Experience A Taste Of England Close To Home At Piecemeal Pies In White River Junction
Nov 20, 2019 02:41PM
By Sue Baldani
Justin Barrett, the owner, and chef has worked in Michelin-rated restaurants in New York City under British chefs who inspired his interest in dishes with history and tradition. In 2010, his love of Vermont brought him here to practice what he had learned. Some of the dishes he serves in the shop would have never materialized if not for these chefs.
For example, he was hesitant at first to offer the Rabbit and Bacon pie (see modified recipe below).
“I thought it wouldn’t sell because it was so different, but it turns out it’s our most popular pie,” he said.
The Smoked Trout and Fennel was
another pie he was unsure about, but that also turned out to be a favorite. Some
other pies include the Chicken and Leek, Steak and Kidney (pre-order only), and
Cottage Pie, which is gluten-free.
Barrett strongly believes in the importance of locally-sourced ingredients.
“There’s a lot of thought and love that goes into sourcing the ingredients first,” he said.
Almost all of their fruits, vegetables, and meats come from right here in Vermont. For instance, for their sweet pies, they get the raspberries from Edgewater, which he calls the best ever, the black currants from Brandon and Strafford, and apples from Champlain Orchards. In regards to the apples, he picks specific heirloom varieties for his Triple Apple Pie.
“The more varieties you put in there, the more complex the flavor,” Justin said. “You have to figure out which ones are more acidic, which ones are sweeter, which ones hold up better. The texture is most important.”
In order to know exactly where their ingredients are coming from year round, he buys hundreds of pounds of fruit every summer, which he and his employees then process and freeze for the months when local organic fruit isn’t available. He is also currently working with a local farm to grow greens for the winter.
Everything is made in house, including their dressings and house soda. Besides meat pies, Piecemeal Pies also serves vegetarian pies so there’s something for everyone. There are also soups and salads on the menu and unique offerings such as parsnip chips and parsnip potato mash.
Barrett has always been interested in cooking but veered off in a different direction for a while and spent years as an architect in Oregon before switching over to food.
“I couldn’t ignore food anymore,” he said. “There’s an immediate gratification when creating something with food, and feeding ourselves is one of the most important things we do.”
Barrett said he likes to take ingredients that are familiar and comfortable but still really interesting and put them together in his own unique way. He really enjoys doing this with the pies.
Unlike a sweet pie that has a light, flaky crust, savory pies have to be made with a sturdier, non-flaky dough.
“Light, flaky pastry does not work with a meat pie,” Barrett said. “It doesn’t hold the juices and you get crumbs everywhere. There’s a reason why it has always been made with a hot water crust.”
“It’s easy to work with a warm dough since it’s a lot more pliable and a lot more forgiving, which is really nice,” Barrett said. “I can easily teach everyone to do it. One of the first things a new employee learns is how to make this crust. When done right, it’s crispy on the outside, but sturdy enough to hold all the fillings. It’s also tender.”
In the restaurant itself, the environment he and his employees strive to create is bright and vibrant with a really good energy. It can also be casual and cozy, and the feel changes depending on the time of day.
“We dim the lights on a Friday night, but Sunday brunch is a different vibe,” he said. “Light and energetic.”
Although they have a good variety of items on the menu, such as the Smoked Salmon Pastry, quiches and oatmeal for breakfast, as well as soups and salads for lunch, their savory pies are their specialty.
Bennett loves the history of the pies. In England long ago, wives of working-class men would send these hearty filled pies to work with their husbands. If they had dirty hands and weren’t able to wash up, they would still be able to eat. They would just throw away the piece they were holding the pie with. There’s a reason they’ve been doing it this way for hundreds of years, he said.
Although the dough is quite easy to make, Barrett said it takes days to make the actual pies. The meat itself has to be braised overnight with herbs, wine, and stock. Then, the meat is mixed it with the vegetables.
He said it took some trial and error to get the pies exactly right. Since they have little holes in the top when they were baking them all the gravy was bubbling out. Now, they take that braising liquid and pour it back into the holes.
Barrett wants their customers to come in, enjoy their meals and leave satisfied. In addition to all of the above, they also offer fantastic weekend brunch dishes such as Buttermilk Hazelnut Waffles and Biscuits and Gravy.
“We’re all about feeding people,” said Barrett.
To enjoy these pies and other items on the menu, visit Piecemeal Pies at 5 South Main Street in White River Junction. To find out more about the restaurant, go to http://www.piecemealpies.com.
Braised Rabbit with Bacon and Prunes
We get our rabbits from Phil Brown at Vermont Rabbitry in
Instead of chopping everything finely, leave things a bit chunky. It’s fun to find a soft wine-soaked prune, a garlic clove, and a kidney or two in your pie.
One 3-pound rabbit
Ask your butcher to cut the rabbit into 8 parts - 2 hind legs, 2 front legs, 2 saddles, and 2 bellies.
Save the kidneys and liver.
- 1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into 1” chunks
- 4 shallots, thickly sliced
- 12 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 bottle red wine, whatever you have on hand
- 1-quart rich chicken or rabbit stock, preferably homemade
- Large bundle of thyme, tied with twine
- 3 whole bay leaves
- 4 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½” dice
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 cup prunes
- 1 cup port wine
- 2 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves roughly chopped
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
In a heavy Dutch oven, heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon chunks and reduce heat to low. Leave the bacon to sear on one side, turn and continue searing until each cut surface is browned. Doing this slowly will allow the fat to render. Remove the bacon and set aside. You will be left with a delicious puddle of bacon fat.
Now is the proper moment to sauté the liver for a snack.
Dust the rabbit pieces generously with kosher salt. Turn the heat up to medium and add the rabbit pieces to the bacon fat. Let sear for 3-4 minutes until the surface is browned. Turn and sear the other side.
Make a little space in the pot for the shallots, garlic, and kidneys. Slightly caramelize them in the bacon fat. If the pot seems dry, add a bit more olive oil. Add the bacon back to the pot and pour the wine over the meat, followed by the stock, thyme and bay leaves. Twist a few grinds of black pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven for at least 2 hours, or until the rabbit meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Add the potatoes, carrots, prunes, and port. Continue
cooking for another 10-15 minutes until vegetables are soft but still hold
Remove all the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon
into an oven-safe casserole dish, and leave to cool. Put the pot back on the
stove and reduce the juices by half. Meanwhile, carefully pick the rabbit meat
off the bones. Discard the bones, thyme and bay leaves. Add the reduced juices
and chopped parsley to the mix.
Cover the casserole dish with cold pastry and tightly seal the edges. Egg wash the top and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake at 400 degrees until the pastry is brown and crisp, and juices are bubbling.