Nov. 17 2016 10:45 PM

Pies, both savory and sweet, take center stage in University Heights

    Chicken pot pie with creamed corn
    Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

    To Americans, especially as Thanksgiving nears, pie means pumpkin, pecan or apple. In Britain and many of its former colonies, pie brings to mind a world of robust, savory offerings. Pop Pie Co. (4404 Park Boulevard) in University Heights aims to get us in touch with our inner Brit.

    The origin of the pie lies in the savory realm and the need for nutritious, easy-to-store and carry foodstuffs. This was particularly evident with sea voyages but adapted well for long days in the fields or, with the industrial revolution, below ground in the mines. The Romans developed a tradition of encasing protein-based dishes in a pastry dough (flour, water and fat) that, particularly in the British Isles, evolved into a repertoire of dishes typified by the Cornish pasty (think “empanada on steroids”) and more traditional single-serving pies. Typical fillings included steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, and pork.

    A good place to start exploring the savory pie world is with Pop Pie’s chicken pot pie. Not the tired version on offer at San Diego Chicken Pie Shop for the last 75 years, Pop Pie’s filling is rich, savory and thoroughly delicious. The chicken breast is tender, vegetables retain texture and the herb sauce brings it all together. The crust, though, is special: classic short crust on the bottom with what co-owner Steven Torres describes as “a half puff pastry” on top. It is rich and buttery but not heavy.

    Pop Pie’s Steak & Ale pie is a variation on a classic British theme. Featuring that same gorgeous crust, the filling holds tender braised beef and barley, and is rounded out with mushrooms and a British-style ale. Like all of its savory pies, it is sized for a single serving. The effect is a dish that is rich and filling but not overwhelming.

    The veggie curry option—featuring Indian-style yellow curry, shiitake mushrooms and potatoes—is fully satisfying without meat. But not all the savory pies are as good. The green chile version, in particular, was downright dry. It didn’t work as a green chile dish, nor as a pie.

    If you want something other than a savory pie ignore the “sides” and just put one of its sweet pies a bit to the left of your savory one. They’re small enough but make up in flavor what they lack in mass and stature. The honey bourbon pecan pie is sweet but not overly so, with a buttery, nutty richness. It wasn’t the crust or even the fudge that was the star of the salted caramel chocolate fudge pie, but rather the salted caramel. I’m a sucker for a bit of salt with my sweet and this did the trick.

    When Americans consider the arsenal of potential delivery devices for their proteins, pie crusts tend not to be what they reach for—slices of bread, sure, or (at least here in Southern California) tortillas. But with options like Pop Pie Co., that may be changing. San Diego might be taking its rightful place in the British Commonwealth [insert Brexit-Trump comparison joke here].

    But I still want my Thanksgiving apple pie.

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