SFC: Pie on the Table, because the Sky is Too Far Away

                I spoke a little bit about holiday leftovers (and when I say little bit I mean LITTLE BIT) in the last post, only to realize soon afterwards of a very important thanksgiving component I had forgotten: Pie. Or, to be more accurate as far as leftovers are concerned, Pie Crust Dough.

                Perhaps my lack of initial attention given in the post was due to a glossing over of obvious thoughts; if you have leftover pie dough, you just make more pies right? I mean I LOVE pies, I want some more right now… more pecan! –throws a nut on the ground a-la Thor movie-

                -cough- Sorry. Anyways. As many can I’m sure tell of the many uses for pie dough in family dinners, various other desserts, even breakfast (quiche anyone?). At the same time, I recognize an opportunity to finally make something in representation of my favorite Pastie Truck… because I am NOT gonna try and reproduce their awesome pastry crust. But leftover pie dough… not too bad of a way to make your own tasty little at-home version.

                Now, to get started on instructions for making something probably featured in almost every culinary TV Show and most Blogs.

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Pie Dough (a-la Alton Brown)Amount: 1 ½ pie tins, ish

3 oz/6 Tb Butter

1 oz/2 Tb Lard (or in my case, Shortening)

6 oz/1 cup Flour + extra

½ tsp Salt

Up to ¼ cup Ice Water

1 Tb Apple Cider Vinegar

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                After weighing out the various components, cut and break up your fat sources into very small pieces, ½” dice equivalent works really well here. Stick in the fridge for a few hours, transferring to the freezer 15 minutes before using them.

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                The most important thing in making pie dough is keeping everything COLD. If you’re using any equipment, and fork for mixing, your bowls, and any ingredient in significant amount other than flour (it really doesn’t hold temp) should ideally be cold. This is all for the flour and butter (or more accurately, the water within), ensuring that the fat is fully incorporated, which takes some work, without the water leaking out, mixing with the starch, and getting warm enough to form gluten.

                With everything chilled, we can start mixing. This can all be done quite easily in a food processor if you have one, otherwise a bowl it is (something plastic, with rougher sides for better adherence) to work with your hands…  or that mazzaluna-ish butter cutter-mixer thing. But hey, I actually prefer working with my fingers when it comes to pie dough; I don’t know, I think it’s just that feeling of pushing in that butter, plus it allows for more actual control (like whipping cream with a whisk vs a stand mixer).

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              Combine the 6oz of flour, salt, and partially frozen butter. Blend, or work in with your fingertips, very thoroughly until “cornmealy.” This is the first step in the two-pronged attack on a quality dough, incorporating the butter around many individual molecules of starch. When cooked, these fats will soften while keeping the starches from connecting and forming some of those long gluteny chains, thus Tenderizing the dough.

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              But Tenderness isn’t everything in pie dough, so we’ll need to do something to make sure it’s Flaky. This is where the shortening comes in; though it can be any kind of fat, lard is traditional but one can also just use more cold butter. Work it into the dough like before, this time stopping when the lumps of fat are worked down to “pea” size. By keeping the shortening  larger, and not completely working it into the flour, we end up creating little fat pockets, almost like layers, in the soon-to-be dough. When cooked, these will expand and steam, expanding and creating layers similarly to what happens with a good biscuit (just, not as noticeable, smaller scale).

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               Last we add the actual fluids, the vinegar (not in the actual Alton recipe, but I always like it to ensure stability, or whatever it does) and a small amount of ice water, even more important to have the cold here due to the direct water-starch contact. If you can, adding this is done best with a spray bottle, spritzing over the flour and letting it integrate and mix faster than the sloppy-ish method of straight pouring.

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               Now, how much you’ll actually need is dependent on multiple measuring and climactic factors. Either way, only start with about half of what’s called and keep adding while mixing until it’s where it should be. When mixing by hand, this will be when the dough actually starts to naturally form into a ball (I don’t really follow the “when you squeeze and it comes together” concept, because I’ve had times where it follows that rule but the dough will still crack and not hold together when rolling), and the actual do is nice and SMOOTH, best seen when one cuts through it.

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                Wrap this in plastic, pressing down into a flatter round for easier rolling. This is the familiar point where many a recipe says to divide the dough in two; do NOT do that with this proportion of dough, as I found it’s only enough to roll out as-is for one pie. That was after dividing it and having to try and recombine them later, then the shape being all weird and filling in holes, but the flour on the dough made it impossible to fully stick and… well yeah. Just do one mound, or double the recipe for two.

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                Store in the fridge for at least an hour to firm the fats back up. Take out and let rest and soften a bit (a little too firm to roll straight from the fridge). Flour the countertop heavily, especially if it’s a random smooth counter like mine, roll out and use however. But if you’re only using a smaller amount of dough (leftovers), I found you could do a bit of rolling directly on the plastic. Which is great for these pastie-like items, since you don’t have the flour to get in the way when you have to seal any edges (though there is a downside, mentioned later).

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                Once rolled into whatever shape you want for your desired filled item, full circle for empanada-like half-fold or a longer strip to make a little package, we can get to stuffing. Take the desired inside mix, for me a Butternut and Cauliflower Saute with Curried Yogurt sauce, place near an end in a large mound.

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                Grabbing the plastic, lift some of the closer ends up around the filling to have something for the dough to overlap. Take the larger end and fold over, leaving a nice, smooth, perfect looking cover on our little savory pie package.

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                Cut off any and all excess and carefully pinch all edges, holes, and anything that could constitute a leak. Very important to be extra delicate and careful here with this unprotected, tender dough… I made sure to treat it gently, softly moved it underneath a spatula after making it nice and smooth, even and perfect, lifted and moved very carefully over to the pan for baking….

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                And of course it all screwed up after I actually pulled the spatula AWAY. Had to turn it upside down and put all this extra dough on top in a not-so-pretty configuration. Which is a lesson for you all (but really a message to me) to at least get some flour on the bottom before moving… or even better just stuff and fold the dough in the pan itself.

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                Wash and brush the top with a nice layer of milk to encourage good browning and slide into a 350F oven for, say, half an hour, maybe a bit more.

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                Finished, you’ll have a nice, good sized hot pocket of pie dough and delicious filling which, to my surprise, holds up very well to being picked up. The dough itself is obviously much flakier than the Pastie, so it can make a bit of a mess of pastry “snow” on the plate, but if wrapped up in a parchment sleeve it’d make for a very suitable to-go meal.

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                So yeah, that’s it. A longer post for pie dough than I thought I’d make, not I’m feeling tired and ashamed at my ramblings. Either way this should leave me with no more leftovers to forget about, at least until Christmas. Too bad I don’t have any more dough, for some reason I’m craving pie…

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SFC: Cream Cheese Chain Reaction

                My pursuit into Johnnycake for my Dad’s Father’s Day breakfast had me buying an entire tub of Shortening just so I could use a cup. With all that leftover, me and my cousin got into a recent habit of getting together to make pies; what better use of shortening than some flaky pie dough right? We’ve made Strawberry, Straw-Rhubarb, Apricot-Plum, and Apple with Butterscotch Crumble! Mmmmm, yum.

                In our recent week, my cousin’s expressed curiosity in the cooking of Cheesecake, which I myself hadn’t actually done in years… but I don’t know why. Either way I was excited to get back to it, especially with that particularly tasty recipe I used so long back.

                … yes, that is exactly what you think it is. I got the recipe off the box that my Springform Pans came in (if you don’t have any, a good round cake pan should do, just really make sure it’s nonstick). I don’t care. I made it 3+ years ago, and I still remember that it was GOOD; fresh, fluffy, and something I could actually eat in a whole sitting (comfortingly).

Basic Cheesecake

1 ¼ cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 1 package of 9 Crackers)

¼ cup Sugar

¼ cup Butter, melted

2lbs Cream Cheese (… 4 of the 8oz packages)

14oz (1 can) Sweetened Condensed Milk

4 Eggs

½ cup Flour

1 Tb Vanilla Extract and ½ Tsp Lemon Zest

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                We of course gotta start with the crust; it’s a great way to use any stale Crackers you have leftover from an old S’mores day. I just used a combo of the Honey and Cinnamon Sugar since I had them, ground up once again in my handy-dandy tiny-ass robocoup.

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                Mix with sugar and butter thoroughly, being especially careful with the butter; the final mix should look like this:

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                It should hold its shape nicely when squeezed, and not fall apart easily when prodded; you may need to adjust to get it where you want, that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be like a dough or cement or anything, but you get the idea. Press this into the bottom of your pan in a nice, even layer; don’t worry about trying to get a delicate, perfect little thin layer of it, it’s a pain in the ass (especially with any non-stick bottom like one should be using) and when it comes to cheesecake, ya need a nice, thick layer to stand up to that rich custard.

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                You may have leftover, like I did (just made a big batch to the ratios), which you COULD use to make another crust for some other pie or whatever in the future. Or, you could do what I did and mix in some of your favorite spices/flavorings, spread it out on a pan and bake in the oven to use as a “Graham Cracker Garnish,” either in big chunks or crushed up, for whatever dessert (or even savory dish) you want.

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                I was going to include a “tip” about wrapping the bottom section of the springform pan in parchment paper or foil to avoid leaks going in or out, but I don’t it’s an actual thing… I must have misheard something else, because if anything I think it might make MORE holes than less. I WILL say that you should wrap the bottom and sides in aluminum foil, like so. We WILL be cooking this in a water bath afterall.

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                Now, many recipes, this one in particular, say you can just leave the crust alone now and let it bake with the batter later. Don’t do this, just… don’t. Even if it does work in some situations, I say don’t take the risk; pre-bake the crust on its own, at about 350 for 10-15 minutes. It still won’t over bake when cooking with the batter later, and will stay nice and crunchy.

                Crust done, we can get to the batter. Make sure the Cream Cheese has been sitting out at room temp for at least half an hour to warm and soften up (covered of course); makes whipping it much easier.

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                … damn that’s a lot of cream cheese. I should probably note right now that I WAS making a double batch on the day in question…

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                Whip it, whip it good. Beat that cream cheese (don’t try and be manly here, just use an electrical/stand mixer of some sort, be thorough) until creamy and fluffy.

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                Probably the secret to why I love this recipe so much, we slowly add in the Condensed Milk, offering itself up to cover the job of sweetener and dairy in a rich yet lightly creamy style. I’m not sure what it’s actually doing, but I know I rarely see it in other recipes, and I like what it does to the cheesecake.

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                Next up comes the start to my favorite little trick in cheesecake cookery. Instead of adding them in whole, separate the whites and yolks from your Eggs. Those who still haven’t heard the caution yet, do this very carefully in a 3 bowl/container system: separate the eggs over one bowl, transfer the yolk to another and, IF none of the yolk spilled in, the whites to a third. This way, if the oily yolk breaks while separating, it doesn’t sabotage ALL the whites you gather; but it’s alright if white gets into yolk (I feel like this is an oddly acceptable double standard…), the recipe originally called for whole eggs anyways.

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                Carefully mix in the Yolks, Flour, and Flavorings until smooth and creamy.

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                Now comes the fun part (not eating, that comes later): take those reserved whites and whip them up separately. It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as it’s CLEAN of oil (which will get in between only a few protein chains to destroy the entire matrix you’re about to build) and you can whip it to where you need it to go. I would probably suggest going to the “soft peak” stage for those familiar with meringue making; basically once you whip it into this big cloud, should be able to take the whisk through and have the whites stay their shape while upside down, unless you tap it (stiff peaks, the next step, will act like flippin’ cement in how rigid it is, completely AWESOME for meringues). I like the softer whipped stages, cuz they’re able to make the cake a little “airy” and “fluffy” without turning it into what looks like a failed soufflé. Seriously, I did a cheesecake once with really whipped whites, it rose a bit while baking and once cool had this whole depression across the surface.

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                Slowly and carefully fold this into the batter in 1/3rds, the first part being used mainly to lighten/thin the batter somewhat so the latter two can better incorporate and fluff up the mixture.

                While all of this has been going on, you should at one point get a pan of water boiling; pour this into a baking pan large enough to set your Springform (or other round cake pan) into, about an inch high or less. This will not only help to regulate the heat in contact with the cake, so one doesn’t have to worry about “hot spots” in the oven, as well as keeping a bit of moisture while cooking. It is VERY important one has hot water in it before putting in the oven, otherwise it’ll take a long time to heat up to oven temp and disturb cooking time.

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                  Quickly add the filled pan and move to a 300F degree oven for about an hour. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN until it is done cooking! And even then, I would suggest just turning off the oven light and cracking the door a little to allow for a slooowwww cooling. One of the main issues related to the “cracking surface” effect of cheesecake baking, besides over-cooking and some other issues, lies in the exposing of cool(er) air when in the hot oven. So stick to an hour, or 1½ – 2 hours if you have multiple cakes in the oven (like I did) or it’s really thick (I think I was supposed to use the largest pan vs the medium-sized…), and turn the oven light on to make sure it’s browned a bit on the sides.

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                 If you HAVE to check, do it quickly and carefully, and just quick shake the pan to see if the center is set. Toothpick doesn’t really work, since you’ll have stuff stick even when it’s done; though how much and its viscosity depends on stage of cooking.

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                 Take out, run a knife around the edge, let cool some more and unmold. One can slice a piece now if you want (it’s not too bad warm, though I found mine a touch “spongy,” think maybe it overcooked a tad) or stick in the fridge an hour or so to get that denser New York treat. As I said, I love this recipe, as it yields a rich, creamy affair in a much lighter and “fluffy” package, making a slice of pie one can fully enjoy eating with every bite.

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                    For those who want to add fruit or other flavors to your cheesecake, but can’t find or aren’t sure about other recipes, there’s a fun little trick I learned in school. Get or make a rich, flavorful puree or sauce of some sort: for instance, we made one with raspberries.

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                    Separate a little bit of batter from your mix, say ¼cup or more, and mix with the puree. Then, once done, drizzle and swirl this over the top of the cheesecake batter after initially filling the pan. You can even try doing some layers as you pour for more integration! I would suggest doing this with a whole cake though; I did this with half just so I had pics for the post, but since I had to be careful with crossing I only ended up using a little bit of the puree.

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                  Now that we have a whole cooled cheesecake all to ourselves, we can ponder the various ways to enjoy it. Sliced, frozen, chopped up and mixed with fruit… or turned into little Chocolate Pops.

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                   Cut whatever amount of cheesecake you want into thick cubes, rectangles, or whatever shape you desire (cleaning the knife with a warm, wet cloth after each slice); just make sure it’s thick and sturdy enough to hold together. Stick a toothpick or other holdable in one end for easy management, and prepare your chocolate.

                   There are a lot of recipes for chocolate glazes out there, and truth be told most of them are probably better than this, the problem is it’s hard to tell which ones will actually set up to make a “shell” of some sorts once cool and which will just stay on as a thick sauce. If you want, you can actually just melt chocolate as-is, especially if it’s a good quality one to use, just remember a few little things.

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                  First, as always, do this gently over a double boiler.

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                  Second, do not melt the chocolate all the way over heat. Melt about 2/3rds – 3/4ths of it, take it off and let melt the rest of the way. I would love to tell you all about the Tempering Process, a technique where one melts the chocolate to a certain temperature, then cools it back down to another (usually through the aid of a marble slab, adding more chocolate, or other means), and then raising it back up to a third before using, thus setting the “crystals” in the chocolate to a perfect ratio so it cools to a shiny and perfectly crisp state (which doesn’t melt when you touch it). But you really need good temperature reading equipment and it’s still a tricky pain in the ass. So at least this almost-complete melting process keeps it from cooking too high and can cool back to a state similar to how it was before.

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                  And Third; I suggest you use either White or Dark chocolate when coating. With my experience, every time I’ve tried melting simple Milk Chocolate, and I’m not sure why, but it’s always much thicker and harder to manage than a higher cocoa% Dark (probably less cocoa butter and more lactic compounds or something).

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                   Another thing to try, and right now I can only have this as a suggestion because, for the life of me I don’t know why, but I can’t find a recipe that backs this up. I know people do this, I could have sworn I’ve seen simple recipes for it with the proper ratios, but I just couldn’t find any myself recently. Either way, adding a little bit of Oil to the chocolate as or after it’s melting helps not only gloss it up but get it to a better glaze consistency. And if you use oils like Olive or Coconut or etc, can add some extra flavor notes to the final mix.

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                 Once melted, quickly and carefully dip your cheesecake pieces in. This is much easier if you have a DEEP bowl of chocolate so you can make a single, simple, even coat over the entire thing, as opposed to trying to fumble all four sides into the small amount you already have. Or, if you don’t mind spending the time in cleaning, lay the cheesecake over a wire cooling rack (which is over a parchment-covered pan) and pour the glaze over, letting it drip a bit before turning over and pouring on the other side.

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                   Transfer to a parchment-lined pan, let cool a bit. If you haven’t done the cooling rack thing, maybe transfer them to ANOTHER parchment pan after those little chocolate squares from excess drippage forms. At this point, one could also sprinkle on little flavor additions if you like spicing it up a bit; I myself added a little of that leftover, spiced graham cracker mix I had baked earlier.

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                    Move to a fridge to ensure complete setting and enjoy whenever you like. Whether you get a perfect chocolate shell or not, it tastes reeeeeaaaallllyyyy good with that fresh creamy center, and a little bit of the crunchy, spicy cracker crumble to punch up the flavor.

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Damn that was a long post for me… no wonder I put off a week in actually trying to type it out. Well, hope you enjoyed some of it despite my many meaningless ramblings! Good Luck in your own cheesecake experiments, hopefully they aren’t as long and annoying as this explanation of my own. Good Eating to all, don’t be afraid to comment on your own experiences.

Potter’s Restaurant 2: First Visit

                While spending the day with my cousin, we both got the delightful opportunity to spend our lunch at the newly opened Potter’s Pastiesrestaurant.” It’s rare I get the chance to actually go down to eat at sit-down locations (at least compared to my various Food Truck ramblings of course), so I was very excited to hit it within three days of the opening.

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                Located in Dinkytown near the intersection of 19th and Como (for those like me who don’t actually frequent that location… memorize the directions. I won’t go into detail about our travel there… it’s too shameful), Potter’s has taken its residence underneath a local convenience store and deli.

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                The entrance, as the sign says, is in the back. We didn’t actually notice this at first, so we spent about 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get Potter’s from inside the store… don’t judge us, it was an off day.

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                Yeah, not exactly hard to miss the entrance once you get back there… Potter’s is sticking to their flamboyant British self. Oh yes, and that’s my cousin… now that I think about it, he sticks his tongue out on almost all the pictures he poses for me.

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                Once in, one heads down a simple staircase, the walls decorated in Potter’s trademark colors and London fare. Now do what the sign says and carry on…

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                … all the way down to the bottom, where one gets to Potter’s window of excellence. Now, as you saw, they don’t exactly qualify as a restaurant (thus the quotations); they’re a hole, a corner, a little booth in a dark corner (there’s probably a proper term, but I forget it). And you know what? They’re absolutely awesome!

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                The giant black wall in the back is covered in their menu listings (though for a more mobile way to read, they have some small laminated offerings). Besides the truck regulars, this includes an option for smaller pasties, Pork Pies (held in the Mini-fridge alongside drinks and Yesterday’s Pasties, only $4), and a “Couch Change Pastie” for the monetary challenged. Supposedly this uses puff pastry instead of their regular dough, and is of course smaller.

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                After reviewing the menu with the bandana-covered employee, who graciously pointed out a few features of their awesome kitchen (not to mention stopping for a pose), we made our decisions and got our food, which took about as long as it does in the Truck (in that wait is… well, there is none).

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                Had to of course stop for napkins and forks before heading up, taking the time to admire Potter’s Rack of Condiments, Heinz Beans, British Candy Bars, and their own Pickle mix, the latter 3 all available for purchase. As for seating, though they currently have none, plans are in the work to bring in tables outside once the weather warms up. For the moment, we took residence in the convenience store (along with a glass bottle each of pure sugar Sprite and Fanta… now that’s quality) and chowed down.

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                Of course we normally wouldn’t need to sit, but I wanted to try their Pork Pie. Traditional British pastry, the meaty and fatty ground pork is covered in a thick layer of natural gelatin, wrapped in a specially-made pie crust. I was surprised to find they didn’t use the same dough as for their pasties… though I’m not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, I love the special attention to the pie, but on the other I sorta miss the feeling of using one awesome crust for multiple endeavors. As for the pie as a whole… they say it’s best eaten cold (natural, most traditional English Meat Pies are), but it’s just meh. I seriously suggest taking it home and heating it (in the OVEN, no micro); like that, it’s absolutely fantastic with the rich, meaty gelatin-sauce, toasted crust, and hot pork meat.

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                 Had to get a Pastie, and for the special today they had a coffee-rubbed Pork with Goat Cheese and Cherry Compote. Again, no reason to go into details, cuz it was just as delicious as always.

                Overall, let me just say this. If this place does not become consistently packed with customers after a few months, I will be shocked. This is the kind of unique, special little holes in the wall that any Foodie just goes insane for. There’s an air, a mystery to it, you have to go through a little journey to get there, and at the end you’re just face-to-face with a hole in a wall that dishes out deliciously hot, edible hand-warmers. Ultimately very reminiscent to the same reasons which Marvel Bar has received its own cult following. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if this got featured on a Travel Channel or Food Network in the coming years (in fact, if it didn’t, I would be downright pissed).

                Potter’s Pasties has created the perfect little outlet for their non-mobile (besides delivery) Food Service, and go through it without losing any hint of the experience one gets at the Truck; if anything, they’ve added more to and enhanced it. I am so happy for their success in this venture, and wish them all the best luck in the future. Can’t wait to visit sometime soon when I’m in the area.

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                On a side note, I would like to make mention of the convenience store they share the building with. It’s a pretty cool little store, and they have some nice items. Like a mentioned, they actually offer the Mexican, all-sugar sodas (Coke too), and on the way out me and the cousin spotted my favorite Italian ice cream, Talenti. Didn’t get a full review, but I’m sure one can find some more interesting items, as well as a Deli counter that I’m sure is anything but low quality.