Who knew? We in the suburbs north of Boston just may live in the chicken pot pie capital of Greater Boston. Maybe all of Massachusetts. Even New England.
It could be winter’s chill, or pure exhaustion after nonstop holiday cooking, that turns our minds (and stomachs) to chicken pot pie as the perfect “grab and go’’ dinner. What else provides a full dinner — meat, starch, and vegetable — encased in, sigh, a pie crust?
Of course, you could always make one by scratch. But why, when someone else is willing to make it for you? Isn’t that what we learned from Harrows (www.chickenpie.com), which is usually the first place that comes to mind locally when we hear the words “chicken pot pie.’’
Started in Reading in the 1930s, Harrows now counts five locations and remains an excellent choice. But I’ve recently uncovered four more spots where you can find your “cluck.’’
Each place begins by roasting chickens, chopping them into big chunks of white meat, and mixing in fresh carrots and peas, and homemade gravy. But each offers its own twist. Some are pre-cooked and some have raw dough, but all need to be heated up in the oven.
And the price is right, ranging from about $5 for small/individual to $20 to $25 for large sizes.
So, why not take a break from cooking and conduct your own chicken pot pie sampling? Here are some great options.
588 Cabot St., Beverly
Located on the larger corner of a funky, five-way intersection that locals like to call “Henry’s Corner,’’ Henry’s was opened in 1941 by Henry C. Swanson, who envisioned prepared food as meals to go, long before it was popular. As the staff likes to say, “meals from our table to yours . . . but no one needs to know.’’
Henry’s is now owned and operated by John Keohane, who says that each week, the market sells 2,800 chicken pot pies, 600 turkey pies, and 600 beef pies, which are made with sirloin beef tips. Each night, Henry’s cooks 900 pounds of chicken for the pot pies and chicken salad.
We tasted the chicken and beef pot pies. Both were delicious. The star on both was the shortbread-looking, biscuit-like crust that Henry’s bakes separately, then layers on the pies once they’re cooled.
But it was the turkey shepherd’s pie that made my teen daughter exclaim, “This is like Thanksgiving dinner!’’ And it really is: shallot mashed potatoes on top; Henry’s stuffing on the bottom; slightly crisp, creamed corn mixed in with the gravy, then poured on top of the turkey, peas, and carrots. The only thing missing was cranberry sauce.
Ken’s Kickin’ Chicken
130 North Street, Salem
Devoted primarily to chicken pot pies for the past four years, Ken’s sells about 300 pies a day. The Sunday I visited, customers kept streaming in and grabbing not one, not two, but three or more pies at a time.
Was it because of the Patriots game that night, or the fact it was Sunday?
“No, it’s always like this,’’ said employee Allison Sliva.
When I said, “All I need now are some buffalo wings,’’ Silva lit up. “Have you tried the buffalo chicken pot pie?’’ Wow. It tasted like the famous buffalo wings from Buff’s Pub in Newton, sans the bones, covered in a flaky crust.
When you bake the pie at home, following the instruction to brush the crust with egg wash — in my case, one egg mixed with one teaspoon of water — is worth the effort. The result was a golden brown finish on the mind-blowing, popover-like crust with the outer crusty layer hiding more soft layers of crust.
Ken’s also makes gluten-free pies ($25), but you must order two or three days in advance.
Owner Ken Rothwell said he plans to open a second store within a month or so in Lynn and three or four more stores by year-end. I’ll be there.
Busy Bee Bakery
1 Hurd St., Melrose
This bakery of two years, known for its artisanal breads and handcrafted baked goods, has been making chicken pot pies since it opened, as part of a takeout menu of homemade foods. Two hits are the chicken pot pie, and my favorite, shepherd’s pie, made with sirloin beef and scoops of mashed potatoes.
But it was Busy Bee’s small, “hand pies’’ — chicken, hash and egg, and pulled pork — that bowled us over. If, like us, you’re fans of Somerville’s Redbones, imagine Redbones’ barbecue in a croissant. That’s the pulled pork pie.
Owner Elin Augustsson said an employee’s father who hailed from England suggested making the small pies known as Cornish pasty (pronounced PASS-tee). Augustsson renamed them “hand pies.’’
A warning: Call before you go. Augustsson makes only two of each type per day and as her young staffer told me, forlornly, “She doesn’t sell unsold goods, so we get to take some home. But there’s never any pulled pork hand pies left over.’’ Try one and you’ll know why.
Sweet Spot Bakery
163 W. Emerson St., Melrose
Customers love Sweet Spot, in the bakery business since 1999, to satisfy a sweet tooth. There are also quiches and chicken pots to go.
Technically, they’re not pot pies, said owner Inna Verdin, who says her husband (and baker), Craig, doesn’t like gravy.
His substitute? A layer of buttery mashed potatoes on top of the chicken, peas, and carrot combo, then topped with crust. I’ve taken to giving these pies to friends who are going through tough times, and this is the pie that first made my family stop complaining about dinner (mashed potatoes AND crust) and led me on this chicken pot pie quest, for which I am forever grateful.