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. 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.
9:36-9:47; 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.)