Raised off the grid (no electricity or telephone) in a log cabin in Arkansas, Tonya Ellen Bates learned the gritty basics of deep-country life at an early age. Her family raised their own food, canned the excess, and celebrated good times with a deep-dish pie. That experience led her to commercial kitchens at age 14, where over the years she picked up the knowledge to teach culinary arts in Seattle. Two years ago Bates moved to San Antonio where she has extended the art of pie (both sweet and savory) in her "brick-and-portal" kitchen, Partridge in a Pie Tree. Lacking a storefront, she takes orders online from a menu that changes weekly, and delivers to your doorstep in 24-to-48 hours.
Last week, the Current placed an order and formed an impromptu jury to judge her pies, and yes, this is one stunt you should try at home.
We ordered two savory pies, and two desserts. With half the editorial crew vegetarian, choosing a meatless entrée was obvious. We went for the veggie version of the farmers market galette. Made with a crust of crème fraiche and cornmeal dough, it was stuffed with two kinds of goat cheese from Wateroak Farm in Robertson County, roasted heirloom tomatoes hydroponically grown by Village Farms in Monahans, spring onions, and arugula, and topped with paper-thin slices of black radishes. Quartet size (feeds 4-8 people), it's priced at $28.
For the carnivores, we ordered the meat pie en croute. Wrapped in a flaky crust made with house-rendered lard, it was jammed with roughly ground pork butt and tongue, mixed with shallots, herbs, spices and cognac, and topped with bacon-like slabs of fatback. The massive pie (like the galette, a "quartet") was covered with a glaze made with San Marzano tomatoes, Korean fermented red peppers and ginger. A generous bag of chicharones (light and airy, not tough and greasy) accompanied the dish. House-made kimchee and a dipping sauce of cheese and whole-seed mustard were in plenty as condiments for the savory pies. The quartet size is $34.
Most (myself included) found the galette sparked with flavor, and the crust soft and toothsome. While one dissenting voice found it "bready" and "a strong [visual] display, but less interesting to eat," others pronounced it "freaking delicious, with a great aftertaste." Two tasters claimed it was like pizza, "a nice blend of dough, cheese, and tomatoes," and ate it finger-style to prove the point. A word of caution, though. After sitting out awhile, the once-soft crust turned brittle and crumbly, a not unlikely change, but something to be conscious of if serving at a drawn-out affair.
The meat pie was tackled only by the serious carnivores on staff. Made with what the menu describes as "humanely raised" Texas pork, it had a strong taste and smell that told us this wasn't bland store-bought meat. All tasters agreed that it was almost gamey in flavor; one declared it "so rich, it's almost decadent." This is a love-it-or hate it dish. If you don't like heavy meat flavors, stay away.
For sweets, we chose single serving-sized strawberry pies, priced $8 each. Made with tiny Poteet berries, a savory note is added with balsamic sorghum, the whole smoothed with rose petals. Crème fraiche is provided as topping. We also tried salted marshmallow grapefruit pots, $4 a piece.
Neither was overly sweet; one taster stated "Her desserts calm the palate after the bold tastes of her mains." Not a bad assessment, I think. Several tasters (who claimed they disliked marshmallows) found the slight saltiness of the grapefruit pot refreshing. As for the marshmallow component, it wasn't in put-on-a-stick-and-roast-it form, but rendered into a light puff-topping; the grapefruit none of us found bitter or sour, but only vaguely citrus. The strawberry hand-pies, though made of an intriguing list of ingredients, were by comparison less successful in the opinion of the majority, though a couple tasters strongly disagreed, and asked for more.
Final judgment: we'll be ordering again to try the other savory pies. The Asian influences in the condiments, and honest ingredients appeal, while feeding a half-dozen or more, the prices are within our means.
Best Bets savory pies
Hours order 24-48 hours in advance
The Skinny Honest ingredients and innovative techniques
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