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