TASTE WG interviews participating bars and restaurants. Here is Carolyn Bane, Chef and Co-Owner of Pies ‘n’ Thighs. TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint is on September 9th. For more info go to www.tastewg.com.
By Shayna Makaron / Photos by Les Brown
What will you be preparing for TASTE?
We’re going to do a pimento cheese spread on homemade cheddar cheese crackers. And the crackers are awesome—they kind of taste like Cheez-Its and look really beautiful.
Awesome. So you’ve been a participant in TASTE before. What brought you back?
Well I think it’s really important to support the community that you live in and work in. And it’s nice to be a part of something that other local businesses are coming together for.
Speaking of supporting the community you’re a part of, how long have you been in Williamsburg?
I moved to Greenpoint a year and a half ago, but I lived on Metropolitan Ave for 10, 12 years before that, so I’ve been here since 1999.
I started cooking in 2004 at Diner. I was there for 3 years, and then made a brief jaunt into Manhattan and worked at The Spotted Pig. But then came back for Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and even during our hiatus I went back to Diner, and Marlow & Sons, and spent a year there, and then actually worked at Roberta’s in Bushwick. But I’ve pretty much been on the Southside for the length of my culinary career.
Well that’s an all-star list right there.
Yeah, it’s definitely been great.
And how would you say the neighborhood has changed since you’ve been here?
Well I think mostly it feels like it’s grown up. There are a lot more bars and restaurants than there were, and there are fancy places that didn’t used to be here—you’d have to go into Manhattan for that. And it seems more densely populated than it used to be. And it’s expensive. It’s expensive for people to live here and it’s expensive to go out to eat in this neighborhood. Pies ‘n’ Thighs tries to make it affordable so that anyone can come in for lunch on any given day. But I think in general, Williamsburg is an expensive neighborhood to live in.
How do you think that’s affected the neighborhood as a whole?
I think that it’s pretty diverse right now, and I think that has been a positive change. Now people come to Williamsburg as a destination for entertainment where I don’t know that they did that 10 years ago. It was more like, if you lived here, there was plenty of stuff to do, but you also went elsewhere. And now tons of people are coming here. It’s like the new Lower East Side.
So when you were first coming up with the idea for Pies ‘n’ Thighs and as it has evolved throughout its existence, how has being in Williamsburg influenced the restaurant in terms of food or atmosphere, for example?
Well it’s definitely pretty casual. And when we had our old location, that was really great because it was a real dive, and people love that kind of thing. And since we’ve moved, it’s still a casual restaurant and I think that people really respond to having just a cheerful, casual environment. People bring their kids all the time to brunch, or early dinner.
You mentioned that there are a ton of bars and restaurants in the area now. Where do you eat or drink when you’re not at Pies ‘n’ Thighs?
I love Allswell on North 10th and Bedford, and I love Bellwether by McCarren Park. And Saltie, of course. Those are my top three. And I love Diner and Marlow, too, of course. But I actually don’t go there as often as I go to the other places.
If you could collaborate with any other chef in the area, who would it be?
Definitely it would be the women who run Saltie, because they’re amazing. Everything they do is delicious.
What would you say is your favorite seasonal ingredient to work with?
How’s tomato season this year?
Tomato season is good! We have a seasonal salad on the menu, we’re running a really delicious gazpacho for a while. It’s been a good one.
I paid $4 for a tomato at the farmer’s market last week.
Oh, I know! That’s the crazy thing. You really have to make it the focus of the dish rather than take a slice and put it on a sandwich. But they’re so good for you, and regular tomatoes really don’t compare so you’ve got to eat them while they’re good [and in season].
Absolutely. So to change the subject…I heard that you were on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Oh my god. [laughs]
What was that like?
It was honestly one of the worst days of my life. It was horrible. So I don’t think you should write anything about that because it was BAD.
Alright well I won’t pry there! So you know about the Northside Town Hall and Community Center. Do you have any ideas about how a food component could be worked into the space?
Oh! I think they should have cooking classes for kids there—I think that would be really fun. When I was a kid, I took a candy-making class, and it really lived large in my head for a long time.
It was that transformative?
Yeah, I was just like, “Woah, these chocolate lollipops are amazing!” And I think it’s fun for kids to make something like a tortilla—something that they can see a lot of, but it’s like the transformative process. It’s better than cutting up vegetables, which you can’t really have kids doing.
Yeah, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Do you feel like the local restaurant community would be into getting involved with that?
Yeah, I think people like doing that kind of thing. I think it can be maybe intimidating the first time, but it’s fun. And you know, everyone eats.
Last question – any new ventures in the works?
We’re always looking for the next thing, and I think it’s definitely in the near future rather than the far future, but nothing specific. I think someday there’ll be another Pies ‘n’ Thighs, but we have no definite plans