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.