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Deconstructing Pie

May 24, 2011

I’m not always a nice guy. Sometimes on teh Internets I snipe at things and take pot shots. What can I say, I have strong feelings about food, and I don’t always have the time to elaborate on the specifics.

After all, the comments section of someone else’s blog or a talk thread on a tangential subject isn’t always the most appropriate place to go into all of the excruciating details. Short form responses are not my strength. I wish they were.

Anyhow, in times like these I’m glad I’ve got my own FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Because yesterday I happened to type the following words into my phone in the parking lot of a Price Chopper, “OMG! That deconstructed mess at Creo ranks as among one if the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Wow.”

Obviously, I should not be submitting comments on my phone while Little Miss Fussy is demanding exit from the car with increasing urgency and volume. However I felt compelled to speedily weigh in on the issue because some local Yelper had mentioned that they thought this ill-conceived dessert was just great.

Regardless it’s not fair to make a statement like that without backing it up.

Fundamentally, I have no problem with deconstructing pie. In fact, I’ve enjoyed some magnificent examples of the form years ago at Postrio in San Francisco. I can’t remember my anniversary, but I can remember meals I’ve eaten over a decade ago.

Anyway, the Postrio “pie” was perfect in its simplicity. Its deconstruction allowed each piece of the dish to shine brighter than it would have otherwise. Warm strawberries and rhubarb were beautifully stewed and spooned into the bottom of a bowl. The flavors were bright and pure, and the rhubarb was cooked to the point of being tender-crisp, providing balance in texture and a counterpoint to the sweetness.

A scoop of homemade ice cream sat adjacent to the fruit, and served as a resting place for a gorgeous lattice of piecrust. The pastry was golden and crisp, and visually stunning as it came out of the bowl on a dramatic angle.

This dish makes sense.

The inherent logic is, “Let’s break a pie apart into its component pieces so each one can be the best of that possible version it can be.”

I’m still stupefied by the deconstructed key lime pie I was served at Creo in Albany. It’s as if someone heard that taking a pie apart into its component pieces was a good idea, but didn’t stop to think why you might do that. It’s not about culinary creativity for its own sake.

And of all the pies to deconstruct, it’s a head scratcher as to why they would pick key lime. I grew up in Miami, and I’ve spent a lot of time down in the Florida Keys. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of key lime pie.

There isn’t much to pull apart. The pie consists of a graham cracker crust, filled with key lime custard, and topped with some whipped cream. Occasionally it is garnished with a small sliver of a key lime.

Maybe the pastry chef was in a rush the night we were there. I really wish I had a picture, and I may still be able to dig one up. But it looked like there had been some kind of accident. And it looked like the pie lost… and was bleeding.

Instead of whipped cream, whose soothing fattiness generally serves as a welcome foil to a good key lime pie’s bracing tartness, there was a foamy meringue topping. And it was haphazardly plated with some key lime custard and what must have been a raspberry sauce. This randomly splattered deep red drizzle may have added color and drama to the plate, but it probably wasn’t exactly the kind of drama they were looking for.

And in a nod to the graham cracker crust was a pile of sandy graham cracker dust.

So all in all, it was sandy, foamy and entirely too sweet. It looked like a mess. And it was assuredly not made better by being separated into the component pieces of apparently some entirely different pie that has meringue and raspberries.

If you happen to like that, that’s your business. Taste is a funny thing. But as a deconstructed pie, the dish totally failed. And to this day, it lingers in my mind as indelible as the amazing dish served to me all those years ago at Postrio.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2011 9:48 am

    I used to work at Creo a little over a year ago and people used to RAVE about this dessert. I never tried it, so I wouldn’t know, but your review is pretty interesting. I definitely would have been looking for the heavy whipped cream, too!

  2. May 24, 2011 2:22 pm

    You seem to be suggesting that this “pie” was conceptually a bad idea from the start, not just in execution. So why did you order one? Curiosity or just to see if Creo could pull one off?

    • May 24, 2011 6:27 pm

      Good question. I was with a group of friends, and one of them ordered the dessert. But you are right, I am suggesting the idea was bad from the start. Although I could imagine a much much better execution for a deconstructed key lime pie. A simple key lime custard, paired with a buttery graham flour cookie alongside, with something gently whipped cream to cut the tartness.

      One of my friends also ordered the farmed Atlantic salmon, even though she was a dedicated reader of my blog. Which just goes to show how difficult it is to change people’s behavior when it comes to choosing what to eat.

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