I’m all for the idea of baking yummy things into a hand pie.

Growing up in a French-Canadian family, I sort of felt left out on when it came to hand pies. People always talk and write about how every culture has some version of a hand pie, spotlighting treats like the Cornish pasty in England, empanadas from all over South America, Jamaican patties from the Caribbean and samosas from south and central Asia. A Jewish version is the knish, famously made and sold on streets or in the delis of New York City, among other places.

But, as far as I know, French-Canadians have only pies – some pretty awesome ones filled with ground pork – but not cute little hand-held models.

So I was intrigued when I heard a bakery focusing on knishes – BenReuben’s Knishery in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood – had opened in May. I have had very limited knish experience. I vaguely remember eating a cold one in the car driving home from New York City, but I remember little else.

I can tell you I remember a whole lot about the warm, flaky and flavorful knishes I brought home to my family from BenReuben’s the other day. My favorite was the BenReuben, filled with pastrami and sauerkraut and a slice of Swiss cheese on top, for $6.25. My wife, whose grandmother grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and knows far more about knishes than I do, loved the Everything, which featured potato, cream cheese and scallions, plus a variety of seeds on top, for $5.50. We also tried the Spring Pea with green garlic, chickpeas and roasted mushrooms, for $5.50.

The Everything — potato, cream cheese, scallions — from BenReuben’s Knishery in South Portland. Photo by Ray Routhier

The pastry on all three was really nice, easy to chew and flavorful. The knishes are mostly sold cold. We ate them warm because the exceptionally helpful woman who served me wrote on the box that I should heat them in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, which was perfect. She also said people could have them heated there and take them warm to go. I had ordered our knishes online the day before and picked them up at lunchtime on a Friday.

Each knish comes with a sauce of your choice. We tried the garlic mayo, horseradish sauce, onion jam, smoked salmon-aise and Thousand Island dressing. I especially liked the onion jam on the Everything knish.

The knishes at BenReuben’s make a very affordable lunch, as one is probably enough to fill most people. We each had one and a half and were stuffed. We also had some inexpensive sides, including a house-made deli pickle and a small serving of potato salad with mustard and pickled onion, for $4.75, which we all agreed was great, with fresh dill and a mustardy tang.

The family running BenReuben’s wrote on their website that they hope to bring “new life to old family recipes and traditional Jewish dishes with seasonal inspiration from Maine.” So keep that in mind, knish purists, if you’re thinking that the knishes you had in New York City didn’t have pastrami or green garlic in them. As I said, I don’t know much about knishes, but I know these tasted great.

BenReuben’s Knishery in South Portland opened in May. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Another savory knish on the menu when I went was a Casco Bay White Fish with lemon, mixed herbs and potato. Sweet knishes included a Cheesecake version with blackberry, lemon and cream cheese and a Cinna-Knish with citrus icing and “rotating flavors.”

Other sides include chicken salad, house bread, house preserved lemons, mixed greens, sweet noodle kugel, spicy pickled cabbage and mushroom wild rice. The place also offers Friday night “dinner pickups” where you can order a meal with sides. A half-roast chicken dinner is $30 and half-brisket dinner $110. The latter is recommended for four hungry adults. There’s also a roasted veggie dinner. The dinners have to be ordered Sunday through Tuesday for pickup that Friday.

BenReuben’s location in Knightville, near the Casco Bay Bridge, means it’s a great place to pick up a picnic lunch or snack when heading out to nearby scenic spots, like Mill Creek Park, Willard Beach or Bug Light Park.

It’s easy to carry wherever you’re going, because, well, it’s a hand pie.


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