Four & Twenty Blackbirds

After cold and creamy desserts comes pie for me. Pumpkin is tops, and I only say no to ones with nuts and meringue. Fruit, custard, cream, they give me all the feelings. Room temperature or cold. Always with whipped cream. I also believe that pie should not be eaten warm from the oven, just the same as you should not eat bread fresh from the oven. Items where the crust plays an important role need time to set up and settle in. I also don’t think that pie should be topped with ice cream. Ice cream requires a spoon and a round-bottomed dish. Pie is served on a plate and eaten with a fork (same with cake, no ice cream).  I have no time for apple pie that’s reheated in a microwave and topped with ice cream. Kudos to you if you rewarm it in the oven to keep the integrity of the crust, but you still have to explain the fork and plate. 

I would love to tell you that I’m a wonderful pie baker, that I excel at a dish I hold strong opinions about. I cannot. I have tried. I have taken multiple classes, but I don’t have the patience for pie dough or the practice it takes to become adept. My personality doesn’t mesh well with “practice makes perfect,” as my singular cooking experiments can attest. I do make a very good pumpkin pie, but I cheat and make a crumb crust. So, like with ice cream, cappuccinos, croissants, and [insert complicated or gadget-required recipe here], I eat my pie out. And currently my favourite place to do that in the five boroughs is Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus.

I say favourite and not best. I haven’t tried all the pies in NYC, and I feel that there might be a best pie lurking in some secret corner café or at a greenmarket stall. Outside of being able to get sad diner pie (canned filling, shortening crust) almost anywhere, there are few dedicated pie shops for a city this size. Pie has yet to have its breakout moment, and I suppose that’s due to the difficulty in making consistently great crusts. Because despite the praise, cookbook deal, and planned expansion, Four & Twenty does not have a perfect batting average with me in that regard.

But first, why do I like them: They make their pies with creative and seasonal fillings, they make substantial deep dish pies, they serve everything at room temperature, and you can get them with whipped cream, gratis. No ice cream, no microwaves. It is not often that you see a birch beer float pie, or apple and black currant. The black bottom oat tastes like oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough, and the buttermilk chess sends tingles up the spine of this custard lover. A crumb topping is full of oats like a crumble, while a streusel pie has what amounts to crumbled butter cookies on top. A deep dish pie gives a wonderful tall profile, lots of filling, and a substantial back-end crust, which if you like crust, is one of the best parts.

If your pie wasn’t crafted with as much care as usual, however, Four & Twenty can deliver you a slice with a tough, leathery crust. One where you would desire a knife to help make your way through. When tough, that back-end crust can unhinge and present itself as a hard cookie, in that it’s easier to pick up and use your teeth to get a bite than use the hopeless fork. A tough crust from Four & Twenty is not the norm, but when it has occurred, it sucks. I also wish they would make cream pies and that they were open late. In both Vancouver and Edmonton, I could visit pie shops after dinner for a slice and a cup of tea. I loved those 25-going-on-75 kind of nights.

However, I do prefer receiving a slice with a tough crust (underworked butter) to a crumbly one (overworked butter), which is what I’ve consistently received from new pie shop darling, Petee’s Pies. As I live in Manhattan, I had high hopes for this new shop on the Lower East Side that stays open late and offers a wider variety of pies. Alas, I’ve been rather “meh” about it. The pies are not deep dish, making for smaller, flatter slices. The whipped cream is $1 extra and too sweet. The crust, as mentioned is crumbly, leaving a powdery film in your mouth. The fillings are lovely and seasonal, but I can’t get over wanting a better crust.

It takes me about an hour to get to Four & Twenty from my apartment, so I don’t go often. But this summer I dovetailed visits with other eating adventures in the vicinity to get in more pie. Always more pie. Especially from a place that will give me a second dollop of whipped cream (see below).

Plum streusel pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds

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