When talking about your parents' or grandparents' cooking, there's always an element of cognitive dissonance. Even if the meatballs are a little dry and rhombic, they're still your favorite.
So there's wisdom in buffing the rough edges off some of those dishes before they go to the display case — especially one under hip, early-century industrial lighting and accompanied by local art. That's basically how they're operating at 3.14 Sweet & Savory Pi Bar, where owner Carma Barr's storied cookbook teems with serious recipes. She and chef Katie Seymour make every crust and filling in-house. A few rough edges aside, the commitment to earnest, hand-crafted cooking shows.
Take, for instance, the restaurant's sizable pot pies, $9 if bought fresh-baked in-store with microgreen garnish and extra sauce, but a steal at $4.50 if you buy last night's pre-baked pies for your microwave. The Chicken of Aragon blends well-seasoned light and dark meat with a tarragon-stamped cream sauce. Fine-cut leeks dissolve into the sauce beautifully, though the bacon shows up in unwieldy half-strips, and the carrot slices retain their peels.
In the Guinness' Sakes pot pie, the carrots get peeled and the potatoes have a nice texture, but the Guinness brown gravy loses nuance to heavy salt. Still, both provide buttery, reasonably flaky crusts that don't disintegrate without reason.
Unfortunately, the medium-spicy pork green chile, full of Pueblo chilies and juicy meat, wears its top crust like armor — not impervious to assault by conventional utensils, but certainly well-protected. That said, the $14 combo with creamy mashed potatoes and one of a selection of salads is a stick-to-your-ribs option for a cold day. Add a $5 craft pint or $7-plus glass of small-producer wine, and you have a reasonably priced mid-range meal.
For something a little more frugal, a $6 slice of quiche, such as the cheddar-bacon-apple, uses the same crust as the pot pies to hold a moist and fluffy filling. The vegetarian quiche of the day — mushroom, onion and Gruyere, when I visited — comes together more solidly in a thicker wheat crust that crumbles a little tougher and drier, though still nutty and pleasant.
But it's not all meat and potatoes here. Barr and Seymour have made bolder flavor decisions for dessert, at $6 a slice or $24 a pie. The green chili apple pie bears a cinnamon-heavy streusel, but the well-executed filling, mixing medium Pueblo chilies with bright apples, belongs on every Thanksgiving table in the region. (It's a shame customers shied away from the earlier-iteration red-chili honey topping; a little smoke and bite would be gorgeous.)
The bestselling coconut cream pie presents a crumb crust full of secret-recipe filling based on coconut pastry cream, which features cream cheese somewhere — I found a vein. More mixed news: The Nutella-and-espresso Italian silk pie's luscious filling turned a slightly-burnt Oreo crust into a happy accident. And while the black-bottom bourbon pecan pie sounds sexy, the layer of chocolate ganache between the filling and crust holds the tongue like it's Helm's Deep.
But while Pi Bar pies have their warts, there's something charming going on. For all of the twists and hip affectations, the heart of Pi Bar is the same as the one in a well-loved home kitchen, albeit with a better bar. In the gray days ahead, Pi Bar pies will hopefully supplant the Marie Callender's and Village Inn dreck on many tables. After all, there's nothing like Grandma's pie.
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