As far as I know, those two goofballs never saw their dim-witted -- and illegal -- idea to fruition. (The last I heard, one was a clean and sober accountant, and the other guy had moved to Florida to become a professional drag queen.) But it wasn't just the herbal haze that made the concept of a potpie restaurant so funny; it was also the idea of building a restaurant around a dish that had been rendered campy and lowbrow by that 1951 innovation, the frozen potpie. In 1958, seven years after C.A. Swanson & Sons started mass producing them, more than 400 million of the things were sold. People loved them because they were a cheap, easy-to-prepare comfort food in a convenience-loving world.
Thanks to the frozen versions, even the from-scratch potpie has taken on an increasingly unglamorous image.
It's "kitschy," according to 29-year-old chef John Williams, who named his tiny new restaurant after the dish almost as a lark. Originally, he intended to name the place San Souci, which roughly translates to without a care. But anti-Francais sentiments before the war in Iraq frightened Williams and his business partner and girlfriend Sarah Ponak. They decided they liked the warmer, home-style PotPie instead.
"It was kind of an in-joke between Sarah and me," Williams says. "On a very cold night last year, we made a bunch of potpies from scratch and had such a good time doing it, the name kind of stuck."
They might have been smoking something, because it didn't occur to them that customers would take them at their word. Williams still hasn't started offering potpies at the two-month-old restaurant -- he ordered the dishes to bake them in only two weeks ago -- and he's shocked that patrons have come in looking for the dish. "We've even had a couple of people walk out when they found out we didn't have them," Williams says.
"I'm guessing, just by the number of people who come in and ask about potpies, that they're going to become our biggest seller by this winter. And I'll probably learn to hate them."
Impossible. There's nothing anyone could hate about PotPie. Williams and Ponak took over the space formerly occupied by the Stolen Grill, a boutique bistro with a great reputation but a slightly snooty ambience. The lovable PotPie, on the other hand, has an atmosphere almost as retro as its name. If there were bongo music playing and ashtrays on the table, the place would feel like a beatnik coffeehouse. Maybe it does anyway, sans fumée de cigarette. The only menu in the house is printed on a giant (and well-lighted) chalkboard on the back wall. The pregnant Ponak, often dressed in black, waits tables with a beatific smile. There's even a platform with an ersatz living-room arrangement near the picture window, outfitted with a sofa, two chairs and a coffee table. You bring the bongos, cat.