I told you there’d be a big day coming up soon! We recently had another day celebrating the generic love of baked goods–National Cake Day–but today is all about cake’s fruit-obsessed cousin, the pie. What makes a pie a pie is the crust: a pie’s got to have at least a bottom crust of pastry, crumble, or other dough to be considered a “pie.” There are all different sorts of pies: single-layer (no top), double-layer (with a baked crust on top as well), sweet or savory. There are so many things you can do with pies! Put basically anything into a pastry shell and you’ve got yourself a pie: fruit pies, sweet sugar pies, meat pies, pot pies…the possibilities are endless. One of my friends is a huge proponent of pie, in all its forms, and for her birthday one year, instead of having a cake for her party, she had a pie pot-luck in Prospect Park (say that 3 times fast!). Everyone had to bring some sort of pie for the picnic, and we ended up with tons of different varieties, both sweet and savory! We had blackberry pies, sweet potato pies, apple pies, and strawberry pies, as well as a huge pork meat pie and handheld empanadas (they totally count as pies)! It was such a great day and an awesome way to celebrate the versatility and deliciousness of pie!
We’ve had quite a few different national food holidays celebrating pies throughout the year–hell, we even had two other pie days just this week! If you’d like to take a look at where to get the best specific pies I’ve highlighted in the past year, here’s a list of the individual pie food holidays on the calendar:
January 23 – Rhubarb Pie Day
February 22 – Cherry Pie Day
March 2 – Banana Cream Pie Day
April 28 – National Blueberry Pie Day
June 9 – National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day
July 12 – National Pecan Pie Day
August 1 – National Raspberry Cream Pie Day
August 15 – National Lemon Meringue Pie Day
August 24 – National Peach Pie Day
October 26 – National Mince Meat Pie Day
November 27 – National Bavarian Cream Pie Day
That’s not to mention some of the delectable pie holidays we still have coming up in December! (I mean, we haven’t even scratched the surface of pumpkin pie for the holidays yet!) So I wanted to take National Pie Day to pay homage to some pies that don’t get their own national food holiday, ones that have really found a home in people’s hearts over the years; pies that make you feel at home. At home right in New York City, that is!
One of the most popular American savory pies out there is the pot pie. Different from the British and Australian versions of savory meat pies, American pot pies aren’t made to be handheld: instead, they are cooked with a double flaky crust, much like traditional sweet pies, and is served inside the pie tin. Inside you’ll find meat and vegetables stewed in gravy. The most popular of these is the chicken pot pie, cooked in homes all over the country (especially when you’ve got holiday chicken leftovers on your hands!) But one chicken pot pie that can’t be found in a home is Friend of a Farmer’s–because it’s in one of the nicest small restaurants in Gramercy Park. Here, you’ll find the chicken pot pie to be more than just a way to deal with leftovers: it’s a piece of edible art, with an intricately designed lattice crust that looks more like grandma’s cherry pie than a chicken pot pie. This is the place to go when you’re craving home cooking in Manhattan–but still haven’t cracked open the oven in your apartment.
Friend of a Farmer
77 Irving Pl (between 18th St & 19th St)
“If all you think about is retiring to the country, head to Friend of a Farmer, where you can get a taste of the simple life with the time investment of just one meal. Beneath the warm glow of hurricane lamps, crowds nosh on rustic classics like chicken pot pie, roast turkey, and meatloaf.”–New York Magazine
“Rounding out the favorites was Friend of a Farmer, whose pie was the most artful of the bunch with its perfectly latticed crust. Traditional in fillings and texture, it was a simple and straightforward rendition executed very well. It’s just what you think of when you imagine a great pot pie.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The best chicken pot pie I ever ate! It had three kinds of crust: top, around the crock and inside the crock bottom. Each crust component had a different consistency and doneness. It made for a most wonderful pot pie experience. Also a nice job by Karl, our waiter. This is a place not to be missed, especially if you go there for dinner and have the chicken pot pie!”–Roger S.
“Chicken pot pie is unbelievable – it feels as though mom is back in the kitchen cooking some delicious homecookin’! Decorated like an old farmhouse. Very much enjoyed this place on several occasions!”–Tim N.
I always see that people either love or hate key lime pie. Made with, of course, key limes found in South Florida, Key Lime pie is a tart, single-crust pie usually made with a lime-flavored custard and a graham cracker crust. The addition of the lime juice to the custard mixture–which includes egg yolks and condensed milk–causes a chemical reaction that thickens the mix without baking–making key lime pie a perfect no-bake pie recipe! The tartness of the key limes, however, turns some people off to this Florida staple. When I visited Key West, you couldn’t throw a chicken without hitting a place that celebrated key limes, either selling the juice outright or making savory and sweet confections with them, and Key Lime Pie was always the centerpiece.
You may not think that you can get an authentic Key Lime Pie in New York City, but you should know by now that New York provides everything you could ever want to eat! 😀 Steve Tarpin, a Florida native who moved to New York with his family, took his home recipe and decided to bring it to the New York masses. The result, the uber-popular Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in Red Hook. Selling only two items–the original key lime pie, and a key lime pie dipped in chocolate–the store may seem limited, but what they lack in variety, they more than make up for in quality. Steve only uses fresh key lime juice, never bottled, and the pies are always baked on premises that day. It’s a very small, one-man operation, so if you want the best key lime pie north of the Keys, you have to get here early before they sell out. But for key lime pie lovers in New York City, this is the ONLY place to go.
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
204 Van Dyke St (between Van Brunt St & Conover St), Red Hook
“To many foodies, this is the most “purist” version in the U.S. (and it’s straight outta’ Brooklyn). Ex-Miami boy Steve Tarpin uses in-house-squeezed Key limes, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk for his filling; for his homemade crust, grahams and butter. The result: more tart than sweet, simple perfection.”–The Wall Street Journal
“If a business makes only one type of product, it better make it very well. Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in Red Hook does not disappoint. The only place in the five boroughs that makes the dessert with fresh squeezed Key limes, imported from Mexico, this waterfront bakery creates five sizes of pies ($4-$25) that taste so fresh they could’ve been picked from that ever elusive Key lime pie tree. Incidentally, Steve Tarpin cultivates two thorny Key lime trees outside his store, which is just as zesty and colorful as the pies themselves.”–New York Daily News
“The filling is mixed with a hand mixer, the lime juice simmers on a normal house-sized kitchen stove and the oven is small and only fits a couple pie trays at a time. The only thing they actually bake is the crust. Once they pour in the warm filling, it just requires a good hour in the fridge to set. As you enter the pie shop, a sign warns “no coffee” and “no apple pie,” so you know some people find it hard to believe a business can survive on just one simple dessert. But it does, and has for nearly 20 years.”–WNYC
“I’ll spoil some of the mystery for you — They don’t sell slices and there are no variations. They sell whole pies in multiple sizes. You can, however, buy a 4″ tart which is the equivalent of a personal size pie. For the adventurous there’s a chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick! If you decide to eat some key lime pie on the spot I’d recommend grabbing a cup of their Key Limonade (deliciously bitter and complimentary to the pie). We opted for the tarts and washed them down with the Key Limonade. Simply put, the key lime pie was sensational. It has a buttery graham cracker crust which leaves you craving more and while the entire bite is on the sweet side it’s a well balanced sweetness.”–Schiffner
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I have never had key lime pie before. I know, I know… shame shame on me. I finally decided to try it. I don’t know who Steve is but I know that he makes amazing key lime pies. It was just the right amount of sweetness and tartness. It was $4 for a small pie. I wish I had bought the large pie so I could take it home. Its kinda fun just sitting outside eating those pies. If you can get your ass here to this place, definitely stop by for some!”–Stephanie Q.
“The Key Lime pie itself is fantastic – a pressed graham cracker crust that may or may not be lightly baked, then.. then the best part… the authenic key lime filling. Tart, lightly sweetened, smooth,a little creamy. Delicious. The Swingle takes all that goodness and puts it on a stick and covers it in a pretty substantial amount of dark chocolate. I loved this, but the chocolate got a bit too much for me at one point. This is excellent for sharing. Warning: I’m not talking a polite first-date type of share, I’m talking an oh-I’ve-seen-you-at-your-worst-already kind of share. This is messy-toddler food. The Limonade (I swear that’s how they spell it on the menu) tastes basically like squeezed key lime and water. It’s not sweet at all. Perfect!”–Patricia S.
Way waaaaay back in November (ha) when I wrote about National Cake Day, I included the Latin American staple tres leches cake, syrupy-sweet and delicious. And for National Pie Day, I have to include a Latin American pie that just the mention of makes me drool: flan! Technically flan is a caramel custard and not a pie, because it can be made without a crust, but I don’t pay attention to that, because flan 1) can be sliced up like a pie, 2) doesn’t have another day in the whole calendar to celebrate it and it should be celebrated, dammit! Unlike a creme brulee, flan is a caramel custard with a soft layer of caramel on top, instead of a hard one. Caramel and egg custard are layered into a mold, cooked in a water bath, and then served upside-down, leaving the caramel to droop down the custard. Flan is so delicious and amazing when cooked correctly; typically, you need to know an old Latina grandmother to really get a good flan. But Mexican Radio definitely comes close (or maybe they’ve got an old Latina grandmother in the back of the kitchen!) Flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, this flan is one of the best in the city. It’s also a rather large slice for flan, which makes it perfect for sharing. I’ll look the other way about this flan not being a “pie” if you let me share it with you 😉
19 Cleveland Pl (between Kenmare St & Spring St)
“Sweet Jesus, that flan. It was placed before us, plain and unassuming in its light dusting of cinnamon. Upon the very first taste, we learned that we’d sorely underestimated it. Our pupils dilated, our heart fluttered and our cholesterol levels rose instantaneously. The flavor and texture spoke of more than eggs, milk and vanilla—there was careful, patient, skillful preparation in that little pudding, and perhaps a secret ingredient. While easily rich enough for two, a slow but cutthroat spoon-duel soon ensued between us and our dining companion.”–New York Press
“It’s much firmer than most flan I’ve had before. Most of those now seem limp and mushy in comparison. This flan is tall and proud and almost needs to be cut with a knife — unlike some of the easily spoonable ones other restaurants pass off. It’s almost cake-like — that’s how thick it is. And yet, it’s doesn’t seem congealed either, which is pretty remarkable. Instead of having all of the caramelization turn into a dripping liquid mess on the bottom, Mexican Radio’s flan is coated with a thin caramel glaze at the top and it’s the perfect shade of burnt orange. Seriously, have you ever had flan where the bottom winds up watery? It’s kind of nasty. Who wants that? Not this flan fan.”–All Over Albany
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Did I forget something? Oh yes, the flan. The flan is perfect and unlike other flans, this one tastes more custardy and is also perfect for sharing.”–Mona L.
“The staff here are great and soooo friendly too. Bartenders are good even for the one person in our group who likes drinks that taste like turpentine – they accomidated her. : – ) My friends also said the flan is the best flan they have ever had – hands-down!!! No vegan version though. : – (“–Samantha S.
And finally, we have one of my favorite kinds of pies ever: the sweet potato pie! For Thanksgiving, my family foregoes the traditional pumpkin pie and has sweet potato pie instead. Made with mashed sweet potatoes, milk, sugar, and eggs, the consistency is much like a pumpkin pie, without the tartness and spice you typically find in pumpkin pie filling. (Plus, you can use real sweet potatoes when making this pie from scratch! Try doing that with a pumpkin pie. Blech.) There are many variations of sweet potato pie out there: my mom usually makes two for Thanksgiving, one with egg and milk to make it more custard-y, and one with orange juice and ginger to give it a kick. You can’t buy one of my mom’s pies, lol, but you can get an amazing sweet potato pie at the Sweet Chef Southern Style Bakery in Harlem. Amadou Diakite makes all the pies here, with traditional Southern tastes like pumpkin, apple crumb, and of course, a mean sweet potato pie. You can find them at the Harlem Fairway, if you’re lucky, but to ensure a great slice of pie, head to his store directly and get it right from the source.
Sweet Chef Southern Style Bakery
122 Hamilton Pl (between 142nd St & West 141st St)
“Perhaps because it brought back memories of home, he became obsessed with sweet potato pie. ”We are not familiar with pie,” he said. But his mother made yams into soup and bread. He called her long distance for advice. Mainly, though, he trusted his instincts. ”I was tasting it,” he said. ”The pie is not about recipe, is about taste.” He studied the difference between Louisiana and Carolina yams. ”It depend also on the season,” he said. ”This time of year, the yam is very good.” On his days off, customers missed the dishwasher’s silky sweet potato pie. He installed an extra rack in his kitchen oven, baked eight pies an hour and sold them as a sideline. By 1990, he had socked away enough money to open a bakery with a partner in Downtown Brooklyn.”–The New York Times
“What’s most striking upon first entering the bakery is that of the baked, buttery pie crust aromas throughout the shop. This great little store actually feels like a small-town bakery, so it’s a very charming establishment to have around for folks in the neighborhood. There are some smaller take-out orders, such as cookies and banana pudding, but the next time you have a need for that sweet potato pie or a home-style birthday cake, this is the place to be.”–Harlem Bespoke
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“If you want your friends to invite you back for dinner, bring a sweet potato pie from Sweet Chef when they ask you over the first time. I didn’t even like sweet potato pie before I moved around the corner from this little gem of a bakery.”–Krishna K.
“They always have pecan and sweet potato pies on hand, as well as a few other random varities. Their pecan pie is the best I’ve had in a long time and definitely in the city; it’s deep and filled with that wonderfully sweet/fatty goo. No scrimping with a thin pie or small nuts. Sweet chef’s cakes are always staples at our birthday parties. The white cake with chocolate frosting is a hit, but I love their carrot cake.”–Jason Y.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!