Many chain restaurants in the Santa Clarita Valley — both large (Marie Callender’s) and small (anyone remember Souperb?) — have drowned as the area's business district has expanded, and purveyors of handmade desserts have emerged in their wakes as the Valley’s unlikeliest success stories.
When the local patisseries and restaurants became the subjects of local fame, their wares rumored to be the best in town, is uncertain. Whispers of specialties certainly circulated throughout my childhood: the sumptuous crêpes Suzette every Sunday at the College of the Canyons farmers market; mysteriously crumbly devil’s food at Pam’s Donuts & Ice Cream; fresh cannoli Siciliani at Angie Caruso’s Italian Market & Deli, now an upscale Italian eatery called Piccola Trattoria.
Carmelo Terranova, who manages Piccola Trattoria with his sister Rosella, remembers when the community first seemed interested in his family’s homemade sweets. “We’ve been serving Santa Clarita since ’93. [Back then], we were doing a lot of bakery items: cakes and pies and things like that.” Much of that early craze, he says, was due to renown for the deli’s head chef and namesake: his mother, Angie, whose family hails from outside Messina in Italy. “When Mom makes it, it’s always different, right? I don’t know why. She’s got a special touch.”
Terranova recalls wistfully that as the neighborhood grew, so did its collective palate; Piccola Trattoria evolved, too, with its chefs designing ever-more-elegant desserts. “We do still have cannoli, but now, we make an amazing tiramisu with homemade ladyfingers soaked in espresso, and this freshly whipped mascarpone. That’s a melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing. And our signature is a molten Nutella cake served with vanilla bean ice cream. These are the things that regular customers come in for on an everyday basis now.”
While Italian food “never goes out of style,” observes Terranova, his restaurant has earned a reputation for exploring “spinoffs and new takes” on traditional Sicilian staples (he is quick to clarify that this applies as strongly to savory ravioli dishes as to desserts). He cites the young Newhall Refinery’s ever-changing desserts list as part of the “innovative” spirit to which local restaurateurs — himself included — aspire.
The successes of Piccola Trattoria since the last decade and Newhall Refinery in this one have helped even newer businesses attract visitors from cities like Chatsworth, Sylmar and Lancaster through reverent social media recommendations. OhBella Gelato & Crepe Café, for instance, has received near-universal Yelp acclaim since opening in Canyon Country in 2015; and the Pie Tin, though hardly 10 weeks old, has already been added to the city’s tourism website.
Morgan Jardine and Alexis Jardine, the manager and social media manager, respectively, for the Pie Tin, were quickly overwhelmed by the attention that followed their opening less than three months ago. “The first day of the first week was insane,” Morgan says. “Everybody was so excited to see something new here, something that hadn’t really been done before in this valley.”
While the city has its fair share of high-end event bakeries, the Pie Tin radiates hominess and affordability. Founded, owned and operated by Troy and Laura Jardine (the managers’ parents), their little shop is indeed singular. It took years of encouraging their mother’s “gift,” as Morgan Jardine refers to it, to embrace the idea of a personal business.
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Luckily, she did: Laura Jardine’s banana cream pie (her specialty), offers a merciful antidote to low-cost, low-quality chain-made pies. The Jardines have even experimented with a toothsome “Pie-on-the-Fly” shake, which is quickly becoming a staple.
Alexis Jardine notes, “It gets hard to beat the price when someone” — Coco’s in Stevenson Ranch, say — “mass-produces and freezes few-day-old pies.” But, she says, “We know we have a better product.
“We bake fresh every single day, and use fresh ingredients from the local farmer’s market, but I feel like people don’t believe that sometimes," she adds. "People are used to the big chains where you don’t need to make personal relationships. When you come [here], you are going to see the same faces every single time.”
In seemingly no time at all, the Pie Tin has become a beacon of Santa Clarita’s New Dessert Wave — surely too much pressure for a young mom-and-pop shop. Yet its classical look and simple deliciousness suggest that regional dessert makers have only just begun to cement their place in culinary history. Dare we call this a Golden Age?