Sunday, March 20, 2011

Foreign Correspondent: Urban Gastronomy

As 2011 has been declared "the year of the pie" Jersey Pie has expanded operations. In addition to seeking out the best pie available to us in our home environs and posting our observations we will, whenever possible, submit reports on all things pie from correspondents outside of Jersey for your amusement and edification. First up, The Big Apple.

Urban Gastronomy for Jersey Pie

It was a cold February night, the type where most people cozy up next to a fire with a well made Manhattan or a neat pour of fine Scotch. All right, okay. I see what you might be thinking. Maybe most people don’t do that, but if I had a fireplace I surely would. But, I don’t. And I had a mission.

My mission was to eat pie at one of two places recently raved about in "Move over, cupcakes: Pie is the hot new dessert trend"--the very same article in the New Jersey Record that featured Jersey Pie. This was a most delicious mission indeed.

I should be honest about something before we go any further. Until recently, I wasn’t really that into pie. And still, given a choice, I’ll go for the molten chocolate cake or an after-dinner cocktail instead. So, I don’t have the connoisseur qualifications of our friends at Jersey Pie. But, that said, I do enjoy a good dessert.

So, on that frigid eve, I stood ogling the menu at momofuku milk bar with LP. We had decided to have pie before we had dinner at ssäm bar. Why not? We were celebrating LP’s birthday, and if you can’t have dessert before birthday dinner when can you?

The menu did not offer a traditional selection—no apple, cherry or lemon custard to behold. But, there was a slice that I suspected would satisfy even a staunch chocolateer like myself--candy bar pie! Chocolate crust, caramel, peanut butter nougat, pretzels--the words called to me like sirens on dessert seas!

I took a moment to quiz the gentleman at the counter. There are no actual store-bought candy bars in that pie, are there? I’m sure my question was annoying, but I’m that kind of girl. Food merchants all over town find me slightly exasperating because of my questions (e.g., Does that oat scone contain any whole grain flour? Is the chai latte made with a pre-sweetened mix or is it real tea with steamed milk and honey?) No apologies! An urban gastronomer has to have her standards.

The counter man at momofuku milk bar assured me that all parts of the candy bar pie were house made. So, I ordered it with glee (which is not to say that I sang about it, but rather that I ordered with a joyful heart--candy bar pie!).

LP chose their trademarked crack pie with a ‘toasted oat crust’ and ‘gooey butter filling’ because who, really, can refuse trademarked crack? Who?

We awaited pie with great anticipation. I envisioned a radically decadent yet elegant slice, carefully lifted from the pie plate and artfully arranged so its buttery insides ooze here and there over that dark chocolaty crust. What a surprise it was when the counter man deftly handed me a little cardboard envelope.

Momofuko pie is not your traditional fruit slice. It has a modern sensibility about it--portable pie for an on-the-go world. This is pie you can eat walking down the street while updating your FB status on your smart phone. I sighed. The part of me that likes pie is nostalgic. I wanted that fresh out-of-the-oven feeling. But, I put it aside. Pie can come in all kinds of packages and still be delicious, right?

Well, maybe... The crack pie was reminiscent of dulche de leche, but unlike its name suggested, we were neither high nor crazy about getting the next slice. If you'd like to try making it at home, the recipe is available on Epicurious.

The candy bar pie was achingly sweet. Three small bites, and I was done, but I do have a low sugar tolerance. A study of the label revealed a long complicated list of ingredients... way too many for pie! But I did finish the slice, bite by bite over the next four days…

Whether you venture to momofuko milk bar should depend upon your taste. If you are a die-hard pie traditionalist, then my friend, it is not for you. If you like your desserts super sweet and also want the flexibility to eat pie on the go, well this is your spot!

Monday, January 31, 2011

National Pie Day, 2011

In case you are new to Jersey Pie, The Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, NJ came out on top in our year-plus long search for the best cherry pie in New Jersey, which evolved into a search for a tolerable slice of cherry pie in a Northeast Jersey diner. It was our intention to keep Jersey Pie alive by continuing to search for good food and desserts in this neck of the woods, but our momentum slowed, and we haven't made any new entries in almost a year.

Turns out our efforts did not go unnoticed. Kara Yorio, staff writer at The Record, contacted us as she was preparing her article on the American resurgence of interest in pie, and she graciously included our thoughts in the recently published article Move over cupcakes: Pie is the hot new pastry trend. Reading her article we learned a few new things. Did you know of the American Pie Council? Are you aware that Sunday, January 23rd was National Pie Day? We admit we were tickled pink by our recent notoriety, and we decided to celebrate NPD at the Tick Tock, because their winning cherry pie was truly tasty.

That night, a crisp January night under a waning Ice Moon, the Tick Tock was quiet at 5:30 p.m. So quiet that we went unnoticed by our waitress for quite some time; time which we used to consider whether National Pie Day celebrated all pies, dessert pies, or possibly even only fruit pies. We later downloaded our 2011 National Pie Day poster from the American Pie Council. The poster pie is not a common man's pie, and we ventured a guess that it was a dessert pie, but not a fruit, and might be Chess. "Is that a raisin?" Jersey Pie queried. "It doesn’t matter if it’s Apple, Cherry or Chocolate Cream. It makes the time we spend together, just a little sweeter," the poster says. The savory pies, it seems, are excluded. Sorry chicken pot.

We ordered light, and let our waitress know we were saving room for dessert, which she took in stride. After soup and a sandwich, when we said we were interested in pie, her face lit up. "Cherry pie?" she asked with an in-the-know brightness all about her. We instantly looked at one another, wondering if (hoping?) we'd been made. "There was an article," she sounded delighted, "and people just kept coming in last night." She clarified that she had not been present, but had heard about it from another waitress. She speculated that maybe about "twenty five thousand people" had come in and that they had made their way through, literally, a dozen pies. "So it's fresh! They make it right downstairs." We could barely contain ourselves. The dessert trend was just announced yesterday, and today, it's already a new world. Never in all our travels had we received such caring and enthusiastic reassurance that the freshness of our pie experience matters.

This pie confirmed the Tick Tock Diner's winning status. Maybe they could turn up the temperature on their refrigerator a couple of degrees, maybe they could lighten up a little on the thickening agent in their matrix, maybe they could put a leeeeetle bit more salt in a leeeeetle bit flakier crust, but as diner pie goes, this is mighty fine pie, not too sweet, plenty of perky cherries, and truly fresh, with a satisfying crust. We asked our waitress which was her favorite pie, and she confessed that she had never tried any of them. She described herself as a chocolate mousse girl. But before we left she came by our table to share with us that she thought the cherry pie tasted good. She said that she had tried a piece that "they couldn't sell." We can only speculate on whether the pie was aesthetically impaired, cut too small, or perhaps had sat in the refrigerator too long. Whatever the case, Jersey Pie thanks the Tick Tock for making the distinction.

Now, we'd love to be able to say that Jersey Pie created or even predicted that pie was the next big thing in desserts, but we'd be setting ourselves up for a pie in the face. Still, as pie lovers, we are not going to miss an opportunity to leverage this overdue trend into some decent diner pie experiences in the state of New Jersey. So, Jersey diners: you have been served. Jersey Pie is back, rolling the Garden State's highways and byways to report on how this dessert trend plays out for the common man.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Way. Really? How Cool Is That?

Jersey Pie were just interviewed by The Record, a North Jersey Newspaper, for an article on, yes, you guessed it, pie, that will appear in the Saturday, January 22nd edition in anticipation of National Pie Day, January 23rd.

Will we end up on the cutting room floor? Will our stroked egos inspire further pie adventures? Join us on the edge of our seats in anticipation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Edison Diner, Edison

101 Route 1 South
Edison, NJ 08817
Cherry Pie: $3.45
Coffee: $1.50

When we started this blog about a year ago we had no idea where it would take us. Seemed simple enough: find some local eateries, try out their cherry pie and report. We didn't know we would end up touring Northern New Jersey's diners. But, apart from some road trips to local farmer's markets, that's pretty much what happened. We like diners. We find the kitsch, nostalgia and food comforting. You know what you're going to get but have to be prepared for surprises - good and bad.

Followers of Jersey Pie are already well aware that one of our surprises was how bad a slice of diner cherry pie could be. But that didn't phase us anywhere near as much as the more recent surprise dished up by the Tick Tock Diner: really good cherry pie. The Tick Tock pie was good enough to totally throw us off our game. Had we finally found the best? All we knew is we simply could not face another plate of coagulated goo knowing a good piece of pie was just down route 3. Now what?

So, we came up with this idea. Troll the web for Jersey's best, and limit our expeditions to 5 star diners. That's how we ended up at the Edison Diner. It was on someone's top 5 list, and the website played the theme song from the Andy Griffith Show. It had to be good. Thirty minutes after leaving home we took exit 10 off the Turnpike and headed south on route 1.

Finally, we found ourselves at a nondescript diner-restaurant, seated near the restroom, with a basket of warm buns. Mmmmm. The Edison Diner makes their own bread every day, and it is tasty. We each had a classic Blue Plate (with some adjustments). The meal was good, but no better than our local Coach House, just 10 minutes from home. When the pie was served, we observed all over again the heavy shortbread crust, the gooey egg glazed top, and the paltry filling. To their credit, the crust was tasty. It was fresh, and perfectly sweetened. But the cherries were flavorless. Alas. Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

We spent the 40 minute drive home coming up with a new strategy. Here it is. In an entire year we have only had three good pieces of diner cherry pie. It is time to declare a winner. In order to win, a diner must deliver a second equally good piece of pie. The contenders for the top Jersey Pie prize--which in fairness we must specify is really North-eastern Jersey Pie--are The Tom Sawyer Diner, The Tick Tock Diner, and The Jubilee Park Diner. We will return to each diner, eat pie, and tell you the results over the next month or so.

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 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.