Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pineapple cream pie and other inventions

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2009 at 10:58 AM

orange_pie_recipe_thumb_200x114.jpg
Charles Ferruzza Collection

Well, now that February is almost over, I'm glad I remembered that this month was Great American Pies month.

Pies really are one of the great American desserts and used to be a staple on most restaurant menus. Today, when most dessert lists are dominated by European confections -- tiramisu, creme brulee and flan, to name a few -- it's increasingly harder to find a slab of good ol' pie on the menu. Unless, of course, you're in a diner.

The ne plus ultra of local diners, the Town Topic, serves pies baked at the big commercial Golden Boy Pie Bakery in Overland Park. A lot of smaller restaurants do, actually; it's not that pies are so labor-intensive, it's just that they've gotten a lot less fashionable.

But the pies are still freshly baked at the venerable Englewood Cafe at 10904 Winner Road in Independence. This home-style diner -- where the waitresses call their male customers "Baby doll" -- is famous for its lengthy list of pies; the cooks here also bake the pies for their sister restaurant in Grandview, the proudly smoky TJ's Cafe.

I had lunch at the Englewood Cafe yesterday. Not the greatest lunch

-- it was a perfectly serviceable patty melt and fries -- but the

featured side dish of "breaded tomatoes" was one of the worst things I've

ever tasted. Since the Englewood is a diner, I was kind of hoping the

tomatoes would be breaded and deep-fried, like traditional fried green

tomatoes. In fact, I asked our waitress if that was the case. "No, it's

stewed tomatoes with bread in it," she told me. I cringed, but ordered

it anyway. Could it be, I wondered, like a panzanella salad?

Nope, it was a tiny bowl of hot stewed tomatoes with chunks of soggy

bread in it. The kind of cheap, filling dish that my father might have

eaten during the Depression when -- wait a minute! -- this is the Depression! Never mind. I took one bite and that was enough culinary experimentation for one day.

Well, not totally. The featured pie du jour was pineapple

cream pie. I've made all kinds of cream pies over the years, including

the recipe for Sunkist orange pie (from a recipe card dating back to

the 1940s) pictured above. It's very good, but it requires fresh orange juice -- concentrate makes it too sweet. I've never baked a pineapple cream pie because, well, I didn't think I'd like it. I love pineapple ice cream

and pineapple upside-down cake, but the concept of a pineapple cream

pie sounded a little too country: like something I might order from the

snack bar at the Loretta Lynn Ranch.

The Englewood's pineapple cream is pretty good. Very creamy, with a

decadent whipped cream topping. Very sweet, not tart at all. I'm not

sure I would order it again, though.

"Next time try the butterscotch cream, baby doll," suggested the waitress. "It's really good with french fries." 

 


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