Chicken pot pie may be just the dish to set Dr. Jean Mayer into a rampage, a festival of fat, overcooked vegetables and flour-thickened sauce in a crispy, often lard-assisted crust. The best-known pot-pie chefs? Anonymous dudes, lackeys to the corporate ogre at Banquet, Stouffer's, Swanson's.
But though Cambodian frog fritters are delicious and Peruvian llapingachos can be quite tasty, in the wintertime, a young man's thoughts turn toward chicken pot pie, nature's perfect food. "Got a big guy?" as Hungry Man spokesman Rosie Greer used to say, "Get a big pie." What I'm saying, is that I ate chicken pot pie every day for a week.
On a recent rainy Sunday noon, four of us sloshed into Kate Mantilini, warmed our insides with giant bowls of cafe au lait . . . and then sloshed back out into the rain without eating, because the restaurant had run out of ($14) chicken pot pie. I'm pretty sure the waitress understood.
The Tuesday before that, I was bummin' hard, because I'd forgotten that Musso & Frank Grill serves chicken pot pie only on Thursdays , and even an order of Welsh rarebit and an extra-dry gibson didn't cheer me up all that much. Of course, I was back on Thursday too. There's something nice about having a guy in a red jacket carefully spoon the ($14.25) pie onto your plate, even if the filling is a little runny and the disk of crust at the bottom (originally the top) is a little tough and thin.
It's a classic pie, really, sort of an elegant version of the Swanson's, with wrinkly peas and pearl onions, chunks of carrot and potato, and a fine, stewy flavor to the bird. The classic accompaniment is, as it curiously seems to be to almost any dish at Musso's, an extra-dry gibson . . . the pickled pearl onion gives the drink a special symbiosis with the pie.
One place to go when you're riding a pot-pie bummer is Henry Moffett's Chicken Pies in Bellflower, which not only has a giant chicken on the roof that is lit up at night, but serves fine pies every day of the week. Moffett's slogan, at least the one printed in the Covina Yellow Pages, is "People Drive for Miles for Our Swiss Steak," and an issue of the January newsletter of the Bellflower Chamber of Commerce, taken from a stack in the foyer, reveals that the slogan of the city of Bellflower, before all its dairy farms were replaced by subdivisions, used to be "Where a Cow Is Queen." Really, a chicken is queen at Moffett's, and the ($4.85) chicken pot pie here is a flaky, full-crust discus blanketed in yellow gravy and filled with nothing but large, juicy, clean-tasting chunks of meat and a little more gravy, sort of a purist's conception of the dish. Try the thick homemade noodles on the side, and pick up a pie to go in the shop out front. But don't drive all that far if Swiss steak is what you crave.
If you're into good looks, you might check La Palma Chicken Pie Shop and Restaurant, in a part of Anaheim not too close to Disneyland, which is surmounted by a flashing neon chicken that you could stare at for weeks, and whose dining room is decorated with a stunning wrought-iron hen. La Palma was the cheapest restaurant in the survey--four of us ate full dinners, with soup, salad, dessert and soda pop, for $23.47 including tax, though the full-crust pie (doughy crust, lumpy filling, cloying gravy), has seen better days. So has the chicken pot pie at the DuPar's coffee shops, though for nostalgia buffs, the stuff is actually scooped out of those crinkled aluminum pie tins at the table.
Better to eat $5.85 chicken pot pie among the smoking toasters at Ship's, the quintessential coffee-shop pie, with a crisp, buttery crust; large, tender pieces of bird; yellow gravy that actually tastes like chicken . . . and no pesky vegetables to get in your way. The best traditional pie in town. Plus, the coffee is good.
The last place you might expect to get a great chicken pot pie is Broadway Deli on Santa Monica's newly upscaled Promenade, a restaurant that displays $200 bottles of Vosne Romanee in the window, and tomatoes in its grocery that cost $7.50 a pound. Scottish smoked salmon, sure, but not a chicken pot pie. Its $10.50 pie, though, is sort of an elegant variation on the theme, a soup bowl-full of thickened chicken broth, shot through with fresh herbs and wisps of chicken, studded with fat, sweet chunks of carrot and peas that taste like peas, and capped with a giant, crunchy disk of puff pastry--the savory equivalent of the deconstructed napoleons Broadway Deli co-owner Michel Richard makes at Citrus, and just the thing with a glass of Clerc-Milon on a rainy afternoon.
* Broadway Deli, 1457 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 451-0616.
* DuPar's Coffee Shop, 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (213) 933-8446.
* Henry Moffett's Chicken Pies, 16506 S. Lakewood Blvd., Bellflower, (213) 925-5061.
* Kate Mantilini, 9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 278-3699.
* La Palma Chicken Pot Pie Shop and Restaurant, 928 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021.
* Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 467-5123.
* Ship's Coffee Shop, 1016 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-0401.