Since moving to London five months ago from the South Side of Chicago, I discovered a whole new world of food. Chicago is renowned in the United States as a food city, and I can certainly vouch for that. I have favorite Korean, South American, Lebanese, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants and frequented a variety of others. However, there was clearly one big thing missing from my life: pies. I only knew of one restaurant in Chicago with a decent chicken pot pie: Cullen’s Irish Pub on the North Side.
In retrospect, I guess I must have had a pie-sized hole in my heart. Heavily jetlagged, I wandered into a touristy pub near Tottenham Court Road station my first day in the country and ordered a veg pie. It was love at first bite – and it wasn’t even that good. It was just something about the Britishness of it all – a warm winter stew encased in pastry, accompanied by ale, eaten in a wood-paneled, cozy pub has an old-timey feel. In fact, although the roots of the word “pie” are uncertain, it definitely dates to the 12th century, and may be related to Latin “pica” or magpie. It is charming to think of a possible connection between the two – a baker collects assorted ingredients like a magpie collects shiny objects? – but it’s tenuous. Either way, I learned that pies should always be accompanied by an ale or cider. It’s tradition.
I continued to fill that pie-sized hole (both the metaphorical one in my heart and the real one on my face) with as many as two pies a week. I discovered artisan piemakers at London farmers markets and ate at the Pieminsters shop in Oxford (they have a wonderful selection, by the way). I can even take home ready-made pies from the supermarket!
The Carpenter’s Arms in Windsor, while not particularly inventive with their pies (it’s a Nicholson’s pub), had the best atmosphere – it’s in a 16th-century building at odd angles with a slight tilt.
London’s gastropubs have the most gourmet varieties: I had a butternut squash and goat cheese pie at the Holly Bush in Hampstead that was absolutely to die for. Every time I eat a pie, I can’t help but smile at the delicious experiences Britain provides.
Although it’s a shame one of the best restaurant cities in the U.S. can do no better than a chicken pot pie, the sheer abundance of pies in this country would clearly cancel out any American competition. The U.S. does have its sweet pies, for sure, but for those of us who prefer savory, this is the ultimate destination.
Stacy Hackner is an American grad student in London, living her dream life filled with amazing food, half-decent weather, and riding the tube nonstop. She has a great affinity for cheese of all kinds and is the author of a blog about pies.