Certain foods feel nostalgic, whether they were a part of your childhood or not. You don't need to have grown up in the 50s to have a sense of comfort sitting in an Eisenhower-era roadside diner, drinking burnt coffee and eying a piece of cherry pie sitting under a glass covering on the counter. Pie is something special, a crafted dish, a combination of crust and filling, and something inherently motherly. Today we look both forward and back, at one of the great pies the world has to offer: the humble banana cream.
People can debate all they want about the prices of a burger at Apple Pan, and whether it is as good as the other ones around town. But that, we feel, is nearly irrelevant. We at Squid Ink like to think that when the first settlers arrived in what is now Los Angeles, Apple Pan was already there, and looked exactly the same as it does now. It is an institution, a place of comfort, something that needs to exist, whether you want to go inside or not.
Their banana cream pie seems to be a universally adored classic: a soft, crumbling crust, sweet yellow custard, fresh, firm banana slices and mellow, soothing cream. It is damn near impossible, no matter your opinion of sweets, to take a bite and not have your day turn just a little bit better.
But we humans can't live completely in the past, and so we have restaurants like Mark Peel's The Tar Pit and Jar, Suzanne Tracht's modern era love song to the days of scotch and steak. It is perhaps a bit unfair to compare, in a vacuum, Tracht's version to the one at a tiny burger joint. Jar's banana cream pie is meant to go at the end of your meal, an epilogue to your hearty chapter on beef bourguignon. The pie comes in an individual shortbread-reminiscent crust, with a mellow custard, fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of light caramel sauce. It does not intend to be diner pie, because it isn't. It is a subtle refinement of an old standard, a final part of a composed piece. But while it is ideally suited to exist exactly as it does, and unfair as this comparison may be, it simply cannot surpass the original. Classic flavors win out. Yoda, it seems, will always be better than Luke.
Apple Pan, 10801 Pico Blvd.West L.A, (310) 475-3585., Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6566.