Pie in the ghetto sky

BY ALEX SUNDSTROM

On Tuesday, a customer picked out a 6″ lemon meringue pie and asked for it to be cut in half so he could eat it more easily. “I just pick them up and eat them like cookies,” suggested Renee McLeod, owner and driving force behind Somerville’s Petsi Pies. What about when you get meringue on your nose? “Well, then you just wash your face.” The customer ultimately got his pie in halves, but Renee’s unbridled pie enthusiasm remained.

Open since November, Petsi Pies is a small storefront filled with a few chairs and pie heaven. It is just a few minutes walk from the Law School (next to the “ghetto Star” Market on Beacon Street). It’s strikingly informal – the proprietress Renee occasionally bursts into song while making her pies from scratch all day, and she remembers every customer’s name.

And while the offerings in the display case are delicious – a mozzarella/tomato/eggplant tart ($2.95 a slice) is rich and hearty, a molasses cookie is chewy and serviceable – but ordering off the menu is something you can do anywhere. The best way to take advantage of Petsi Pies is to wait around and see what comes out of the kitchen or just ask Renee to bake you a pie, any kind of pie.

Cambridge-bound Australians longing for the crimped meat pies of home (the pie did originate as a way to carry meat around, after all) after some persistence have gotten Petsi Pies to regularly produce steak and mushroom pies. In the span of half an hour, two different Australians came by to snap up some steak pies as they came out of Petsi Pies’ always-full ovens.

A pie fresh out of the oven here is a life-changing experience. The crust is simple perfection: it is flaky without being dense, soft and tender without getting soggy or losing its shape. The experience of eating a piping-hot chicken pot pie ($5.95) was like eating an amazing chicken sandwich, such was the added value of the pie crust. Usually crust, even very good crust, feels like it is there to force the ingredients of the pie filling together and keep them hot. Not this crust.

If the pot pie had any flaws, it was that a lack of sauce prevented the flavors of the very fresh ingredients from integrating into a whole – the carrot pieces were a bit too distinct. This might well have changed had the pie been allowed to cool for more than 30-40 seconds before I ate it, however.

In any case, whatever weaknesses a lightly sauced mixture of fresh ingredients and orgasmic crust have in a savory pie vanish entirely when the pie is filled with fruit. I ordered a peach pie a couple of hours in advance, then ended up devouring most of it on the sidewalk in front of the Star Market. The pie ($14) was bursting with peach slices; though softened in the cooking process, the flavor remained undiminished – trying the peach pie is just like biting into a fresh peach, and no sweeter (for too much sugar would mask the wonderfully fresh peaches). The crust was just browned enough for the pie to reach a platonic ideal overall.

It is possible that Renee McLeod will eventually tire of baking pies all day, hire more employees, buy more ovens, turn the reins over to others and eventually have to struggle with maintaining pie quality as volume rises. Whether or not this happens, there’s no excuse for passing up a pie made by hands as skilled as hers while the opportunity is available.

Harvard students are already starting to flock to Petsi Pies – the Public Interest Auction was lucky enough to score a donation of four pies, for example, and a Crimson staff meeting this week featured three Petsi Pies. So, law students, if you are going to follow your peers to something as non-delicious as a legal career in a large law firm, at least follow them as well to this pure joy of pie.

Comments