pecan pie

Chicago: Hoosier Mama Pie Shop

I woke up early, drove out of my way, and risked getting a parking ticket at a broken meter. I did it all to make sure I got to the Hoosier Mama Pie Shop before they ran out of pie. And I’d do it again. Pastry chef Paula Haney may have been running with the molecular gastronomy crowd when she was working alongside Grant Achatz at Trio, but here she’s gone country kitchen: gingham tablecloths, battered pie tins on the wall—the whole bit. And her pies are remarkable. The pear-apple-cranberry with walnut crumble is particularly addictive. Just as good are Haney’s scones, which are so delicate you get the impression that if you looked at them the wrong way they might shatter into crumbs. While eating one of those scones and drinking my coffee, I watched Haney and her team fill pie shells and tend to whirring mixers. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but they all had huge grins on their faces. And why not? It may be a bit hellish out in the world right now, but inside this pie shop you feel like you’re in the happiest place on Earth.

Hoosier Mama Pie Shop 1618 1/2 W. Chicago Ave. (312-243-4846;

Carrboro, N.C.: Neal’s Deli

The speakers boom with “Dirt Track Date” by Southern Culture on the Skids. The walls of this shotgun café are cerulean. The line cook wears, without irony, a paper Krispy Kreme skiff. Copies of Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, also by the late and great Bill Neal, anchor the counter. (Matt Neal—son of Bill, the founding chef at nearby Crook’s Corner—is the co-proprietor, along with his gregarious wife, Sheila.) The Neals spice their own pastrami. They mix olive salad in-house for muffulettas. But breakfast is when they toss down the gauntlet. Biscuits, scratch-made from Lindley Mills organic flour and Maple View Farms buttermilk, are both tender and substantial. Bill Smith, the current chef at Crook’s Corner, likes his morning biscuit with pastrami and mustard, but my favorite was an Egg McMuffin riff, made with local organic eggs poached in repurposed muffin top tins and approximating, in shape but certainly not wholesomeness, the familiar McD puck.

Neal’s Deli 100 E. Main St., Carrboro, N.C. (919-967-2185;

New York City: Damon: Frugal Fridays

Superstar Tom Colicchio’s restaurant Craft is so luxe it has a wall made of leather. So it’s kind of hilarious when you walk over to its annex to find the sign for Damon: Frugal Fridays written in magic marker and stuck to the door with blue masking tape. Inside, servers are wearing T-shirts with iron-ons that say, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The Stones are on the stereo, louder than a freshman dorm room. It feels like someone’s kids are playing restaurant. Except the kid in the kitchen is Damon Wise, the actual, day-to-day executive chef of Craft, and the cooking is no joke. The garlic sausage and turnip sauerkraut have flavor that doesn’t bottom out for days. The chicken liver pâté is smoother than Barack Obama. And a bite of the cod fritters almost made me weep: After years of searching, I have finally found the platonic ideal of the fish stick. The frugality of the evening, however, is entirely up to you. The menu spans more than 30 dishes, with everything under $10 and lots at $7 and even $5, so you can have a meal of great quality for $25 or $30. But you’ll kind of want to order everything. Go ahead. Don't think of it as gluttony. Think of it as supporting the economy.

Damon: Frugal Fridays Craft, 47 E. 19th St., New York City (212-780-0880; Fridays only, 5:30 p.m.–midnight; no reservations)

New York City: Tabla’s 10

Snow pea foogath with coconut and mustard seeds. Portuguese-style spicy pork sausage in a brioche bun. Bombay Parsi spicy-sour curry with sautéed scallops and cilantro. Pork, duck, and pistachio sausage served with spiced orange chutney. These are just a few of the dishes that Floyd Cardoz served last Wednesday night at Tabla’s 10, the restaurant’s weekly anniversary celebration. “I won’t know what will be on the menu until I talk to my farmers,” he says, “but it will be different each week.” With no dish costing more than $10, and each a fascinating play of spice and texture, the room was filled with fabulous aromas as happy diners scooped naan, curries, and chutneys off the banana leaf–covered tables. I can’t wait to see what Cardoz will be serving next Wednesday.

Tabla 11 Madison Ave., New York City (212-889-0667;; Wednesdays only)

New York City: Insieme

When I wandered into Insieme for lunch the other day, I wasn’t looking for a bargain. But spooning up every drop of a dense and golden chicken soup filled with vegetables and little chicken polpettine, I was ready to declare it the best $10 deal in town. Then a half-order of Marco Canora’s extraordinary lasagne ($11) arrived, and I tried to think of the last time I’d had so much good food for so little money. My guest, happy with his pear and pecorino salad and even happier with the little pillows of pasta filled with braised short ribs, was equally amazed. The service is soothing, the wine list always fascinating, and although there may be a better deal for a business lunch in midtown Manhattan, I haven’t found it.

Insieme 777 7th Ave. (at 51st Street), New York City (212-582-1310;
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