She did so casually, not at all telegraphing the superlative bounty she controlled. But we could hear those little slices giggling and singing. They know what they are: fresh, sweet, and made to please from recipes handed down through generations of pride and love.

Maine is a blueberry pie state, not a cherry pie state. Moody's does not bake a cherry pie. So, to honor Maine we ordered the blueberry, and to honor our friend P--also a recent commenter on Jersey Pie, and the painter of our beautiful logo--we ordered lemon meringue. Let's start with the meringue, the perfect, toasted-marshmellow-tan peaks, the white, fluffy, angel-flounce dream waves of sweet whipped fantasy puff, the melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And then, let's move onto the lemon, the vivacious, assertive, easter-yellow sweet and sour counterpoint to the diaphanous paradox that is meringue. Of course, you already know the crust is simple, flour-butter-and-salt perfection.

And now the fruit pie. First we observe that it is juicy. Its juice is running out over the crust onto the plate, the deep, purple-blue life blood of the blueberry is freeing itself exuberantly. There is little or no thickening agent in evidence. (Hello, New Jersey.) And there are scores and scores of the relatively smallish Maine blueberries packed into their perfect crust. It is a FRUIT pie. It is a serving of fruit delightfully presented as pie--how clever!--and we would like to say, thank you. Or, oh?! (interrobang) maybe that is what fruit pie is supposed to be?!

Ah, to sit at the table of a cook whose mission is to nourish your body and delight your senses. Reader, you simply must... every chance you get.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Starbucks

Cheery Cherry Pie $2.09

Cheery .. Cherry .. Pie. It's come to this. We heard about Cheery Cherry Pie in New York and wondered if it was worth checking in Hoboken. Could there be a Jersey Cheery Cherry Pie? Or is this local to NYC? Not at all. Turns out there are Cheery Cherry Pies gracing pastry cases from coast to coast at Starbucks. Yep, you heard it. And here's what Jersey Pie thinks. We think that Starbucks bigwigs are reading Jersey Pie, and, one day at high Starbucks muckety-muck headquarters, the visionaries were gathered together envisioning the next BIG THING, and, of course, at the top of everyone's list was Jersey Pie's quest for the best cherry pie, and they hotly conspired to knock this one out of the park. Then they named it Cheery Cherry Pie.

Okay, so how is it? Simply put, it's a good pie. There. We admitted it. In fact, we find ourselves wanting another one as soon as possible. Did we want it to be good? Sure, well, sort of... well, maybe not. Maybe we wanted it to fit into our tirade about widget food. We have been working on a notion that attention and intention are important ingredients.

But maybe widget food can be good food, too. Starbucks has recently made some decisions about their ingredients with which Jersey Pie approves:
  • No artificial flavors
  • No artificial trans fats
  • No artificial dyes
  • No high-fructose corn syrup
(could it be true?)

In addition to its rainbow-in-the-sky moniker, a Cheery Cherry Pie has cherries, flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), butter (cream [from milk]), sugar, palm oil shortening, water, wheat flour, starch, sugar, apple cider vinegar, whole eggs, sea salt, sodium alginate, calcium sulfate, lemon juice, egg whites.

(Well?)

We had to get another one to help remember the experience. And we didn't regret it. Then the third Cheery Cherry Pie was just as good as the first two. They've overcome the individual pie pitfall of too much crust by folding four corners of a pastry square over the top so the crust doesn't quite go all the way around. Oh, what a clever mega-corp! Believe it or not, it is now Starbucks that is setting the bar for the best cherry pie in New Jersey. Oh, we do hate to say it. But wait! Let's return for a moment to attention and intention.

Let us say that Starbucks has fed us the best TASTING cherry pie in New Jersey. And let us ask, "Is that enough?" Our conscience still has questions about the Cheery Cherry Pie. (Where is it produced? How is it distributed? What is the carbon footprint? How are the workers treated? Where do they get their cherries? How are the cherry pickers treated?) Ever since seeing Food, Inc. we have felt we cannot go in with one hand over our eyes and another hand shoveling cherry pies into our gompers. Before we bestow the blue ribbon, we want to know what our $2.09 is supporting. We want our cherry pie to be truly .. Cheery.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jersey Pie Road Trip 1

Delicious Orchards
320 Route 34 South
Colts Neck, NJ 07722
Cherry Pie: $10.99

Summer at the New Jersey farm stand is shaping up to be a rewarding side trip for us diner diving folks here at Jersey Pie. We drove down from the city to a quaint little farm store named Delicious Orchards, where, we were told, real old fashioned pies were to be found. When we left we actually had an assortment of desserts in addition to a whole cherry pie, which we brought home to share with M. Slices were dealt, followed by nods, grunts and raised eyebrows. The concensus: Now we're getting somewhere! That's a good pie!! What a flaky pastry crust! What tasty, tart cherries! If we had been served this at any diner we'd have called it an unqualified success. But wait, this is supposed to be a farm fresh pie. We've sampled so many (bad ones) that we're not sure of the criteria. This pie... Well, the matrix was a little sweet for our taste. That's not necessarily a complaint, possibly just a personal preference. But we were a little suspicious. We gave Delicious Orchards a call to see if the cherry pie was high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetened. It wasn't. Maybe we are getting paranoid about our food after seeing Food, Inc.. Its pretty scary. Generally we don't go for fear-mongering (unless we can get behind it, we guess), but it's worth checking out. Maybe it's not showing in your neck of the woods, so here are some of the interesting points, in case you don't get around to it.

One likely ingredient in mass-produced pie filling (cherries + goo) is HFCS. That will serve as our cherry pie tie-in. We have been trying to avoid HFCS and partially hydrogenated oil. We heard HFCS is linked to the obesity epidemic, then we heard not, but hey, do we have to eat it? We don't even remember what's wrong with partially hydrogenated oil... free radicals? No, that's us... Anyhoo, we've decided against them. That pretty much rules out the cookie aisle. These days, most processed food contains HFCS. We learned from the movie this is just one of a large fistful of products made from corn, some of which have wormed their way into our cravings through processed foods.

If you should pop high fructose corn syrup into a popular search engine, the first hit will be a delightful little website called Sweet Surprise. This website is the property of the Corn Refiners Association, who also funds the studies that present high fructose corn syrup in a positive light. (That last link will take you to a fun YouTube spoof of other Corn Refiners Association efforts.) Hopefully we will not be slapped with a food libel lawsuit for making fun of the Corn Refiners Association. It cost Oprah a million dollars to work her way out of one of these when she declared on television that she wanted to be sure she wasn't eating Mad Cow Diseased beef.

Defenders of high fructose corn syrup are employing a curious argument. They state that HFCS is no worse than table sugar. We here at Jersey Pie would like to know, is everyone else in America like 12 years old or something? How is that an argument? Those of us who grew up in the 1960s remember Sugar Smacks (mmmm). We also remember a day when, suddenly, folks were not so keen on foods whose first ingredient was sugar. Sugar Smacks was renamed Honey Smacks in the '80s to address this consumer trend, but it still contains more than 50% sugar by weight. So, the score is Kellogg's 2, Consumers 0. We predict the next move in the hide the sugar game will be to stop listing "high fructose corn syrup" and start listing its components: glucose and sucrose. We'll be sure to alert you when we find out!

Just one more corny point we'd like to make before signing off. Agent Orange producer Monsanto engineered some seeds that were resistant to their heavy duty pesticide Round Up. Engineering allows them to patent the seeds. Patented seeds allow Monsanto to sue farmers for patent infringement if pollen from their seeds spread onto crops on neighboring farms. Yup. They are really doing this. The crops Monsanto has engineered include corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola. Buying organic allows you to avoid these genetically engineered, patented foods. Just sayin'.

Our Delicious Orchards cherry pie was not organic but did not have HFCS. What more could we ask? Take a look as we plate our slices while Chip and Flip sing our theme song. Turn up the sound and enjoy.

video

Sunday, June 21, 2009

MinuteMan Family Restaurant, Morristown

990 Mount Kemble Ave.
Morristown, NJ 07960
Small Cherry Pie (for 2): $4.95
Coffee: $1.25

It's funny when you really notice how things happen, how one thing leads to another. Last week's blog entry ended with a vintage New York Times article about a New Jersey Pie Shop robbery. The phrase "jersey pie shop" seemed like a "well, duh" key word search for a blog called Jersey Pie. The "jersey pie shop" key word search did turn up this interesting item: Minuteman Restaurant and Pie Shop.

Add to that, Jersey Pie received its first hate mail this week. An advocate for the Jubilee Park Diner wants to know whether we don't have anything better to do, and why are we so damn cheap (in so many words). So, maybe we were feeling doubly disinclined to return to the Jersey diner-scape. First because the cherry pie sucks, and doubly because now they hate us. Anyhoo, we headed out to the Minuteman where we could pick up a whole, fresh-baked cherry pie if we wanted to, and bring it home to eat with a cup of our own fresh ground coffee.

The Minuteman menu describes the origins of their Country Pie Shop. In a nutshell: they decided to sell pie. They give the sequence in which the different pies became available, first apple, then blueberry, cherry, and pecan. 1979 is when they started selling cherry pie, and that's all we need to know here at Jersey Pie. That's 30 years of baking experience. It's just got to be delicious, doesn't it? We had called ahead to make sure they had a cherry pie. By the time we got there they had sold it (sound of needle scratching across the vinyl). Cancel that vision of us sitting at home eating pie with a steaming mug of homemade brew. They did have a small cherry pie for us though, so we sat under the outsider art in the red-barn motif restaurant, sipped their pretty good cup of decaf, and ate the best cherry pie we have found on our quest. Don't un-follow Jersey Pie yet, though...

When the waitress asked us whether we wanted our pie heated with ice-cream, we consulted on the ice-cream then said "no." She took our meaning so far as the ice-cream goes, but, when, not long after that, we heard a "ding," we knew she had nuked our pie, the last cherry pie in the joint. Our hearts sank. Make no mistake, we ARE recommending the Minuteman cherry pie; it IS the BEST pie we have tasted so far. However, that had to be gleaned through the unfortunate effects of the nuking. The very, very flaky pastry was made soggy and a tad rubbery. The filling was scalding hot. But we ate every bite. Yum. It was delicious. And here's a heads up to all you Jersey diners out there: cherry pie does not have to be full of goo! This cherry pie was juicy, tart, and lightly sweet. Its juices had soaked into the pastry and burbled over the lip of the crust and burned a bit, just a bit, in a good way. As far as the whole mini-pie, small pie concept is concerned, however, Jersey Pie is voting "no." It's just too much crust.

While we were not totally disappointed, we agreed (with the help of some word deconstruction) that perhaps we could not honestly say that we were really "appointed." As we rolled back toward Jersey City over NJ-24 E we reflected on all the pies-sibilities represented by the road signs, the white on green beacons guiding drivers back home, to work, or maybe to cherry pie: Caldwell, Livingston, Chatham, Summit. But those slices will have to wait, for these pie hounds are howling farewell to slices and coffee, at least for the summer. No, we aren't so thin-skinned that we can't take a little hate mail. Jersey Pie will be busy this summer tracking down home-baked, farm-fresh cherry pies from farm stands and blogging about them. Mmmmmmm. Jealous much? And in case you are reading along and haven't recommended your favorite Jersey pie place yet, please chime in! We want to hear from our readers in other states about their cherry pies, too. Send us a comment! We love you all, and we'll be blogging to you soon, direct from a Jersey farm stand.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Legends Diner, Secaucus

130 County Avenue
Secaucus, NJ 07094
Cherry Pie: $2.75
Coffee: $1.15 Fuhgeddaboudit. Best diner coffee in da state. It's not getting any better. Go ahead and drink it black.

Ran out to Home Depot in Secaucus on Wednesday for a new set of house keys. Jersey Pie was literally at a loss on Tuesday due to a traffic court date. But we were victorious. The judge accepted our argument that the Parking Authority should not have been enforcing alternate side parking and handing out parking tickets like tickets to the prom after posting Emergency: No Parking signs all over town. We won the court case but lost the house keys, so it was off to H.D. for new ones. While in Secaucus we reconnoitered Legends Diner.

Legends Diner couldn't possibly be more adorable. It's a classic, gleaming chrome diner with a working clock crowning its glory, and eight blooming rose bushes add their charm to the entry. When we returned for pie on Friday, birds were peeping their sunset song, and we fell right into a diner swoon. Sheer perfection, interrupted only momentarily by an icy blast of AC in the vestibule. Was this a foreshadowing of doom?

It didn't seem so when we ogled the dessert case and were bowled over by their genius solution to the refrigerator burn problem you have heard about so many times here on Jersey Pie. It is so simple, so easy. We looked at it and suddenly all of life's problems seemed solvable. Legends has innovated a system of 4 X 4 inch squares of rigid, clear plastic abutting the exposed edges of all their displayed desserts. Wow! Simply elegant!

Unfortunately, we can't recommend actually eating at Legends Diner. The food was beyond crappy. We think they gave the (chef?) the evening off and let the dishwasher do the cooking. And, they failed to employ their own dessert-butting method to the cherry pie! There was 3/4 C of hardened, tasteless matrix on one edge of our slice, and the rest of it was also nearly inedible in all the old familiar ways. The crust looked like a Cub Scout badge project! They call it Legends because 8 X 10 b&w glossies of celebrities adorn just about every inch of available space in the place. Our booth was surrounded by The Munsters, Gary Cooper, Lynda Carter, Stan Musial, Shirley Temple, Lucille Ball, and Sinatra and Kelly. When we sat down we were cheered by their legendary faces. But as we took one last glance back at them we felt a bit sad, their eyes seeming to say, "Don't leave us like this, don't go...." (Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo notwithstanding). They're hanging there right now, looking down, perplexed. We may go back to see them again and have some of that coffee. Could Legends possibly screw up breakfast?

As possible evidence that New Jersey has a long history of disregard for good pie, we submit verbatim the following item, an article we came across while perusing the archives of the New York Times:

Jersey Pie Shop Robbed
Special to The New York Times
Copyright c. The New York Times

Elizabeth, N.J., Oct. 30, 1958--
Intruders, who apparently worked with a
truck or a car, broke into the Jones Pie Shop
on Route 1 here early today. They carted off
a 200-pound safe, containing $500 in cash,
the police reported. They ignored hundreds
of freshly baked pies.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Versailles Diner, Fairfield

398 US 46
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Cherry Pie, $3.50
Coffee, $1.25

Ode to Fair Plainness


Passion for pie and sensing fruitlessness,
Our New York friend M. crosses the Hudson;
Conspiring with her now to locate bliss
From fruit-filled pies that would win a ribbon,
To Fairfield, New Jersey on 280's
Mass of concrete, through the Caldwells, past Or-
anges, we drive together in Chevy's
Practical, 2001 Prizm for
Thirty minutes, no more, hoping to ease,
At the Versailles Diner (not Versai-eeze!),
A self-inflicted mania for "best."

Who would behold our waitress and ask more
Cleavage, flattery, or wit, must be blind
To simple service, an everyday reward;
Wallflower at the whirling dance of mind,
Rhythm of menu, order, serve us - sleep
Drowsed with the fume of hope pies. A good look
Reveals the virtues of glasses, focal powers,
And time not spent making-up for a beep
From some guy who for all we know's a crook;
Rather: iceberg, chicken, burgers, and coke;
Clockwork, plain, goodness, twenty-four hours.

And the cherry pie, we saw it rotate
(Think not of pie, your dinner is good too,
While French fries, and coleslaw yet grace your plate,
And touch your stubborn chins with greasy hue;
Perhaps it's not for cherry pie you're born
Though dreaming after pie keeps souls aloft
And flaky pastry calls to spirits, "rise!"
Though mouths brim full of cherries cannot mourn,
And songs of sweetness' praises are heard oft,)
And maybe it is "best" that should be scoffed;
That Versailles waitress serves good cherry pies.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nutley Diner, Nutley

372 Centre Street
Nutley, NJ 07110
Pie $ don't know
Coffee $ too much for this so-so cup o' Joe

For those of you just joining us here at Jersey Pie, we offer a quick review of our efforts thus far. After sampling the mediocre cherry pie offered by our local diner we decided to begin a search - chronicled in a blog - for the best cherry pie and coffee in New Jersey. Little did we know we had entered a nightmare world of refrigerator burn, coagulated goo, irascible boogers, high fructose corn syrup, and widget pies. Along the way we did get some pretty good cherry pie at the Bendix Diner (where the crust is too dense), some darn good cherry pie at the Tom Sawyer Diner (where the crust is not quite flaky), and what we think was probably very good cherry pie at the Jubilee Park Diner (where a mop bucket of bleach water overpowered our taste buds.) Six months later, we're still looking for New Jersey's best piece of cherry pie. Which brings us to the self-proclaimed #1 diner in the state.

Jersey Pie
experienced a vision in the parking lot of the Nutley Diner, but it wasn't a vision of pie. It looked more like a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream. Now a lunch of waffles with cherry pie for dessert is not at all sensible, we know; we struggled with the order, but the power of this vision overwhelmed the wisdom of having an omelet, so it was done. In addition we ordered a Swiss, lettuce and tomato on whole wheat toast and an order of waffle fries. Our waitress returned a few minutes after we placed our order to make sure we wanted whipped cream on the waffle. She understood the meaning of our "Yes" with psychic astuteness, for our waffle was served in a veritable helmet of whipped cream. (She knew she was good, and proclaimed it outright, in so many words.) The strawberries were abundant and absolutely fresh, and the waffle was light on the inside and toasty on the outside. If this were a waffle quest, this would be the final, triumphant post of Jersey Waffle. Our other orders were just as fresh and flavorful. The CLT sandwich and fries, for all their simplicity, could not have been better, and, yes, even the ubiquitous slaw was delicious.

So we were encouraged as we sat waiting for our pie and coffee. Maybe the #1 diner in the state was going to knock this one out of the park. But there at the Nutley Diner we were faced with yet another insipid, jejune piece of...pie. A slice so pale, so wan it seemed to have been barely sustained by--weeks?--of refrigeration. And even the coffee had plenty of room for improvement. We ask you, Nutley Diner, "Why, oh why, do you not rotate the pie?" We had so much hope for you, Nutley Diner. Why disappoint us with your inferior pie and coffee?

The pie, the pie, the pie... It seems the odds are stacked against us; at a rate of only three so-so or better slices of cherry pie in twice as many months of searching, is there more going on here than our clever use of the semi-colon? Is this Jersey pie a pie in the sky? Those of you who have been journeying along with us probably aren't even expecting good pie. Isn't that sad? Call us ingenuous ; ) We did believe that this blog would be spent comparing the finer distinctions of a mighty fine dessert. We really did. Since then we've come to know the harsh reality of commercial dining, even of the supposed home-style variety. A reality harsh enough to leave us wondering if our whole endeavor was futile. We felt so alone : (

It was heartening to meet Joe Hill* (or re-meet, as we had heard the Joan Baez song), through this "pie in the sky" phrase, just after asking ourselves (see last week's post) whether industrialization had dulled our senses, dulled our expectations. We won't venture a guess as to whether workers in control of the means of production would bake a better pie. We suspect that the problem of caring, the problem of investing oneself in the task at hand, whether baking a cherry pie or doing any other task, may well remain. How do we respond? The IWW emphasized the primacy of human life and happiness, and their mission was to respond consciously to industrialization. Jersey Pie is simpatico with this. We steadfastly assert that the cherry pie product should be of the highest quality, no matter who produces it, and we will continue to alert the public to purveyors of shoddy pies. Dining establishments, if the pie is not going to be good, do us all a favor and take it off the menu. This is our answer (for now) to our readers, who must by now be asking - as we are asking ourselves - why do we keep ordering cherry pie in New Jersey diners?

____________________________________________________________________

*Joe Hill, the most prolific songwriter of the Wobblies, coined the phrase "pie in the sky" in the early 1900s. Joe was stickin' it to the Salvation Army, suggesting that working folks needed pie here and now, not promises of heaven. Some folks will tell you that it was Joe's insistence on pie for the common man that got him shot full of holes by a firing squad in Utah. You see, Joe was in bed with another man's wife the night two thugs robbed and killed a merchant in the same town. When Joe turned up with a jealous man's bullet in him, the same night as the robbery took place, it looked suspicious. All the united workers of the world, and even President Wilson, couldn't save the 36 year old pie-idealist from the firing squad. His martyred body was taken to Chicago, IWW headquarters, and cremated. His ashes were mailed to IWW locals all over the world, and freed to the winds the following May 1st. Except for one envelope of ashes that was confiscated by the United States postal service and stamped "subversive." These ashes were released from the National Archive to the IWW in the 1980s, and in deference to Abbie Hoffman's prankish vision a portion of them were eaten by Billy Bragg. Jersey Pie's pie clamoring will hopefully not have such a dire outcome. Here's to you, Joe Hill.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Park Wood Diner, Maplewood

1958 Springfield Avenue
Maplewood, NJ 07040
Pie $2.50
Coffee $125

The Park Wood Diner gave us every reason to believe we would get good cherry pie. The chicken soup was good. The salad was fresh. Even the coleslaw was good. The place mats boasted "You'll like our food." A sign on the coffee maker said "God Bless America." We really believed it might happen. The slice we were served was fresh on both edges, which seemed to bode well. But that pie was nothing more than crust on the outside and red stuff on the inside.

It looked like a pie. Yeah, in a court of law it could be proved they had intended to make a cherry pie. They probably have a paper trail - invoices for cherries filed away, a testimonial from a 'baker' ( "I am the baker what make ze pie. Yes. I make ze crust. Also, I fill ze crust wit ze cherries. I swear I do zis.") - just in case in this litigious society someone asks for their day in court. The plaintiffs' discussion with counsel might go something like this:

Jersey Pie: We feel that by implication they were saying that there would be cherries in the pie.
Lawyer: So, are you saying it was a blueberry pie?
Jersey Pie: No, we mean the quality, a thing can't have no quality at all. Could they serve anything beige on the outside and red on the inside as cherry pie?
Lawyer: I think you've got no case, is what I think.

Trader Joe's cherry crumb pie last weekend was not much better. All real ingredients, no preservatives, a little more than 50% crumb. Something slimy happened between the cherries and the crumbs. And sweet. Not HFCS sweet, but sugar sweet. Not good. We are starting to think we can distinguish the flavor of disregard. This Trader Joe's pie carried the taste of the bottom line. And that brings us back to the assembly line. On television this week they're advertising the new Terminator movie. And here we pose a pie-quest inspired philosophical query: Have the machines already won? Is it not so much they might gain a survival instinct and human-like consciousness as they have already dulled our own awareness...of the quality that human care brings to a pie? Rather than rising to our level, have we already fallen to theirs, with questions like: how much filler can I use and still call it pie? How little effort can I apply and still keep my job? How little can I possibly care about what I am doing and still get it done?

It's a dark day for Jersey Pie. It's hard to believe we'll find any reason to carry on with our quest, and yet we continue our search. There are some lights on the horizon. We've heard of an orchard in South Jersey, where folks line up for pie. Seems positively Edenic. Is that what we're really looking for here? A sort of Platonic ideal to feed our souls as much as it stuffs our pie holes? What are we really looking for?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jackson Hole, Englewood

362 Grand Avenue
Englewood, NJ 07631
Pie $3.75
Coffee $1.25
There is no reason to go to another eatery in New Jersey for pie if you can get yourself to Jackson Hole Burgers. (What were they thinking, naming an eating establishment Jackson Hole Burgers? The tiniest migration of syllable stress from bur- to hole brings up so many unfortunate ass-ociations!) But we should say, there is no reason to go to another eatery for pie, unless you want cherry pie. They don't make it. Their blueberry and apple pie are both homemade, and delicious. They serve it gently warmed, seemingly not in a microwave, and with a spritz of whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate that made us wonder at first, but ended up being tasty. Jersey Pie was heard to exclaim with eyes opened wide, "This is so fucking good, why don't they make cherry pie?!" A follow up inquiry made at the cash register confirmed that apple and blueberry are the only fruit pies popular enough to merit home-making. Maybe we'll present them with the results of Jersey Pie's own survey: 3 out of 5 people surveyed prefer cherry pie! ; )

Jackson Hole is an immaculate 50's style boxcar diner, at least in architecture. So clean you could eat off the floor, as they say. The seats sparkle like starlight. The chrome fixtures gleam. The coffee's alright. Breakfast is always on the menu. They even have jukeboxes on every table. Not open 24 hours tho. And, as the name makes clear, the emphasis is on the burgers, 7oz's cooked on the grill right before your eyes. Vegetarians beware; they'll test your moxie. Check out the Jackson Hole menu, and post a comment letting us know whether you think it's a diner menu. New Jersey Diners.com loosely defines a diner as a place that serves coffee, has a counter, is open 24 hours with their entire menu available, has a neon sign, and has jukeboxes. Jackson Hole has most of this. But it's a chain. Being a chain puts it into the Denny's/IHOP category, according to Diners.com, where it doesn't seem to belong, either. Jersey Pie doesn't mind Jackson Hole's ambiguous detailia, but lacking cherry pie, we cannot end our quest here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't Try This at Home

Practically every week we walk by a table full of "fresh pies" while marketing at our local grocery store. On many occasions we have stopped and remarked about the beautiful-looking cherry pies that are stacked there in neat rows, wondering, "Could this be one of Jersey's best pies?" But, inevitably, we walk away after reading the product information sticker. These pies have an ingredient list straight out of the chemistry lab. So were we cockeyed when we decided to pick one up and bring it home last week? Maybe. Or maybe we just decided - hey, let's give it a chance; it looks good, maybe we'll like it. So we gave it a chance.

An hour or so after dinner we brewed up some decaf and cut into the pie. It performed well at first. The filling flowed when the first slice was removed, and the crust flaked. We were actually hopeful as we hoisted our forks. Wish we knew how to spell "ohhh!" the way Paulie Walnuts said it when he found out Vito Spatafore was gay. Pretty much our reaction when that pie hit our taste buds. We were expecting fruits! But what we got was a WALL of sweetness, absolutely impenetrable; we could not get past it. This immediately put our previous pie experiences into perspective. Never had we encountered a flavor so one-dimensional. And there were six cherries in a slice. Not tart, not fruity, just some sort of shriveled, pulpy things, more like ghosts of cherries.

We know the ingredients a cherry pie should have: cherries, flour, sugar, shortening/butter, cornstarch/tapioca, water, salt, lemon juice, almond/vanilla extract (optional), food coloring (optional). We also understand that any baked pie will only remain fresh for so long, and that one must consider this when determining how long a pie can remain tasty. (Recently one half of JP was treated to a delicious pie purchased at a small bakery run by Mennonites in the Deep South. It maintained its taste and integrity - covered, at room temperature - for over three days.) Commercially made pies are clearly all about the science of shelf life. Not really FrankenPies, because the experimentation has all been done, these are the widget pies we have referred to before. Or, maybe the experiment is still under way, and all of us who eat widget foods are the subjects, Frankensumers.

One of the curious things about a ShopRite cherry pie is that the ingredients list falls 50% under the category "MAY CONTAIN." Do you remember Mystery Meat from your school cafeteria days? This is a bit of a Mystery Dessert.

A ShopRite cherry pie MAY CONTAIN: eggs, water, sucrose, corn syrup, pectin, citric acid, artificial flavor, carrageenan, sodium phosphate, sodium metabisulfate, paprika, casein, disodium phosphate, soy lecithin, spices, coloring, sugar, molasses, sorbic acid, sulfiting agents, agar.

A ShopRite cherry pie contains 2% or less of: salt, dextrose, yeast, citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, potassium sorbate, soy flour, eggs, nonfat milk, sodium propionate.

A ShopRite cherry pie contains 2% or more of: cherries, wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, water, palm oil, soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, mono and diglycerides, bleached wheat flour with malted barley, corn syrup, modified corn starch, sugar.

Let's be clear. New Jersey's best cherry pie does not come from ShopRite in Hoboken. Now we were expecting chemicals, because we understand shelf life theory. But, that pie lied about its sweetness, too. Its high fructose corn syrup covered up a dearth of flavor the way a heavy perfume might, or might not, hide the stench of death. It was monstrous, and we wouldn't be at all surprised if one night we and our fellow villagers form an angry mob and descend on ShopRite, armed with torches and pitchforks, demanding the monster be destroyed - or at least a better pie.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jubilee Park Diner, Clifton

913 Allwood Road
Clifton, New Jersey 07012
Pie, $2.59

10:45 PM; Head for the car, still smelling chlorine. Is it in our hair? Unbelievable.
10:44; At register; pay $11.29 tab. Question: "What time do you usually close?" Answer: "11. 11:30"
10:43; Leave a $2 tip.
10:42; Lights go out on the grab-a-toy game in the entry.
10:41; Dude in white makes 3rd pass by our table with the mop. Exchange glances. Set down forks.
10:40:03; Dude in white makes 2nd pass by our table with the mop ......... Chewing. Breathing. Tense. Swallow.
10:40; "Jesus, he's coming again."
10:39; Eating pie now, breathing through the mouth, so you can't smell the chlorine. Can't taste the pie. "Try breathing through one nostril."
10:38:26; Dude with a mop makes first pass by our table.
10:38:19; Dude with a mop bursts out of the kitchen.
10:38:10; Odor of chlorine. Eyes lock. Oh no! Oh, yes. No way! Yes. Way.
10:38; "This crust is actually flakey. It's really pastry!" Unbelievable!
10:37:57; "It's delicious!"
10:37:55; "The matrix isn't gelatinous!" "Look how it's flowing into the plate."
10:37:51; "No thanks; we'll do without."
10:37:50; Question: "Do you have our coffee?" Answer: "Oh, sorry about that. I can make some in about five minutes."
10:37:46; Thinking about coffee. "Mmmmm. Tasty."
10:37:43; "Look at this plump little cherry!"
10:37; Pie is set before us. Two clean forks. Beautiful. ........no coffee.
10:36: Question: "Are you ready for your pie?" Answer: "Yes! We are ready for pie!"
10:35:03; Waitress: "If I had to win that at an arcade it would have cost me a fortune."
10:35; Jersey Pie: "That's a nice elephant!"
10:34; Pushing eggs and potatoes around the plate, dreaming of pie.
10:33; Guy who was counting the money is working the claw-toy machine for the waitress.
10:27; Food arrives. Eggs look good, bodes well for the pie.
10:25; Guy at the cash register starts counting the till.
10:22:03; "Okay, this is serious now: we're working." Look around. Observation: A scarebunny is hanging over the counter. (A scarebunny is a cross between the easter bunny and a scarecrow.)
10:22:01; Question: "Do you have cherry pie?" Answer: "Yes, we do."
10:22; Order eggs and coffee.
10:19; "After all, how could a diner called 'Jubilee' not have cherry pie?"
10:18:50; Walk into the diner, look around. Rows of empty banquettes. It's dead. Silent man at cash register and lone doe-y waitress. Menus slide across the formica.
10:17; "Yes. They are open. Come on."
10:16; One goes inside. Question: "Are you open?" Answer: "Yes, we're open."
10:15; Pull into the parking lot of a dimly lit Jubilee Park Diner. The last patrons are getting into their car to leave. Question: "Do you think they're open?" Answer: "No, I don't think they're open."
10:14; Looking around; driving on the wrong side of Bloomfield Ave! "Look! There's the sign! Jubilee Diner!"
9:58-10:13; Creeping toward Clifton like it's rush hour or something. Unbelievable.
9:48:01-9:58; Traffic.....................................................There's E. Rutherford.
9:48;"Fuck."
9:36-9:47; Wheeling through the night down highways and highways and highways; talking.
9:35; "I know how to get to that diner, the one we were going to go to if we went to the movie in Clifton." "Let's do it"
9:30-9:35; Talking about Adventureland.
9:30; Leave "Adventureland."
7:20; "Yes. I do intend to eat the pizza, eat popcorn, AND go out for pie after the movie."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holsten's, Bloomfield

1063 Broad Street
Bloomfield, NJ

We have heard that too much analysis of something good robs it of its sweetness. This will be short. And we shall whisper, in case that helps. Come close.

After finding the Moltisanti connection to the V.I.P. Diner, we dared to look into the location for the filming of perhaps the best five minutes in the history of television, the final scene of The Sopranos. You know, sometimes a t.v. final episode hits you like the loss of a loved one - MASH, the Carol Burnett show, Seinfeld. Anyway, we found the location, Holsten's, and not only was the place real (as opposed to a set) and local, but its menu listed Homemade Pies, not to mention Homemade Ice Cream and Homemade Candy. Something so special just had to be shared. We got in touch with M. on Facebook. She had just posted in her status that she was "compartmentalizing." We posted that we had something for the compartment we have come to call her pie-hole. We kept it a secret all the way to Holsten's.

David Chase, who grew up in Clifton and North Caldwell, may have had fond childhood memories of Holsten's. If so, we are left all a-wonder that when he scouted the location in February of 2007 he ordered onion rings. When Tony ordered them in the final scene he called them the "best in the state." That is probably not true. The onion rings are bought frozen, not homemade like the sweet things that Holsten's serves.

On that special day, everything unfolded like destiny. We picked up M. at the train station, easily found our way to Bloomfield, and (!) parallel parked right across the street from Holsten's. We were greeted at the door by the Easter Bunny. (We know, it sounds like Jersey Pie is hallucinating; that is how - hush now, whisper - special it was.) We opened the door to the smell of homemade chocolate.

Very little was changed for the Soprano's shoot, and we felt like we were walking right into that transfixing Sunday evening screen. But the little jukeboxes were props, and we happen to know that the Russian-mob-looking dude went into the Ladies Room.

It was wonderful to be there.

And although they did not have cherry pie, and never do, they did put maraschino cherries on our banana split and sundaes. The ice cream was freshly made. And we hope you have had, and will often have, something so truly good. [Cut to black.]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Royal Cliffs DINE(R) RESTAURANT, Englewood Cliffs

717 E Pallisade Ave. (Corner of Sylvan)
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
Cherry Pie, $3.75
Coffee, $1.50

Whether you have been hoping for it, or hoping against it, George Washington has arrived at Jersey Pie. He has arrived in an odd way: running away from Cornwallis along the part of the palisades that is now Englewood Cliffs. Historians will tell you he was running away as a stroke of strategic genius. However, Jersey Pie happens to know that in 1808, a historian of particular interest, Parson Mason L. Weems could tell a lie. To add interest to a boring childhood he invented a story of young George Washington confessing to his father that he had cut down a cherry tree, rather than tell a lie.

Ah, cherry pie. Now we eat cherry pies to celebrate Washington's birthday, and to honor his honesty. To honor the particular slice of history we recall with our visit to Englewood Cliffs, we also have the George Washington Bridge connecting our palisades to upper Manhattan. Lo, these many years ago, a simple farmer ran with all his might, over the tops of the palisades, on a moonlit night, to tell our George, "Cornwallis is near," (so that he might run away in fear.) Well, it turns out that farmer had a cherry orchard he wanted to protect, AND that his name was WEEMS! (Lie.)

We decided to write our own history and ride along the tops of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge to watch the moon rise over the Hudson from the Greenbrook Sanctuary. It was on our way home, (actually it was on our way there, but it sounds better this way) that we spied a sign: Royal Cliffs DINE RESTAURANT. More inspiration.

Close inspection of the sign revealed that there had once been an "R" at the end of DINE. Could the "R" have fallen off? On both sides of the sign??? Maybe when the Englewood Cliffs part of Sylvan Avenue won the nickname "Trillion Dollar Mile" somebody thought they had better class up the joint? Is that when they found the audacity to charge $3.75 for pie? CNBC, Lipton, and Unilever are just a few of the mega-rich, well manicured corporations headquartered on Sylvan. As a result of its mega-wealthy residents, Englewood Cliffs enjoys prestigious Bergen County's lowest (lies are honest, fleeing is bridge-worthy) property taxes! Well, bully for them! Is Sylvan Avenue a "trillion dollar mile?" Or just a road through the trees above the Hudson?

Now you've got us fired up, Englewood Cliffs. And your Royal Cliffs DINE(R) RESTAURANT is going to pay. Because - NO, THEY DID NOT! Well, yes, they did. They committed the most shameful, egregious pie sin in the long history (it's short, but long sounds better) of Jersey Pie. What could be so bad, you ask? What could be so bad?

The Royal Cliffs pie case was right there for Jersey Pie to see. Right there before our moon dazzled eyes was the holy grail of our search: a whole pie. But wait, what have they done? No, it cannot be. Yes, they have cut into that pie, and lifted out the first piece onto a plate. They have exposed one, two, Three, FOUR! edges of virgin pie to the evils of refrigeration. Oh, unnecessarily cutting a virgin pie is bad, you say, but surely they will not serve that piece of pie?! Yes. They did.

Truth. What is it? We all think we know - or guess we know. Parson Weems may have been a mystic seer warning us of our future: terrible things will be done to the truth in the guise of American goodness. Look what's been done to cherry pie for appearance sake. We guess that there are degrees of truth. You can display cherry pie on a plate in the fridge, and it may appear wonderful, but when it comes to the best cherry pie, we think freshness is essential. As soon as a pie comes out of the oven it begins to fade. To the degree that its original qualities are unimpaired it is considered fresh. Refrigeration slows the process and creates refrigerated cherry pie. Another thing entirely. Warming is supposed to refresh it.

The truth is we have to find ways to re-fresh the truth, because it's decaying all around us. We have to make adjustments. At the time of ordering, just in case this nasty slice should be forthcoming from the case, we cleverly changed our order from one slice to two, with coffee, of course. We do admit to having nearly finished that second piece of pie. There were aspects of it that whispered to us of its faded goodness. But what we wanted was that first slice of cherry pie, not the refrigerated one, the fresh one, the one they teased us with. It's out there ... good cherry pie. Don't stop believing.

(We brought home that illustrative first piece to share it with you, for the edifying value it may possess in the absence of its ability to please the senses.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The All New V.I.P. Diner, Jersey City

175 Sip Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
Cherry Pie, $2.29
Coffee, $1.12

Jersey Pie, purveyor of innocent, tongue-in-cheek Americana, has recently been confronted with a predicament which has kept us off line. Perhaps lightly invoking the Buddhists in our last post landed us in this existential dilemmna. What to do when cherry pie meets true darkness? Really. True Darkness. For our last slice of cherry pie was eaten at the purported location of the planning of the attack on the World Trade Center. And, as it would happen, half of Jersey Pie was literally under the World Trade Center during the attack. Small World, where innocence must muscle in amidst layers of disregard, loathing, and outright murderous hatred. Jersey Pie's position on the matter? Hatred cannot rob us of Joy.

Turns out one of America's most hated criminals, Mohammad Atta, spent time coordinating the World Trade Center attacks at the V.I.P. Diner, corner of Sip and Tonnelle Aves. Don't take our word for it, read about it in the New York Times. The other criminal we know to have visited the V.I.P. was of our preferred fantastic, cathartic variety. Christopher Moltisanti and Julianna Skiff ate at the V.I.P. after having sex in his car parked outside the diner in episode 612 of the Sopranos. We're sure the friend who recommended the V.I.P. did not know of its fiendish past, and there's really no reason to implicate the diner, but upon hearing this slithery, vile news, Jersey Pie began to project a rather cinematic version of the place.

We envisioned the V.I.P. like a scene from a 1930s gangster movie, or better yet Reefer Madness. Fade to black and white under a crippled Pulaski Skyway. Cue dark, relentless rain. The characters are sneering, grinding their pointy teeth between mouthfuls of food, mad eyes rolling wildly. (In the cartoon version hookha smoking cockroaches die and then decay in the booths, turning to dust that is sucked into the lungs of mafioso, who then, maliciously, shoot randomly into the crowd.) Not at all. The V.I.P. Diner seems perfectly innocent, its brightly lit sign glowing under a wide New Jersey sky. Inside, the restaurant is clean and free of odious characters. Etched into the full-length mirror on the south wall of the dining room is the New York City skyline, the twin towers standing proudly on the right-hand side. (We have tried without luck to determine when "All New" was added to the name.)

We entered the premises with senses highly attuned, not only to the notorious history of the place, but because of our memorable pie victory at the Tom Sawyer and a recent foible at another diner, the Skyline Diner in Ringwood, which reminded us to mind our expectations. Ringwood's Skyline had stumbled into many of the familiar diner snares: the bent fork, the pork fat in the homefries, the "yes, we do have cherry pie. Oh, sorry that was blueberry." At the V.I.P. our waitress took our order for two slices of cherry pie, and came back with the news that there was only one slice left. "That's OK, we'll share." And then it came.

Our fork tines cautiously probed the exposed side and drew up one cherry - THWUCK! That cherry snapped back to its place, held fast by elasticized pie matrix, an irascible booger. Whereas it is usually an honor to deflower a cherry slice by taking her point, there was in this case instead some Bart Simpsonian squabble. "You eat the point." "No, You." "No. YOU." We made no progress that way, and so removed the point to the rim of the dessert plate and carried on with a count of remaining internal cherries: 19. Sounds like a lot, but hardly enough for these pieheads, and the cherries were totally flavorless. The crust, well, more than ever you could say that we were right there in the thick of it - shortbread, not pastry, its only merit being that it was clearly made on site. Did we finish it? No. In fact, we tried the chocolate mousse. Sadly, we'd have to rate this piece of cherry pie a big fat zero.

Beware the last slice of V.I.P. Diner cherry pie. Is it a pie, or an insidious plot against that bit of Americana we love? New Jersey, your cherry pie threat level has gone up from yellow to blue - "significant risk of unacceptable cherry pie." And remember: If you see something, say something.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tom Sawyer Diner, Paramus

98 East Ridgewood Ave.
Paramus, NJ 07652
Cherry Pie, $3.29
Legendary Coffee, $1.49

Lunch was six dollars and thirty one cents at the Lamplighter Inn. That's on Highway 2 near Lewis Fork. That was a tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat, a slice of cherry pie, and a cup of coffee. Damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way that cherry pie is worth a stop.
-- FBI Special Agent Dale B. Cooper
Twin Peaks Pilot Episode

It was good. It was Special-Agent-Dale-Bartholomew-Cooper good.

We nearly duplicated that meal. A shrimp salad sandwich on whole wheat, a slice of cherry pie, and a cup of coffee. Add to that one Swiss, lettuce and tomato with a side of fries, and imagine it all on classy, modern, white china against a rich, cherry-wood table. Yum, yum, yum. But don't stop there. The whole scene is brilliantly lit with indirect lighting, and the wait staff is as peppy and pleasing as the cast of a high school musical. They are all costumed in powder-blue, three-button polo tops with an embroidered homage to their "legendary" cup of coffee right over each and every one of their hearts. Jersey Pie has no argument with the descriptor "legendary," as it reads on their menu. It was damn good coffee.

It's always darkest before the dawn. About an hour before we had our first Agent-Cooper-worthy slice of cherry pie we were stuck in a clover-leaf maze composed of on-ramps and u-turns connecting Interstate 80, Highway 46, and Route 23 in a clusterfuck of ins and outs circling Totowa. There was yelling. Google maps, schmoogle maps. While not really pie related, there is a Jersey tie-in here, as the sign that once pointed to Totowa (an important point along our indirect route to Paramus) was lying in the middle of a grassy field on its side just looking pathetic. New Jersey is famous for its illegible traffic signs that come along just past the turn-off they were supposed to indicate. But that was the darkness.

The Tom Sawyer Diner's cherry pie was the dawn. Our waiter presented our one slice to share with an apology for the broken crust, but we were already exclaiming over the explosion of cherries bursting their bounds and tumbling joyously over themselves. Just the right sweetness--not, too. Just the right tartness--bringing the palate to attention. Fruit to matrix ratio--best yet. Crust--if not properly flaky, at least light. Okay, we're holding out for better here. We think there might be a fresher, fruitier, flakier cherry pie out there, but that's only because the Tom Sawyer Diner has given us hope again. And we are sure that the next time the Tom Sawyer serves a slice of pie they will bring a fresh fork to enjoy it with. Cherry pie should never be eaten with a shrimp salad fork.

We asked our waiter if the placemat's claim of baking on the premises were true for this cherry pie. He proudly informed us that they have a small selection of desserts precisely because they do prepare them all, and turn them over every 24 to 48 hours. The Tom Sawyer is committed to customer satisfaction. However, when we expressed our satisfaction to the owner and manager, importantly stating the fact that we are "pie reviewers," he seemed puzzled. What, after all, is it in the cherry pie that merits such careful attention? Like Agent Cooper, Jersey Pie finds itself turning to the Buddhists for clarification.

If you ask the cloud, “How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?” you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean’s surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into healthy soil and the soil into cherry trees and the cherry trees into blossoms, the blossoms into cherries and then into the cherry pie you eat. Today if you eat a piece of cherry pie, give yourself time to look at the pie and say:

“Hello, cloud! I recognize you.”


--Thich Nhat Hanh

Hope that helps. Reader, if you ever get up to Paramus, that cherry pie is worth a stop.

video

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Candlewyck Diner, East Rutherford

179 Patterson Ave.
East Rutherford, New Jersey, 07073
Cherry Pie, $3.50
Coffee, $1.50

The Candlewyck Diner may have heard that going green is a hot trend. They have a new green! carpet, green! fabric wall covering, green! upholstered seats, and green! window shades. And when the light there catches the patrons just right, they too seem to boast a greenish hue. Or was that an unfortunate reaction to the pie?

We rolled into the Candlewyck parking lot about 2:30 on Sunday just as the after-church crowd was sitting down to eat. The Candlewyck was just down the road from the Williams Center Cinema in Rutherford, one of the few places this side of the Hudson where Milk was showing. We were immediately fond of the church crowd. As we perused our menus a large group of well-dressed diners picked apart a cheesecake available at a local bakery. The one who was doing most of the talking said that it was almost as good his mother's. One of their party missed her mussels but was assured by the waiter that her plate had been enhanced by an extra stuffed clam and an extra shrimp. She looked skeptical, but we found it reassuring that in a Rutherford Diner with so much damn green!, at least one patron trusted the seafood. Another woman at their table, the one having hot chocolate instead of a meal, looked the happiest in the whole restaurant.

We needed to eat, so we set our menus down and ordered burgers. We weren't surprised; it was an average diner meal. The veggie burger was expected to be disappointing, because it seems like everyone is serving those frozen-veggies-mushed-together kinds of burgers instead of the multi-grain patties that we prefer. And if this were a turkey burger blog we'd be explaining how the delicate seasoning of this one more than made up for the deadbeat veggie burger. But this, dear reader, is a pie blog. New Jersey, correct your pie!

It seems so very little to ask that a slice of cherry pie should have a minimum of one measly cherry per bite. But this pie could barely be called cherry. Bite after bite of this particularly miserable slice had matrix, but no cherry. Forkful after forkful yielded only refrigerator thickened goo balanced on the brink of our tines, and was rejected - splat! - on the side of the plate. The crust, we admitted, might once, long ago have been flaky, and somehow, miraculously, it did not carry the taste of the refrigerator that had burned the edges of the filling. The occasional cherry was adequate - firm enough and fairly tart, but we had to dissect and probe to find it. By the time we were done the pie plate looked more like an autopsy scene than fodder for a decent pie blog. Yeah, the coffee was alright.

As we picked apart our own dessert a couple we identified as us in forty years was seated at the table behind us. We had the curious feeling of being observed by ourselves from the future. Were we still out here looking for a good piece of cherry pie? (Fade in Twilight Zone theme.) There is a mystical notion that the application of attention is all that is needed to resolve a problem, no matter how deep, no matter how long the problem has been allowed to fester in the shadows of inattention. It remains to be seen whether our future selves represent an acceptance of jersey pie, or a steady determination to right an outrageous wrong, in the PieLight Zone.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Frozen Monkey Cafe, Hoboken

526 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030
Cherry Pie, $3.95
Coffee, $1.75

It was Valentine's Day, and we had just finished our massages at Ravinder's Day Spa in Hoboken. Walking around semi-dazed and hungry in the brisk afternoon air we wondered where we could get a bite to eat, maybe sample another piece of Jersey pie. And then it occurred to us, didn't our friend, M, say that the Frozen Monkey Cafe offered fantastic pie imported from Little Pie Company in New York? Yes, and we're blocks away.

Oh, really? Little Pie Company Pie? Really? Really?! Well, not any more. Jersey Pie learned that The Little Pie Company raised their pie prices making it untenable for a frozen monkey to carry them across the mighty Hudson. And we thought we had the pie scoop of the millennium. Bendix Diner Outshines the Little Pie Company! "Read all about it!" Not so fast there Jersey Pie. That's no Little Pie Company pie.

Well, thank goodness it wasn't. We have heard wonderful things about Little Pie Company pies. This slice of pie fell far short of our admittedly amateur expectations. But, first the good news. We definitely saw our first flake at the Frozen Monkey Cafe, and it wasn't our waitress. While we would not describe the crust as a proper flaky pastry, it did have some flakiness to it. The cherries were tasty, and the matrix was not overly coagulated. And the pie was served with a delightful side spritz of whipped cream, an unexpected delight. Both the caf and the decaf were acceptable cups of joe to boot.

The Frozen Monkey Cafe is aching to be cool. We should know, having put in many years striving in this very same endeavor. It has a crazy mash-up of styles - with a Victorian tin ceiling and furnishings from the 50s and 60s to 70's era dinnerware and a bar with kitschy bamboo tiki details. The clientèle is young(ish) and informal too, which probably explains why we had to ask for sugar and didn't get napkins or water. Ah, so what. After our relaxing couples massage do you think we were lookin' for a fight?

Now the bad news. Did we find New Jersey's best piece of cherry pie at the Frozen Monkey? Really? Really! No. We did not.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tops Diner, Harrison

500 Passaic Avenue
Harrison, New Jersey 07029
Mini Pie $2.95
Coffee $2.00

Blog fodder. We thought we coined this term in the parking lot of Tops Diner. "Well, at least it was blog fodder." Ha ha ha ha ha. "Blog fodder" turns out not to be an original contribution, but we feel that if we maintain our focus on the strikingly mediocre blog topic of New Jersey's diner cherry pies we will keep up a competitive distance from possible encroachers. If the competition heats up too much, look for our future blog: Jersey Corn on the Cob.

Tops Diner, located at the tri-corner of Kearny, Harrison, and East Newark, is very popular on a Friday night. Diners willing to make the 25 minute wait were packed tight into the small hostess station at the entrance. Sitting, as we were, at a table facing the doors, we felt like cheap scarves at a discount retailer at 4 am on black Friday. Happy to say we weren't trampled. You will note in the price of their decent cup of coffee a certain willingness to take advantage of their popularity. No diner, even in the second millennium, should have the gall to charge 2 dollars for a cup of coffee.

Realizing we may be hard pressed to find cherry pie at a local eatery every week we began to think about pies in general. Hereafter it shouldn't surprise you if we dissect other pies. Turns out Tops did have cherry pie, but we'd recently seen the movie Waitress (she works at a pie diner), so we decided to try a dinner pie: Chicken Pot. Interesting. Did we note an exotic touch of curry? And then there was the crust...

We are learning a lot about crust. From the beginning we were put off by the crusts of all the pies we encountered. We were expecting flaky crusts but found always dense, heavy, shiny packages for our cherries. We feel vindicated by this sentence from ABOUT FORMING A COVERED FRUIT PIE in the venerable Joy: Crusts for covered fruit pies must (emphasis ours) be made with a flaky pastry dough. (Grandmother's flaky pastry dough recipe can be found in the comments of the Malibu Diner post.) Flaky. Pastry. Dough. For weeks we have known we have not been eating flakes. Come to find out, we have not been eating pastry! For anyone in the dark as we were, who might have taken their definition of "pastry" deductively from what they had found in a "pastry shop," pastry, by definition, is flaky. There are other crusts. There are other doughs, to be sure. But pastry crust is flaky, and cherry pies are meant to be made with pastry crusts. More on the dinner pie's crust in a minute.

Tops Diner serves a cherry mini pie. It has a pretty lattice top, the first we have encountered. We believe we are eating a "shortbread crust," a crust well suited to a cream pie. OK - it was not a flaky pastry crust, but Tops crust gets our blue ribbon. It is fresh, toothsome, and if not flaky, at least it is crumbly. And it is topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, which we like better than the egg white glaze.

We would advise eating the crust and asking for your check. Because all the merits of the crust are more than made up for by the shortcomings of the filling. The cherries are flavorless, not overly sweet, but also lacking in tartness. We spooned a shiny, gelatinous hillock of artificially flavored and colored filling matrix onto the side of our plate. Blech. Pure blog fodder. One might try sneaking some Bendix cherry pie filling into a Tops crust, but we think we would sooner return to the Bendix diner for their still shining example of cherry pie.

As for the dinner pie. The chicken pot pie. The crust. Wait for it.... Flaky, puff pastry. Would have preferred a denser, more hearty... well, you see the irony.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bendix Diner, Hasbrouck Heights

Rte 17 and Williams Road
Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
Pie, $2.90
Coffee, $1.60

The Bendix Diner
has the best cherry pie we have tasted so far. Sweet, tart, ruby red cherries, and a crust that settles once and for all that this dense, heavy pastry is a style, not some disregard for good taste. Now it is certain that we are not eating the same pie again and again. This pie showed handiwork: uneven fork tine impressions, and irregularities in the thickness of the crust. It almost seemed as if the rolling pin method had been eschewed for hand shaping. This crust, though there was too much of it for our taste, and too much of it to finish, tasted like good, familiar ingredients: flour, shortening, salt. A neon sign that was not fired up for our afternoon visit, declared "good coffee." We had no argument with the sign.

The Bendix Diner was manufactured in 1947 by Master Diners in Pequannock, New Jersey. We are sure it has been cleaned since then, but suspect it boasts original flooring, stools, displays, and dispensers. On this wintry, inaugural Tuesday, snow is melting off the roof and dripping onto towels lining the interior windowsills. There was a friendly diner banter underway, half in English, half in Espanol, among the blue collar clientèle, and at one odd moment someone behind us started doing an impression of a pig, and an overweight man with an eczematous neck, sitting alone in a booth across the diner, began replying with his own pig impression. We don't know whether the two knew each other.

Our Miss America experience taught us to call ahead for pie. The Brownstone Diner, Frozen Monkey Cafe, Carlos Bakery, Red Hawk Diner, and Tops Diner are not serving cherry pie today. (The Red Hawk Diner's recorded message announces that the only thing on the menu today is an egg salad sandwich.) The friendly woman who picked up the phone at Bendix Diner answered yes they have cherry pie in a tone that seemed to say, silly, of course we have cherry pie. We asked if it was good, again, she said yes. And Jersey Pie agrees.