Here’s the thing about ordering a deep-fried Hubig’s pie at Bayou Hot Wings: you get to pluck your pie, still crackly-wrapped, 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-travelling comes easy to the humble poie (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 knew.
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 It tried their orange custard slice. Softly citrus filling, a sweet chocolate top layer, and a 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, open face crostata. It’s 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 hundreds of pies a week, Chauvin has mastered the art of the tender, flaky, crispy crust.
Her secrets? Handle the pie dough as little 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 with 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 our fix is here, with adorable 5-inch, double-crusted pies (sanding sugar on top adds crunch). Whole Foods reliably carries pecan, glazed apple, and whole-cherry 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.