The Early Word: Four & Twenty Blackbirds

A wedge of rhubarb pie.
A wedge of rhubarb pie.

By the time Four & Twenty Blackbirds opened in Gowanus last Friday, it had already been heralded addition to the burgeoning pie scene, a kindred spirit to places like Pies 'n' Thighs, the Blue Stove Bakery, Momofuku Milk Bar, and First Prize Pies. Whether or not pie -- the old-fashioned kind traditionally made by grandmas with little fear of Crisco or lard -- really is having a "moment" is subject to debate, but Four & Twenty's arrival certainly marks the first time (at least to the best of our knowledge) that Third Avenue has beckoned anyone with the promise of pie, espresso, and lovingly distressed wooden tables all under one roof.

The sun-filled cafe is open, airy, and inviting -- its wide-planked wooden tables are generous, and its tin walls, with their chipped and peeling paint, have a kind of barren beauty.

Unfortunately, the pie selection, as of yesterday, was also a bit barren: when we showed up shortly after noon, there were four pies and tarts available. We ordered a slice of rhubarb pie and a slice of chocolate-chili tart, and planned to grab a slice of salted caramel apple pie on the way out the door. Shortly after we sat down, a surge of customers arrived, and apparently ate every last slice in the place: when we inquired about the caramel apple, the nice lady behind the counter told us that they'd run out of pie -- all of the pies -- and didn't know when there would be more.

Which, well, come on -- if you open a shop selling pie, then you should probably make enough to feed all of the customers who will turn up on a sunny Sunday afternoon, rather than selling out in the space of an hour and a half. There was still quiche available, but chances are customers who came in for a slice of apple pie most likely wouldn't have had their craving satisfied by a crust filled with eggs, cheese, and vegetable matter. And while the woman behind the counter was perfectly friendly and apologetic, it left us harboring some uncharitable thoughts about the twee whimsy that often seems to subsume business sense in the Brooklyn artisanal universe.

But with any luck, Emily and Melissa Elsen, the two sisters who own Four & Twenty, will resolve their supply and demand issues sooner than later -- to be fair, it's early days yet.

In the meantime, how was the pie?   The rhubarb was pretty good -- the crust was thick, flakey, and speckled with fat grains of raw sugar. The filling was pleasingly tart but its flavor was slightly flat, and could have benefited from a bit of spice or a hit of lemon. And at $4.50, the slice was a bit on the paltry side -- it was less a slice than a short wedge.

The chocolate-chili tart, also $4.50, had plenty of body and a nice amount of heat that lingered in the back of the throat without waging a full-fledged assault. Although the texture of the filling was a bit grainy, the crust, like that of the rhubarb pie, was excellent, and suggests that the Elsen sisters' true strength lies in the magic they work on butter and flour. With any luck, they'll soon apply some more practical magic to keeping up with customer demand.

Four & Twenty Blackbirds 439 Third Avenue, Brooklyn 718-499-2917

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds

439 Third Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215


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