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Posted on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 10 a.m.

The Lunch Room's pie party features tempting treats made with love

By Mary Bilyeu


Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

The Lunch Room, a vegan food cart that is part of the fabulous courtyard array at Mark's Carts here in Ann Arbor, held a pie party last Wednesday evening to share samples of eight new dessert offerings.The owners and staff have been incredibly busy during the off-season, devising new treats and temptations for their customers to enjoy once the cart re-opens on April 1.

The moment I saw on Facebook that there was an opportunity to sign up for the event, I staked a claim to two spots — one for my son Jeremy and one for me. Of course, I didn't tell Jeremy that I was going to feed him a vegan meal; I merely invited him to eat pie for dinner!

The festivities were held in the normally spacious kitchen where the Mark's Carts vendors prepare their food. But 60 lucky revelers were crammed into the room, happy and hungry, so the space was a bit cramped.

People sat on a few chairs and benches, stood in corners, and even sat on the floor; two of our hosts very sweetly brought stools for Jeremy and me to sit on as they watched us trying to balance our trays on our knees. Because these were good, kind people who wanted to support a local business and celebrate the beauty of pie, everyone was gracious and cooperative.  It was a truly festive and friendly atmosphere!

But you're ready for me to tell you how wonderful the goodies were — I know!  So let me give you the tour of my tray, clockwise from top left:
- Apple-Raisin Cream Pie: The generous pieces of tender apple were perfectly complemented by the raisins, whose sweetness shone through a very light custard. The streusel topping infused each bite with a hint of spice. Zehnder's of Frankenmuth holds an annual contest for the best apple pie in Michigan, and Jeremy stated without hesitation that he believes this one could win it all!
- Key Lime Pie: #2 on Jeremy's list of favorites, the sweet-tart custard was blissfully free — as one would expect of a vegan pie featuring wholesome ingredients — of artificial colors or flavors.  The brightness of the citrus was intense and refreshing.  It pains to me to say that Jeremy doesn't ordinarily like citrus desserts — including one of my very favorites, lemon meringue pie.  But he loved this!
- Strawberry and Kiwi Tart: Jeremy's favorite, featuring luscious fresh fruits, a perfect crumbly shortbread crust, and a rich almond-flavored custard.  The piece shown above does not, unfortunately, do justice to how gorgeous the dessert looks when first presented, with the colorful fruits arrayed like the stained glass in a cathedral's rose window.  One could say that the tart was too beautiful to cut, but it was even better to eat it than to admire its physical attributes!
- Cherry Pocket Pie: Featuring gorgeous bright red fruit and a beautifully flaky crust, this was a delicious sweet-tart treat showcasing the fabulous cherries that our state is so proudly known for.  This adorable square of pastry tied for first as one of my very favorites, and would be perfect packed in a lunch bag or a picnic basket.

- Sweet Potato Pocket Pie: Sweet and spicy, with a filling that was mostly smooth but still offered texture from tidbits of perfectly tender sweet potato, this hand-held pie was substantial and filling and delicious.

- Berry-Ginger Pocket Pie with Lemon Glaze: My other favorite, showcasing intensely colored fruits that were perfectly enhanced by the brightness of the lemon glaze.  The flavors were so vivid!  And one thing I particularly liked about the pocket pies was the charm of their rustic beauty, as the generous fillings seeped out of the tender crust and teased with just a hint of the delicious promise within.


- Chocolate Banana Cheesecake: Dense and rich, the banana flavor shone through and was ideally complemented by the chocolate.  As a native New Yorker, I prefer my cheesecake to be drier rather than pudding-like; The Lunch Room got the texture just right.

- Chocolate Raspberry Tart: Sultry and seductive, with a sharpness from the raspberry flavor shining through the richness of the chocolate custard, this tart was creamy and decadent.

Our charming host for the evening was The Lunch Room's co-owner Phillis Englebert (pictured with her husband, Bill Shea), who had worked tirelessly with the staff to prepare for the party and yet was vivacious and enthusiastic all evening.  Everyone offered warm welcomes, huge smiles and big hugs all around. (Co-owner Joel Panozzo has been touring Ecuador, so he was not at the event.)


Their generosity of spirit even extends to welcoming potential new friends to join the Mark's Carts gang: Phillis told me that applications are being accepted until Feb. 15, if you think you might have a fabulous food idea and want to open your own cart.  Three spots are open, so click here for more information.

I offer rounds of applause to Bill, Phillis, The Lunch Room staff, and everyone who played a part in the pie party. Jeremy and I can't thank you enough for welcoming us to eat pie for dinner... and wonderfully delicious pies, too, which had clearly been made with great care and love.

Until April 1, when we can indulge in all of your wonderful dishes and baked goods again!

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Mary Bilyeu writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

You should also visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.



Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

Thanks, Mary, for the super-kind words about our pies. It was a joy to make them and wonderful to debut our new concoctions with such a lovely group of people. Bob, Joel is most definitely still a co-owner of The Lunch Room. As part of our off-season R&R regimen, Joel has been enjoying the mountains and towns of Ecuador for the last couple weeks. He will be back for our 5-course Valentine's Day dinner!

Doug Wolgat

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

Who doesn't love pie?

Mary Bilyeu

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

As you can tell, I'm an enthusiastic fan, myself ... :) Pie is one of the great foods in the universe!


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

I thought Joel was one of the co-owners of TLR. Did he sell his interest?

Mary Bilyeu

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Phillis just wrote to me with a correction: "You pictured me with my husband Bill Shea. Actually, Bill is not a co-owner of the Lunch Room. That title goes to Joel Panozzo. Joel has been touring Ecuador so was not at the event. But he is my other-half-in-business. (Bill is my lovely other-half-in-life). If you could make that correction I would be most grateful!"