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Is It Homemade or Is It Memorex

July 10, 2018

If you live in the Capital Region, maybe you’ve heard that Grandma’s Pies & Restaurant is closing. This is the very last week for the decades-old Central Avenue institution.

For some, this is a tragic loss. I’ve heard it said it’s the end of an era.

Personally, I’m more concerned about the neighboring Parivar. While these two are separate businesses, Parivar is on the same property, and both buildings are for sale. Parivar is more up my alley. The kitchen there makes vegetarian South Indian street food, without pretense. It’s a cuisine I never expected to find in upstate New York when we moved here over a decade ago.

Pies? Great pies are everywhere. But the feelings people have about local businesses are just that. Feelings. Although in the last few days, there’s a thorny issue surrounding this beloved local business.

Were the pies actually homemade? A lot of people have their doubts.

My thoughts on this matter might be surprising to some. Because to me the question is entirely irrelevant. Some people loved these pies. Some people were not impressed.

Did Grandma’s fans love the pies because they were homemade, or was this homey spot just part of their annual holiday tradition? There’s something special about returning to the same place every year, calling in an order, being part of a community of loyal customers, and the anticipation of it all.

For those people, the loss is very real. And I’m not going to besmirch their memories.

Nor can I, because I have no special knowledge of what went on behind the scenes at Grandma’s. I do however, have access to the Internet and I’m not afraid to use it. Which means I found this very telling video.

Regardless of if Grandma’s made all of their pies or pie fillings, we know for certain that at some point the restaurant made its own chocolate pudding. But we also know that it probably wasn’t made the way your own Grandma used to make it.

Mostly, the difference is the use of industrially frozen and sweetened egg yolks.

Is it possible for a restaurant the size of Grandma’s to crack eggs and separate them for its pudding and baked goods? You bet. So was this a restaurant that took shortcuts? Sure. But it was also one that used Callebaut Belgian chocolate in its pudding. That’s a baller move.

Plus, they took enough pride in this part of their production to shoot a video and put it up online. And that’s saying something too. I’ve heard there are pies that use their chocolate pudding as a base, and I would love to give one or two of these a try before Grandma’s is gone for good.

Many many years ago, long before I started writing for All Over Albany, I visited Grandma’s and had a perfectly unremarkable pie. Like many restaurant visits of that time, I felt the place was surprisingly expensive for food that should have been better. But I didn’t know about the chocolate pudding. Most likely Mrs. Fussy and I went for fruit pies. Most likely one of them was cherry, and the other one had a crumb topping. Unfortunately, I didn’t write it up on Yelp, and my memories of the specifics are hazy.

My hunch is we ordered wrong. Because, in those early days when California was still on the mind, the idea of ordering cream pies would never have even occurred to me as a good barometer of a pie shop’s skill.

These days, I know better.

Seriously, that banana cream pie at Blue Ribbon in Schenectady still has me enraptured. However, the chocolate cream wasn’t quite at the same level.


For fruit pies, our local farms seem to be a great source. We just brought a raspberry pie from Lansing Farm to a family gathering, and it was the hit of the dessert table. I’m told they are made by Farmer Al’s wife, using the farm’s own raspberries.

And then there are the from-scratch bakers who don’t cut corners. I’m still trying to goad Greg Kern into baking me a pie at little pecks one day for old time’s sake. But we do have some great bakeries out here. Nobody who cares about pie is going to have to buy one from the supermarket just because Grandma’s Pies is closing.

This is part of the ebb and flow of local business. They don’t last forever. Even the ones that are beloved by a large swath of the community. Enjoy them while you can. And support them as much as possible.

Maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world to have a slice of chocolate cream pie for lunch.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2018 2:09 pm

    While I thought the KB piece in the Times Union was mean spirited at best, I can’t really muster up any feelings on the subject aside from 1- the loss of jobs. They seemed to have had a lot of long time employees and that says a lot about a business and for them, I am sad and 2- I’m a passionate advocate of all scratch all the time and I’m pretty sure they weren’t open about the fact that their pies were frozen. That’s shady.
    I never felt the need to go there because being in the industry I’d heard from enough people through the years that their pies were frozen. And regardless of if they make their own pudding, I still don’t want to eat housemade pudding out of a SYSCO crust which they 100% are because I worked for a company that used those crusts and there is no mistaking that distinctive machine made crimp.

  2. July 10, 2018 2:34 pm

    Quote from the KB piece: “It’s pie, people. Pie. Some bland, crumbly crust with too-sweet filling dumped in and baked in the oven.” Maybe Grandma took some shortcuts in her dotage. But that description would also cover some of the most delectable pastries I’ve ever eaten, like the buttermilk pie at Micklethwait Meats in Austin.

  3. Fisher permalink
    July 12, 2018 2:57 pm

    I worked at Grandma’s, and its sister restaurant Ellie Mae’s on Wolf Road, back in the late 80s and early 90s. The fruit pies were frozen from Sysco. We took them out of the Sysco box, baked them, and put them in Grandma’s boxes. Some of the components of the cream pies were from Sysco mixes. At the time, Sysco had a retail outlet less than a mile away on Fuller Road where anyone could buy the exact same pies for half the price.
    The pies were not the only “cheat” that occurred at those restaurants (and probably many other restaurants) but cheating on the thing you’re famous for is especially sad.

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