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Desserts

Pie Fight: Sweet Lady Jane vs. SimpleThings (No Clowns were Harmed)

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Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 11:00 AM

It's National Pie Day on Sunday, and February is National Pie Month. This would be exciting, if it weren't for every day seeming to be some absurd national food holiday. February is also Black History Month, which seems like it shouldn't have to share its remembrance with a pie eating celebration.

Nonetheless, we don't need an ordained pastry day to tell us to enjoy pie -- we'll do it whenever we please. In fact, when we set out to eat some this week, we had no idea that NPD was fast approaching. But here we are, presenting today's food fight, in which we do something decidedly American: eat two pieces of blueberry pie, and turn it into a competition.

click to enlarge Blueberry pie at Sweet Lady Jane - N. GALUTEN
  • N. Galuten
  • Blueberry pie at Sweet Lady Jane

We began at Sweet Lady Jane, the longstanding café and bakery on Melrose Avenue. We were joined by our mother, who, probably not unlike yours, makes the best pies on the planet. After a light lunch -- which included a rather good cup of potato leek soup -- we shared a slice of blueberry pie.

The all-butter crust was sugar-dusted ("just like mine," said mom), and somewhat dark in color. It crumbled well, and was filled with an abundance of tiny blueberries, not overly sweet, and spilling across the plate. It was a good piece of pie, and one which actually tasted much better when eaten in conjunction with Jane's whipped cream. Our mom nodded her head in quiet, restrained approval. It was a look we knew well, which deemed the pie acceptable, but not exceptional. But to our mother, an acceptable pie is no small feat.

click to enlarge Blueberry hand pie from SimpleThings - N. GALUTEN
  • N. Galuten
  • Blueberry hand pie from SimpleThings

Our mother did not join us for our second pie, which we ate at the new-ish shop SimpleThings, on West Third. The minimalist vintage space was charming, and the waitstaff were friendly and personable. We tried a few of their small hand pies, like Missouri mud, cherry, and banoffee. But the focus of the day was on blueberry.

It arrived: a small, humble looking thing, with a rather white crust, and a topping of crumbs, with bits of blueberry stains fighting their way toward the surface. At first, what stood out most was how soft and pliable the crust was. It contained half butter and half shortening, but seemed as if we could have taken the whole thing, and rolled it like a cigarette. But it was a stylistic choice, and one made very much on purpose. The filling was flavorful, and the wee pie was ultimately quite enjoyable.

But whose was better? The decision is actually amongst our more difficult ones to date. SimpleThings feels both new and simultaneously classic. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for an old fashioned slice of pie, with a brown, crispy crust. Were it not for the whipped cream, we feel that we would have sided with SimpleThings without much forethought. But that cream really did close the gap. So the question is: which one are we more likely to go back for? The answer to that is SimpleThings. Though truthfully, what would we really do if we found ourselves with a deep craving for pie? Well, we'd call our mom, tell her we miss her, then ask if strawberries and rhubarb are in season yet.

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