|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."