Pies & Pints
1215 NE 65th St, 524-7082

Mon-Wed 11 am-midnight, Thurs-Fri 11 am-2 am, Sat 4 pm-2 am.

There's something about one-dish restaurants--say the all-peanut-butter-sandwich or just-rice-pudding shops that have opened up in New York--that is equally off-putting and compelling. Don't the cooks have anything better to do with their time? Don't they get bored with the sameness of the menu? Then again, maybe a singular focus makes nostalgic lunchbox snacks transcendent.

Here in town we have a few themed restaurants that don't push the specialization--or the transcendence--envelope quite as far. There are the fondue restaurants that seem like a lot of fuss over what's not my favorite way to serve melted cheese (open a grilled cheese restaurant and I'm yours), but several one-trick restaurants choose dishes that give the kitchen and the customer a little bit more variety. I can get behind an all-soup, all-curry, or all-crêpe restaurant.

And I can get behind a pie joint, too. Pies & Pints offers not pizzas or your Mama's apple pie, but pubby, savory pies stuffed with meat, veg, and cheese. It turns out, pies--even manly pies like those served at P&P--are inherently cute. There is a sort of giddy pie feeling you get when you know your meal is going to come encased in buttery pastry. Other than its pie theme, P&P is your ordinary, friendly neighborhood pub--a little shiny and bright up front, but nice and cozy in back near the bar and the pool table.

Andrew, my friend Kris, and I actually started out pieless, with the Welsh pretzels, three soft pretzels huddled around a cup of Welsh rarebit, a cheesy sauce that looks a little like nacho dip but boasts a sharp, real-cheese bite and a pleasant beery aftertaste ($4.95). Despite what I just said about fondue, the dip 'n' eat pretzels were a fine pub appetizer, one that made me hate myself a little less than the mozzarella sticks or nachos that might go with a beer in another tavern.

Our waitress told us the pies would be "yea big" as she mimed out a circle about halfway between a Frisbee and a hockey puck in circumference. When they arrived, each was made out of a kind of puff pastry, with a thick doughy rim and a high crown. It was not the airiest, crispiest dough I've tasted, but nor was it the sodden leaden stuff that weighs down lesser potpies. With the right filling, these pies were really good. Kris hit the jackpot with a pie full of chunky beef burgundy ($4.25). The winy stew was big-flavored enough to take on the ample pie crust. Andrew, on the other hand, got a chicken pie ($4.25), whose filling was grandmotherly in its blandness: a creamy pap of soft chicken bits and peas and carrots. A handful of fresh herbs would have pepped up the little pie, but served as it was it reminded me of what early 20th-century cookbooks called invalid food. This isn't an entirely bad thing, because there are times of bodily weakness--be it brought on by consumption or by overindulgence--when a person needs something both gentle and substantial like a mild chicken pie. Both boys chose to accompany their pies with more starch in the form of short, very crisp French fries ($2).

I felt impelled to go a little baroque and order "Pie Float," my own choice of pie--curried vegetable--floating in the pub's split-pea soup ($6.95). I thought the soup might make a nice sauce-y contrast for my tasty and piquant pie, but no dice. The soup was all right, but someone seasoned it with a heavy hand with the pepper grinder (a common gaffe in neighborhood restaurants, for some reason). Next time I think I'll stick with the fries.

Oddly enough, for dessert, there weren't a lot of pies to choose from. We skipped a chocolate peanut butter one and went instead for a giant slice of Guinness chocolate cake layered with Bailey's mousse ($5). It was sweet and unchallenging, but way too much after our pie fest. This leads me to a caveat on an otherwise pleasurable dinner: Be careful how much you order, for pies, particularly when consumed with pints of delicious microbrews, have a devastating way of expanding in the belly.