February 15, 2012

Soup to Nuts:
Mainers do love a pot pie high

They keep local bakers cranking out the classic comfort food of winter all year long.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH — A fragrant steam is rising from the huge pot that Pete Leavitt is stirring on his stove.

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Pete Leavitt of Leavitt & Sons Deli in Falmouth shreds chicken for some of the 15 to 30 pies he sells daily.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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When Pete Leavitt puts this sign outside Leavitt & Sons Deli in Falmouth, customers know there’s a fresh batch in the house.

Additional Photos Below


WANT TO GIVE some comfort to a friend? Lots of mail-order companies, restaurants and Maine seafood businesses sell their own versions of gourmet pot pies. Here's just a sampling:

HANCOCK GOURMET'S PEMAQUID POINT LOBSTER POT PIE – Lobster in a sherry cream sauce, two 7-ounce pies for $48. hancockgourmetlobster.com

ACADEME BRASSERIE & TAVERN, the restaurant at the Kennebunk Inn, sells a lobster pot pie that includes peas, corn, potatoes and hand-rolled puff pastry for $18.50. The pie was featured on the Food Network show "Best Thing I Ever Ate." thekennebunkinn.com

CALENDAR ISLANDS MAINE LOBSTER sells a 10-ounce lobster pot pie with bits of corn and potatoes for $20.95. calendarislandsmainelobster.com

HARRY & DAVID has a "savory pot pie collection" that includes a 2-pound, 9-ounce lobster pot pie for $39.95 and a 2-pound, 11-ounce chicken pot pie for $29.95. For vegetarians, there's a new 2-pound, 9-ounce vegan vegetable pot pie for $29.95. harryanddavid.com

MAINE FRESH seafood pot pies are made with all-natural, sustainably harvested ingredients and come in four varieties: Scallop, lobster, shrimp and crab. Prices range from $5.99 to $7.99 for a 9.9-ounce pie. A quarter of all the profits go back into community projects. Available at Hannaford and Whole Foods Market. maine-fresh.com

MAURICE BONNEAU'S SAUSAGE KITCHEN sells tortiere, traditional Maine pork pies, in three sizes ranging from $6.95 to $15. sausagekitchen.com


THE TERM "POT PIE" first appeared in print in America in 1785, but the concept goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. Medieval pies contained flavorings such as nutmeg and mace. In the 17th and 18th centuries, some savory pies were called pot pies because the crust lined the pot they were being cooked in.

THE FIRST FROZEN pot pie was made with chicken n 1951 and sold by the C.A. Swanson Co.

TODAY, WE THINK of pot pies as a convenience food, but in Europe, they were once the way chefs showed off their talents – especially with elaborately-decorated crusts.

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.



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

Cost: $13

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."

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Additional Photos

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A detail from a Leavitt pie crust.

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Pete Leavitt of Leavitt & Sons Deli in Falmouth stirs a pot of filling, which, in addition to chicken, contains garlic, onions, celery, carrots and peas.


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