Here´s the thing about ordering a deep-fried Hubig's pie at Bayou Hot Wings: you get to pluck your pie, still cracklywrapped, from a display basket before the staff takes it away to the fryer. It's like choosing your lobster from the tank at a restaurant, if you were eating out in the 1990s.
This kind of time-traveling comes easy to the humble pie (Hubig's has been in New Orleans since 1922, and you can trace Natchitoches' fried hand pies, or empanadas, back to the 1700s).
Maybe it's because you can play endlessly with a pie's core elements: crust, filling, topping. This versatility means that pie will outlast any trend (Gluten-free? Skip the crust.
Eating local? Scour your orchard for apples).
If the cupcake was a showgirl, all fluffy icing and glitter, then pie is the friend who drives you home, and her sundress rides up to reveal a tattoo behind her knee.
Pies can reliably be found in Southern restaurants, diners and barbecue joints. As New Orleans attracts more of these, our best chefs will be finding new and fun ways to present pies. Here are some of our favorites this fall:
Bayou Hot Wings
About that deep-fried pie (I chose the lemon): doing anything to a Hubig's might seem like overkill, but frying lends a toasty, nutty quality to the crust, and softens the frosting into something like powdered sugar. The thick fruit filling seemed about the same. Maybe the restaurant will consider adding a Hubig's leg to their eating challenge (10 wings in under five minutes, and I'd recommend the honey barbecue).
High Hat Cafe
Chocolate pie holds the permanent spot on this new Southern diner's menu, but I've been absolutely fixated on their daily pie specials since I tried their orange custard slice. Softly citrus filling, a sweet chocolate top layer, and the bright milky taste of housemade whipped cream, was seductive and memorable. (The secret to the not-too-tart custard: sweetened condensed milk.)
Chip Apperson, a managing partner with Chef Adolfo Garcia, assures me that the orange custard will come back into rotation; meanwhile, High Hat's head chef Jeremy Wolgamott crafts pies with Algiers key limes, or pairs honey with warm regional peaches. For his crusts, he relies on rendered pork fat from Garcia's next-door venture, Ancora.
Executive Chef Brack May goes through about 80 pounds of apples a week to make Cowbell's signature apple pie, a rustic, openface crostata. Its all-butter, cream-glazed crust belts in deeply spiced apples that soften almost to applesauce near the bottom. (May's secret to binding the fruit: potato starch.) It comes with a drizzle of dark rum caramel sauce and, if you're smart, homemade vanilla ice cream.
The upscale roadhouse runs frequent pie specials (including a popular S'mores version), and May's genius for sourcing will help drive future creations: he'll stir Thai coconut powder into pastry cream for a coconut cream pie, as well as pecan paste as the base for sweet potatoes, and rhubarb in yet another version of his beautiful crostata.
Frances Chauvin, the Pie Lady
Legendary for her farmers' market fare, Chauvin first learned to make a pie when she was 9. Back then, her grandma was using a wood-burning oven and home-churned butter. In the years in between, and while turning out 100 pies a week, Chauvin has mastered the art of the tender, flaky, crispy crust.
Her secrets? Handle the pie dough as little as possible, and use butter-flavored Crisco. She'd also tell you to leave your pies on the counter, as refrigerating them ruins the crust.
Her best seller is pecan, loaded with the local, sweet nut. I also love her cushaw pie, spiced like pumpkin but a pale champagne color with notes of vanilla; as well as the creamy custard loaded—and then topped— with crunchy coconut. And her sharp Cheddar quiche makes for a terrific lunch (top it with Creole tomatoes).
The Irish House
The weekend that Tropical Storm Lee was in town, I called ahead to The Irish House to be sure they were open. "Of course," teased the girl on the other end. "Come join us."
Warm and welcoming, Chef Matt Murphy's recently opened pub gets rave reviews for its finely crafted comfort food (and a killer beer list). Between pints, be sure to try the shepherd's pie. Standing in for pie crust is a silky cloud of mashed potatoes, topped with the surprising tang of white Cheddar cheese. Underneath it all is a pleasing portion of ground beef and fresh vegetables.
The chicken pot pie, of course, traditionally flips the pastry crust to the top. The cap here is buttery and flaky, and softens nicely where it meets the sauce of roasted chicken chunks, herbs, al dente carrots and peas, and mushrooms.
The fastest way to get your fix is here, with adorable 5-inch, double-crusted pies (sanding sugar on top adds crunch). Whole Foods reliably carries pecan, glazed apple, and wholecherry pies, in both the single serving and 10-inch sizes.
Their savory pie selections vary, although lately I've seen custard-like quiches loaded with ham and Swiss, as well as a four-cheese pie with a pleasingly toasted top.
Orange Custard Pie with Chocolate Shell Courtesy of High Hat Café
• 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 cup lard
• 1/4 cup butter
• 1/4 cup ice cold water
• 3 egg yolks
• 1 tablespoon orange zest
• 1 12-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
• 2/3 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
• 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a food processor, mix together flour through salt. Pulse in the lard and butter quickly, until the mix is coarse, then add cold water a tablespoon at a time. The dough should hold together when you pinch it. Knead the dough just until you form a disc, then gently roll it out. Place dough into a 9" pie pan, fill with pie weights and bake for 30 minutes at 400 F. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Reduce heat in the oven to 300 F. In a mixer, beat the egg yolks and orange zest for five minutes on high speed. Lower speed to medium and slowly add the condensed milk, and continue to whip for three minutes. Lower the speed again and add in the orange juice until completely mixed in. Pour into cooled pie shell and bake in a 300 F oven for 45 minutes.
Rotate the pie and check to see if it's done cooking. Cook until the custard is set, up to another 20 minutes; it should still be a little jiggly but not liquid. Place pie in refrigerator to cool for an hour.
Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and heavy cream and pour over the cooled pie, using a rubber spatula to smooth out. Let pie continue to cool with chocolate on it. After 20 minutes use a small sharp knife to etch the pie slices into the top of the chocolate to make it easier to cut once completely cool. Serve cold with freshly whipped cream on top.
Makes 1 9" pie
Bayou Hot Wings 6221 S. Claiborne Ave., 865.9464
Frances Chauvin Crescent City Farmers Market Tuesdays only; 200 Broadway St.
Cowbell 8801 Oak St., 298.8689
High Hat Café 4500 Freret St., 754.1336
The Irish House 1432 St. Charles Ave., 595.6755
Whole Foods 5600 Magazine St., 899.9199 Metairie at 3420 Vets Blvd., 888.8225
Frances Chauvin's Blue Ribbon Pie stand at the Crescent City Farmers Market