wireless_kitchen (2006-01)

Sweeter Than Thou

Potpie to pumpkin pie, Mag-Pies Bakery does lunch justice

Mag-Pies is known for scrumptious pies, cookies and cakes—especially for owner/baker Peggy Hambright’s astounding wedding cakes. My favorite is an amazing Peggy-built groom’s cake, an extremely delicious white chocolate model of the Brooklyn Bridge. Mag-Pies still specializes in confections, but, with the addition of chef Stanton Webster, the bakery has also become a café offering light lunches Tuesday thru Friday.

There’s not much space for a café inside the bakery, but there is room for five small bistro tables in front of the bakery’s display case. I’ve mostly picked up my orders to go, which seems to be fairly common.

The lunch menu, which changes weekly, is sent to e-mail subscribers and posted on the website at www.mag-pies.com . The yummy-sounding descriptions are a great marketing tool as evidenced by my Pavlovian response to them: Read the weekly e-mailed menu from Mag-Pies and devise a reason to be in the vicinity of the Old City by the end of the day or at least by the end of the week. I’ve managed two quick takeout orders and one quick lunch on the premises, but most days, alas, I must merely read—and salivate.

Each week brings a different quiche and a selection of salads, soups and sandwiches. There are generally two or three vegetarian items and a couple of vegan dishes along with meaty entrées such as the Texas all-beef chili. Give Mag-Pies bonus points for offering vegetarian and vegan items in this town. Myself, I’m a sucker for a rotating menu, and this one’s great because there’s just enough change to keep things interesting but enough of a regular rotation that my favorites reappear periodically, with the exception of the quiches.

The quiche is one of the most varied items on the menu. In the weeks I’ve been receiving the mailings, I haven’t spotted a duplication. That’s a sign of a chef having fun—not a bad thing! Recent choices have included Florentine, mushroom, bleu cheese and leek and something called a tortilla Espanola quiche, which combines roasted potatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and Swiss cheese. The quiches always sound good, but I’ve leaned toward the lighter side of the menu with one exception. I did enjoy the chicken potpie on a recent wintry day. The tender, creamy-sauce-soaked chicken and vegetables were topped with a light flaky pastry—as good as that on the pies the bakery is famous for. I’m hoping the little green salad I ordered as a side made up for the fact that I scraped every little bit of sauce and crust from the pan. The salad was a simple one, but the greens and vegetables (red onion, grape tomatoes and cucumbers) were fresh and snappy and the vinaigrette had a nice twang to it.

So far, my favorite sandwich is the tuna Nicoise wrap. The mix of albacore tuna, hard-cooked eggs, radishes and kalamata olives with dilled mayonnaise inside a spinach wrapper was so delicious I ate both halves instead of saving one for later, which was my plan. As atonement I did not even consider opening the little bag of potato chips that came with the wrap. I’m looking forward to trying the spicy Thai curry tofu wrap, which consists of spinach, red onion and sautéed, marinated tofu in a red curry coconut sauce. Not all the sandwiches are wraps. Other choices have included black forest ham and Swiss cheese on multigrain bread or ciabatta and smoked salmon and applewood bacon grilled with Swiss cheese.

I’ve tried two soups: spiced butternut squash soup and vegan lentil stew. The squash soup was very good, but the stew was terrific, with sweet potatoes, turnips and parsnips enlivening the lentils. Both soups traveled well and were easily heated up later. Besides the soups, my favorite takeout items are the lemon hummus and the smoked cheddar pimiento cheese, both of which are available as “plates.” That means they are served or boxed with pita chips and crudités, or packaged in eight-ounce containers. The exquisite, satiny, smoky-flavored pimiento cheese also comes on a sandwich.

The most expensive menu item is a combination of soup and either quiche, sandwich or macaroni and cheese for $7.25. The ambiance is casual. It’s not a café; it’s the entrance to a bakery. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I am actually able to pick up lunch and resist the array of baked goods. However, I have noticed that very few diners walk out without picking up a sweet treat of some sort—a miniature red velvet cupcake, a pecan tassy or a thumbprint cookie—or without taking advantage of fantastic “one day only” sale prices on cakes and pies. On my most recent visit, I confess, I did give in to temptation. I bought a chocogasm cookie—for my sweets-loving husband.

The Cruel Postscript: Mag-Pies is closed for the holidays thru Jan. 9.