These restaurants do pot pies right

February 18, 2012 8:26:48 PM PST
It's one of those dishes that needs no introduction or explanation. It's almost a poster child for winter comfort. Tucking into a steaming crock of chicken pot pie is one of the many advantages to living in a cold climate, and at Benjamin, in Highland Park, the dish has quickly become a favorite.

"I like flaky pastry, chicken, cream and butter. And I figured why not better put it all together in one thing. Not reinvent the classic but kind of make it my own," said Benjamin Brittsan, owner of Benjamin.

The veggies are pretty standard - peas, celery, carrots and pearl onions join ranks with earthy parsnips and shitake mushrooms in a pan with white wine. Fresh thyme adds an herbal note, while heavy cream and poached chicken give it body. Before the pie is covered in pastry dough, Brittsan adds a layer of softened, mashed sweet potatoes, which add another layer of richness. Baked until golden, the pie is a cold comfort feast.

"A good combination of creaminess with a texture of crunch of the vegetables; poached chicken not roasted and a flaky pastry. The only difference that we put the sweet potato underneath it, to make it a little more," Brittsan said.

In Bridgeport, on the city's South Side, the Pleasant House Bakery has an impressive assortment of homemade English pies and pasties, one of which is the Chicken Balti.

"So the Chicken Balti is a curry chicken pie, and it's a specific kind of curry from Birmingham England, and it was brought over, developed by Pakistani immigrants to Birmingham England. And you can find it throughout England," said Arthur Jackson, owner of Pleasant House. "It's like any other curry. It's a blend of many different curry spices. We make our own version here."

In addition to curry, there's also cumin, black mustard seeds, tomato and cardamom. The pies are filled, then topped with more homemade dough and sealed in a special machine press. Baked until golden and topped with Nigella seeds, they fill the tiny bakery with a homey smell. Once you crack into one, using the coriander chutney, perhaps, to enhance the flavor, you'll see why this British version - without the heavy cream - can be just as good.

"This is more of the lean version of the chicken pot pie, if you will," Jackson said.

Here's the thing about chicken pot pies. There's is no right or wrong version. Anytime you combine chicken, spices and vegetables and puff pastry and bake it. What's there not to like?

Prices for these two pies range from $15 on Benjamin's lunch menu to $7.25 at Pleasant House Bakery.

1849 2nd St., Highland Park
(847) 748-8737

Pleasant House Bakery
964 W. 31st St.
(773) 523-743