Serious Eats: Chicago
Hoosier Mama: A Truly Great Big Northern City Pie Baker
"Even day-old Hoosier Mama banana cream pie is insanely good."
Having lived in big cities nearly all my life (my four years at Grinnell College were the only exception) I have to come to one inescapable conclusion about where to find great, or even really good, pie: You need to go to the country, or at the very least a city in the South, to find excellent pie.
New York City water may or may not be a necessary ingredient in great bagels or pizza, but it's not much help when it comes to pie. I've had great pie at the Grand Traverse Pie Company in northern Michigan, at the Coffee Cup Cafe in Sully, Iowa, at the Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina, and at an all-pie breakfast at a Southern Foodways conference in Oxford, Mississippi (these last two pie-eating experiences were courtesy of the inimitable pastry chef Karen Barker), but until I had my first forkful of pie at Chicago's Hoosier Mama I don't remember having a life-changing, seriously delicious piece of pie in a big northern city.
Hoosier Mama's Paula Hamey opened her teeny, tiny shop last year, after having wholesaled for a few years. We bought slices of the strawberry rhubarb pie, which you won't see here because we ate them too fast.
The first thing you notice as your fork makes it through HM's strawberry-rhubarb pie is the crust. It's supremely flaky, light, and not in the least bit greasy. It's also got just the right amount of salt. I bet an all-crust pie from HM would be just dandy.
The next thing you notice is the filling, full of tender pieces of rhubarb and strawberry that have miraculously kept their shape. How does she do that? And, remarkably, the filling is simultaneously sweet and tart, like a great glass of lemonade.
It is possible that Hamey's raspberry pie is even better (plus, I did manage to take a picture of it). It's a short, compact pie because there's only so many fresh raspberries you can throw into one pie crust, but man it manages to pack a wicked, pure, raspberry flavor punch. Notice that some of the raspberries still look like, well, raspberries, rather than raspberry goop. Structural integrity in a raspberry pie--what a concept! This is a raspberry reduction poured into an amazingly flaky and light crust masquerading as pie.
We also had a terrific mini-apple pie at Hoosier Mama. The tender apples still held their shape, the crust was killer, and there was just enough cinnamon and sugar to make it supremely delicious.
Robyn's friend Rose bought her a Hoosier Mama banana cream pie for her birthday, but somehow I wasn't invited to the party (actually I was eating goat). But I convinced Robyn to bring me a piece of day-old banana cream pie to the Gold Peak Tea event at Blackbird. You know what? Even day-old Hoosier Mama banana cream pie is insanely good.
It's made with lots of decidedly-not locally sourced sliced bananas (no banana trees in Chicago that I know of), house-made vanilla wafers, and white chocolate shavings. I don't even like white chocolate, but I loved this pie.
The best news is that there are so many more pies at Hoosier Mama awaiting my fork. Blackbird co-owner Donnie Madia told me about a savory pork and peach pie he had at Hoosier Mama that was, in his words, "just incredible." Pork and peaches in a flaky pie crust--three of my favorite things in one flavor-packed pie, OMG.
Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, I'll be back. Unless of course the serious eaters can convince Paula Hamey to open a Hoosier Mama New York branch. Perhaps we should start a petition.
Hoosier Mama Pie Shop
1618 1/2 Chicago Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map)
Hoosier pies are also available at these locations.