When the menu of Hill Country Chicken was revealed last week, we began having feverish daydreams about its extensive pie selection. The restaurant promised an Americana all-stars line-up, which inspired visions of banana cream, apple cheddar, whiskey buttermilk, and their glucose-bearing ilk. The fried chicken and pie menu also put us in mind of Pies-N-Thighs, which, since reopening in March, has made South Williamsburg more or less synonymous with its eponymous offerings. So, obviously, a pie fight was in the cards.
First we went to Hill Country Chicken, where we ordered a selection of mini-pies from the glowing display case lodged beneath a long Formica counter. Here we should add that whatever else you may think of the restaurant, which has already inspired countless and vociferous informal reviews, it’s got its seating right: Few things are more relaxing than eating pie in one of its window seats, absorbing in equal measure fat, sugar, and the passing specter of frazzled humanity.
Hill Country Chicken offers its pies whole, in slices, and in $3 cups. Its banana cream pie resembles a whipped-cream porcupine, betraying no hint of anything banana-like beneath its dairy quills. And it takes a couple of bites to find any fruit, either real or derived: The pie is about two-thirds whipped cream and one-third banana cream. That said, we liked that the whipped cream was unsweetened, and the single layer of banana slices that formed a buffer between the dairy and banana cream.
But the banana cream itself was fairly unremarkable, in part because it was overwhelmed by the whipped cream and in part because it just wasn’t all that flavorful. The crust was actually our favorite part of the pie: It’s just a plain old flaky pie crust, but we loved its crunchy texture and savory taste. It was almost salty, which might not sound particularly appetizing, but made a wonderful contrast to all of the sweetness it supported. All told, we would have been perfectly happy to just eat that crust.
The crust on Pies-N-Thighs’ banana cream pie ($4.50) is a graham-cracker crust, and is reminiscent of slightly salty toffee. Which is wonderful. Here, too, we would have been happy to eat nothing but crust, but the banana cream that came on top of it was pretty good, too. Unlike at Hill Country, the chefs here don’t go apeshit with the whipped cream: It’s limited to a fat little cloud on the point of the slice, leaving a bare expanse of lemon-yellow banana cream tantalizingly exposed. Two Nilla wafers jut out of the top like Mickey Mouse ears, and banana slices lurk between the cream and the crust.
The sum of all of these parts is bliss, if your idea of bliss is expertly constructed but not piously sourced pie. It’s a roll-in-the-gutter pie, the kind you eat because you’re looking for a good yet uncomplicated fix — think Drew Barrymore rom-com instead of Tilda Swinton torrid art-house romance. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’ll leave you high on sugar and low on the desire to do anything but sit in a chair and laugh. The only false note it strikes are the Nilla wafers, which, when we ate them, were stale. Although submerged in banana cream, they still weren’t half-bad.
So, while we were enamored of the crust at Hill Country, we enjoyed more of an all-around love affair with Pies-N-Thighs. And thus banana cream victory goes to South Williamsburg, Nilla wafers notwithstanding.
Hill Country Chicken
166 South Fourth Street, Brooklyn