One element I’d like to incorporate into this blog is my search for unique and intriguing eateries, preferably within driving distance of where I live. My husband and I love Epiphany Cafe here in Tuscaloosa, and we also adore Yellow Hammer Restaurant in Waverly. So, I thought, what other hidden gems are waiting to be discovered in the small towns and cities around us? Hopefully lots, and hopefully I can ferret them all out with my googling skills.
Today we ventured to Pie Lab in Greensboro. I happened upon it in an old issue of Bon Appetit the other day, and also found an article here from the NY Times. In fact, an internet search turned up all kinds of enthusiastic reviews. Needless to say, my husband and I eagerly anticipated our visit all week. The fact that it is a whole establishment dedicated to sweet and savory pies is exciting enough, but it was also founded on a premise of bringing the community together to create ideas for improving life in the area. Promising, no?
I liked the space pretty well. There was a long, low, dark wooden counter for the cash register and various stages of the pie-making process, for example, a row of pie pans heaped with piles of graham cracker crumbs. It reminded me of those old-fashioned soda shop counters you see in pictures. The coffee and tea bags were self-serve with a selection of mismatched mugs, and a shelf of mason jars sat above the iced tea and lemonade (which was full of floating lemon slices). Big tables and lots of chairs allowed plenty of room to move around and created an open feel. There were local photos tacked up on the wooden walls and tiny bunches of real flowers on the tables. Charmingly, one of the employee’s hands were covered in flour as she took our money, made change, smiled, and apologized for the white dust on our dimes. Like we minded! The chalkboard menu showcased 5 sweet and 2 savory pies: coconut cream, banana cream, lemon icebox, blueberry, spinach/walnut/feta quiche, beef stroganoff, and one more my husband and I are kicking ourselves for forgetting.
The piece of quiche we shared was impressive- deep dish, full of spinach, very little detectable egginess (nice for a plant-based eater like me!), with a great combination of flavors including onion. Amazing. We hope to recreate something like it at home. My lemon icebox pie was tasty though too sweet for me, with a nice thick graham cracker crust. My husband’s blueberry pie was better, with a lattice top crust, a very strong presence of cinnamon and nutmeg, and what looked to be small farm-fresh blueberries. We plan to make a second visit in the coming weeks in hopes of trying new flavors.
Our only disappointment (and the reason there are no photographs in this post) is that we somehow felt very, very awkward instead of welcomed or comfortable. I couldn’t bring myself to pull out my camera! When we got back in the car, I said to my husband (a native Alabamian), “What happened? Did we do something wrong?” You know, sometimes as a transplant to a region you break unspoken rules without intending to. Like in the summer of 2009 when I lightheartedly said to an Auburn fan that they had the “winning Gene” (that was one of their t-shirt slogans) so I was sure they would be successful and field a great team, etc. Their faces immediately became defensive. I meant it as a friendly compliment, but my husband later explained to me that I had violated the rules of the secret language between Auburn and Alabama fans. Or the time I walked into a graduate school friend’s parents’ house for the first time in Arab, AL and exclaimed “Oh great! The playoffs are on! This is the Cubs’ year!” and learned that you are not supposed to reveal your affinity for the Cubs when they are playing the Braves. Oops.
Anyway, thankfully today at Pie Lab the hubby didn’t think we made any missteps, so we are not sure where the awkwardness came from or if we accidentally fed the awkwardness ourselves or what. I had on no make-up, threw my hair in a ponytail, wore casual clothes from Old Navy and Target, and was accompanied by a husband in athletic shorts and an old t-shirt, so I don’t think we looked too much like intimidating city-slickers, though of course I’m sure they knew we weren’t locals. Maybe they feared a review on yet another 30-something’s food blog, or maybe they were stressed and somber after the disastrous tornadoes three weeks ago, who knows? In any case, we will try them again in a few weeks after we return from France, and see if there is a different vibe… and more opportunity to take photos to share with y’all. Is the only sweet and savory pie store I am aware of, so we cannot afford to hold a grudge against it yet. :)
One thing about visiting a pie shop: it sure puts you in the mood to buy new bakeware! I have been lusting after about these lovely Emile Henry pie dishes in sky, slate, and sand for a while now, but haven’t fit them in the budget yet. Wish we had more storage space in our kitchen for such niceties!