Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can't Anyone Make Pies Anymore?

Maybe it was the homegrown vegetables that triggered my taste buds. Maybe it was my cousin's email telling about visiting a U-Pick strawberry patch and making a strawberry pie as good as Big Boy Restaurants could make. Whatever it was, my hunger for pie became an obsession. Cherry. Yum. Or Strawberry, my husband's favorite. Or Rhubarb? Ohhhh my, I'm drooling.

I didn't want to start from scratch, I just wanted a piece of pie. So where to go and get a great piece of homemade pie? Mom has packed up her rolling pin, I can't get her to make me any. So which restaurant?

I called around. Boston Market? "We only serve apple."

Woody's Barbecue? "We have sky-high pies -- coconut cream and peanut butter."

Sonny's Barbecue? "We only have cobbler -- peach and ...."

Getting a bit desperate I thought of Baker's Square -- but that was in Illinois. I don't know where to find one in Florida. And Bob Evans? Again. Where oh where would they be located? Does Too-Jay's make pie? They make to-die-for cakes and pastries. Their carrot cakes should win awards. But I don't know about pies. We're running out of time. If I don't get my husband out of the house soon, we'll be eating frozen pizza.

I'm really missing Mom's homemade pies. Her pie crust seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Even if I can find a pie, the crust is either mushy or tastes more like cookie than pie crust.

We finally decided to head to the locally owned restaurant in downtown Oviedo. The Townhouse Restaurant. It has that old Florida ambiance with waitresses who call you honey and worry about my husband's need to use a cane.

Oviedo, Florida, the only community I know that has a law to protect the free-range chickens who inhabit the center of town. Bless their fowl hearts. Their logo involves chickens and everyone must brake for chickens -- even if the traffic light is green. The Townhouse Restaurant, decorated in chicken paraphernalia, looks like a 50s restaurant with booths, tables covered in checkered oilcloth, and a chalkboard listing the desserts including: strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I couldn't wait and ordered pie and cup of coffee to start the meal. My husband, a man who saves the best for last, ordered a chef's salad first. We both ordered chef's salads. And if you're ever in Oviedo, stop by the Townhouse Restaurant -- it has the most amazing chef's salad with big rolls of ham and turkey. Not gourmet, but definitely fresh and hits the spot. (They also have the best breakfasts around.)

And the pie?

I so wanted to give them Mom's recipe for pie crust. The filling was yummy and as obsessed as I was for a piece of pie, the crust was -- still not that good. Sorry, I really wanted to like it. I really wanted to say nice things about it, but it was a bit soggy and had that cake texture rather than the unleaven crust of Mom's wonderful lard and flour crust. But it was close enough for now.

And, the bad thing about saving the best till last? There often is not room for the best.... So my husband waddled out of the restaurant full of salad, no room for pie. Or maybe he just couldn't chose between the peach cobbler or the blackberry buckle....decisions, decisions.

Anyone want to recommend a restaurant's pie? I'm all ears. I'll be glad to go on a taste testing survey.

For those who feel more industrious than me, below is my cousin's strawberry pie recipe.
Strawberry Pie

Rich Pastry

2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup milk

Sift flour with salt and sugar. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles
fine crumbs. Best together egg yolk and lemon juice. Blend in milk. Add to dry
ingredients, tossing with fork into a soft dough. Divide dough in half, form
each into a ball. Roll to desired thickness. Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons strawberry Jell-O
Red food coloring (a few drops)
1 quart strawberries, whole
Cook the first four ingredients until thick. Add the strawberry Jell-O and
a few drops of red food coloring; blend well. Remove from heat and allow to
cool. Combine with strawberries. Put into one 9-inch baked rich pastry shell.

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