Pie is a dish for all seasons. Even within all the various types – fruit, chess, custard – there’s a pie that can ease the heat of a summer day or warm your insides on a winter one. And through the seasons one can be taken to whatever mood they wish with but a taste of that seasonal pie. A pumpkin pie in summer tastes just as good as it does in fall, and brings all the holiday joy with it. A strawberry pie in winter can whisk one away to the warm breezes of summer. And sometimes one wants all the seasons at once. That is the kind of mood I was in when I set out to Petee’s Pie Company.
Tucked away in the Bowery, Petee’s is an old fashioned pie shop, epitomized by its hanging sign reading simply “PIE”. The light brown awning bearing its full name hangs over a window where you can see customers eating their pie at the little wooden counter (the only seating available). Inside you are immediately met with a freezer case and wheelie rack full of pie, each pie with a cute decorated name plate. The register is right in front of you along with an employee bearing a patient yet efficient manner, ready to assist you but not pushing you to move on in the tiny shop. One can see the baking going on in the quaint kitchen area that makes up nearly the entirety of the store.
I was visiting Petee’s that day with my parents, which gave us a great excuse to sample three different slices. In order to get the full taste of their variety, we ordered a lemon poppy seed, brown butter honey pecan, and sour cherry. They offered to heat them up, and we happily took them up on the offer for all except the lemon. So while the other two were warming up, a tidy slice of lemon poppy seed was delivered to us on a cute orange plate.
I am a huge fan of lemony desserts. There is a visceral joy when the tang of lemon mixes with a bit of sugar. Not to mention a sunny yellow glowing like the light at the end of a tunnel that any good lemon bar or lemon meringue pie has. But the latter of the two always seems to disappoint me because of its second component: meringue. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good meringue. I have even recently begun to enjoy meringue cookies! But there is always so darn much of it when really, what I want is that lemon curd! Yet I keep getting lemon meringue pies piled high with sugary egg whip that constitutes ¾ of a pie whose operative word is lemon.
But this lemon poppy seed won my heart from the start by cutting any meringue nonsense out of the picture. This was straight up lemon through and through. The scent was as bright and fresh as the color of the uninhibited curd. However, when I stopped smiling over the absence of one element, I noticed the addition of another. This lemon pie had a sort of brown skin that formed on the top. Because this filling had been fully exposed to the ovens heat, some real cooking and chemical changes occurred. As my fork passed through the tip of the slice, it was met with a resistance that excited me. After breaking through the thin outer layer, I discovered a curd that could hold its own. This wasn’t the light and flowy lemon curd we know and love. This was as stable as any pumpkin pie.
I took my first bite and tasted the best lemon pie I have ever had. The lemony inside was giving me exactly what I hoping for; a stream of tang with a sprinkling of sweet. I was transported to a sun-kissed lake. I could almost feel the warm summer breeze. The browned top added a pleasant chew and variation in texture that can sometimes be missing from a regular one crust pie. Perhaps that was the poppy seed-like portion of this lemon poppy seed pie, for there were no signature flecks of black amongst the yellow goodness that is typical of a poppy seed-laden item. But this skin gave the textural variation that poppy seeds do at times. It was the purely lemon pie for which I had been searching for so long finally meeting my taste buds.
Before moving on to the brown butter honey pecan, I must mention the crust that held both of these one-crust pies together. Petee’s seemed to be on board with my personal theory, and had a different crust for their one and two crust pies. The single crusts that encased the lemon and pecan pies were more sturdy and had a propensity to crumble away upon being met with a fork. When fork met with tongue, they were just a little sweet and just a little buttery. They knew they were a backup singer, and did their job commendably, letting the filling shine while not taking away from the experience by being bland or off-putting.
When the two hot pies arrived their distinct aromas wafted softly into our noses. We could hardly take the time to inspect each individually. I dove into the pecan while my parents took bites of the cherry. Deep sighs of agreement followed as we shared knowing looks about the high quality of our respective pies. The honey was subtle, giving the pecans a more complex sweetness than is found in your typical pecan. Usually, one gets the (most likely Karo) corn syrup filling flavor overwhelming the mouth with the pecans set on top adding a hearty base flavor. While this pie certainly had the crust of nuts on top, it tasted more cohesive than most. The brown butter and honey tied the pecans and sticky sugary substance together in perfect harmony. It all worked together as one unified force of holiday-like flavor.
After savoring a couple bites, we switched slices and I dove into the sour cherry. As mentioned before, the crust for the cherry was different than the previous two. Light, flakey, glossy and golden brown. Visually, it was the perfect cover crust. The cherries softly fell from the sides in all their brilliant red beauty starkly shining against the light blue plate. This was an image of summer. Its flavor only bolstered that feeling. Cherry shot through the pallet with a tang different from the lemon, but no less adored. This tartness sat further back on the tongue with a more staccato-like impact. Where the lemon glided in on a sea of cool fresh flavor, the cherry hit you like a cannonball in a swimming pool. This was a cherry pie meant for a Fourth of July party, or a family and friend shindig filled with burgers and dogs and seersucker. This was all encased exquisitely in a crust that tasted as good as it looked. It did not crumble, but gave a clean break for each bite, allowing one to have a well-rounded fork every time. It had its own thing to say with its flavor, not as much of a back-up singer like the single crust, but working directly in tandem with the cherries to create an experience. It’s supple, buttery support played with the sharpness of the cherries beautifully. After having three extraordinary pies, ending with the cherry left me off with a bang and a palate that could freely appreciate the journey it had just been on.
Despite the frigid air that met us outdoors, Petee’s Pie Company warmed us not only with its roof over our heads and physically warmed goods, but their comforting vibe and damn tasty pie. Fruit, nut, or chess, Petee’s does it all with distinction. I plan on finding my way back there to get a taste of their salty chocolate chess, banana cream, apple, maple whiskey walnut…All of them really. I should also mention that Petee’s does vegan and gluten free pies for those with dietary requirements! They’re a place with pie for all seasons, and all people.