FALMOUTH — A fragrant steam is rising from the huge pot that Pete Leavitt is stirring on his stove.
He’s sauteed some onion, celery, garlic and carrot, thrown in some cumin and other spices, and is now cooking 25 pounds of chicken breasts that will be shredded for his popular chicken pot pies in the steaming broth.
Leavitt claims he sells 15 to 30 chicken pot pies daily, so every other day he has to make this large batch of fresh pies to put in the refrigerator case. He sells his pot pies by the pound, and estimates this enormous stock pot turns out about 60 pounds’ worth of pies.
“Some people take them home for four to five days,” Leavitt said. “I’m happy knowing that it hasn’t been sitting in my fridge for four to five days already.”
Pot pies are the ultimate in wintertime comfort food, and it seems as if every neighborhood deli is now selling some version of the dish.
And they’re not just for winter anymore.
The convenience of picking up a pot pie on the way home from work and popping it into the oven has become so irresistible that many places are selling them year round. For parents, chicken and vegetables in a light gravy beats bringing home Big Macs any day.
Audrey Castro, the baker at the Buttered Biscuit in South Portland, compares pot pies to “a warm hug.” She says customers call to reserve her chicken pot pies, and their popularity has now spread into summer.
“It’s definitely more popular in winter, but a lot of people like it after the beach,” Castro said. “It’s funny. We sell them all year. In the middle of July, the last thing I would want to think about is pot pie, but people love them.”
Here is our foodie field guide to local pot pies:
64 Pine St., Portland; 871-9060
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Baker: Marion Bannon
Main ingredient: Bannon makes both vegetarian mushroom pot pies and chicken pot pies.
Size: 4-inch, single-serving pies; 9-inch pies that serve two; pies that serve six to eight people are available by special order. Top crust only.
Cost: 4-inch, $8.59; 9-inch, $14.99
When it’s available: Year- round in Aurora’s to-go freezer
Veggies: The chicken pot pie contains red pepper, leeks, carrots, celery, peas, chicken and onions. The mushroom pie contains button, portabella and crimini mushrooms, as well as parsnips, carrots and onion.
What makes it good: Bannon uses all-natural or organic ingredients, and makes everything from scratch, down to roasting the chicken bones to make the stock.
Pie pointers: “I think the most important thing is the consistency of it, because you want it to have enough consistency to hold up on a plate and not just be soup,” Bannon said. A “rich, hearty stick” made from scratch helps.
THE BAKER’S BENCH
33 Brackett St., Westbrook; 856-7333
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Baker: Steve Totman
Main ingredient: Chicken
Size: 9-inch deep dish
When it’s available: Wednesday and Thursday; will take orders for Friday. Pies are made until the end of May or June, depending on the weather. Totman starts making them again in September.
Veggies: Carrots, onions, peas and potatoes
What makes it good: The chicken is roasted in-house, and each pie contains about 8 ounces. Totman’s pies get the most kudos for the homemade crust. How the crust is handled and mixed is important, Totman says: “You can have an all-butter crust that is horrible, that’s just so crumbly because they overmix it. I think that’s the important thing, is just pay attention to it, make sure it comes out flaky.”
Pie pointers: Totman says the vegetables should still have some bite to them when they go into the crust, otherwise they will overcook.
BOREALIS BREADS BAKERY & BISTRO
182 Ocean Ave., Portland; 541-9600
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Baker: Kelley Sevigney, Borealis’ chief operations officer
Main ingredient: Shredded house-roasted turkey breast
Size: 9-inch deep dish
When it’s available: Fresh pies daily, year round. They will soon be available frozen. Call the bistro 45 minutes before you pick up your pie, and they will bake it for you free.
Veggies: Carrots, green beans, peas and corn
What makes it good: This is a family recipe passed down from Sevigney’s 82-year-old mother. The pot pie is all handmade, with an all-butter crust. There are about two cups of veggies and three cups of turkey in each pie. Sevigney begins by sauteeing a tiny bit of onion, just enough to bring out the flavor of the onion in the pie.
Pie pointers: “I try to put quite a bit of meat in it, but my real secret is you do it all by hand,” Sevigney said.
THE BUTTERED BISCUIT
347 Cottage Road, South Portland; 799-5005
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Friday
Baker: Audrey Castro
Main ingredient: Shredded chicken
Size: 8 inches
When it’s available: Fresh pies available Wednesdays year round. Frozen pies every day.
Veggies: Celery, onions, carrots and peas
What makes it good: Castro’s pot pie is all homemade from scratch, and has a butter crust. It contains twice as much meat as veggies, and is filled with a half meat/veggie mixture and half gravy.
Pie pointers: “You don’t want it to be too saucy,” Castro said. “It’s funny; our customers are very particular. If I’m having an off week with my roux, they certainly let me know. They don’t like it too saucy, they don’t like it too thick. It has to be just right. It has to, when you scoop it out, just sort of ooze a little, like a pudding, not bound like a lemon meringue.”
LEAVITT & SONS DELI
37 Depot Road, Falmouth; 781-3753
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Baker: Pete Leavitt
Main ingredient: Shredded chicken
Size: This pot pie is sold in a rectangular container by the pound. A 1-pound pie comes in (approximately) a 3-by-5 container, and a 2-pound pie is about 6-by-8 inches. Top crust only.
Cost: $7.99 and $14.99
When it’s available: Daily, year round.
Veggies: Garlic, onions, celery, carrots and peas
What makes it good: This is Leavitt’s own recipe, and it has evolved over the past couple of years. The pie is spiced with tumeric, cumin and coriander.
Pie pointers: “I’d much prefer to have a baguette to dip the gravy in than to have the bottom crust,” Leavitt said. “I like the top crust. It gets nice and crunchy and gives that nice appearance to it. (The bottom crust) never really added much to the dish, and my philosophy is, if it doesn’t add anything to it, then why do it?”
ROSEMONT MARKET & BAKERY
580 Brighton Ave. Portland; 774-8129
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Baker: Erin Lynch, kitchen manager
Main ingredient: Chicken; on rare occasions, beef
Size: 9-inch, top crust only
When it’s available: Fresh pies available Wednesday afternoon, almost year round — Lynch likes to take a break from them in July and August, when she switches to more summery foods such as chicken salads. They are sold at all Rosemont stores. Rosemont also carries Mainely Poultry frozen pot pies.
Veggies: Carrots, celery and peas
What makes it good: Rosemont uses all local chicken (from Mainely Poultry in Warren) in its pot pies. The stock is made from chicken bones from the local chickens roasted in the store’s butcher shop.
Pie pointers: “I definitely think the veggie-to-meat ratio is very important,” Lynch said. “You don’t want too many veggies, and you want an ample amount of meat. I think gravy is really important as well, that it’s not too goopy and thick.”
TWO FAT CATS
47 India St., Portland; 347-5144
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Baker: Stacy Begin
Main ingredient: Chicken
Size: 7-inch and 9-inch
Cost: 7-inch, $13.50; 9-inch, $20
When it’s available: Daily. New bakery owner Stacy Begin says if there is demand for them, they will stay on the menu year round
Veggies: Pearl onions, peas, carrots, celery and gravy
What makes it good: Pie crust made from scratch with real butter and a little bit of lard
Pie pointers: “Personally, I think the crust is really important to a pot pie,” Begin said. “If you don’t have a good crust, it will still be OK, but it won’t be that great experience you want.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]