The New York import lasted just under a year in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
If you’re a longtime Pittsburgher, you’ll know this: Before the Smiley Cookie, Eat’n Park’s most famous dessert was… ?
That’s right – strawberry pie.
The signature pie, made with fresh berries in a strawberry glaze and ringed with whipped cream, celebrates its 60th birthday this month, and it’s still very much on the menu.
And the woman who created it, 85-year-old Claire Moore of Scott, is still a little sore about how it came into the world.
As the story goes, Mrs. Moore’s husband, Bob, who worked in management with Eat’n Park (and eventually became CEO), went with his boss to Cleveland to check out a strawberry pie that the restaurant industry was buzzing about. But the trip didn’t wow them. They thought the pie was too sweet, and Mr. Moore rashly proclaimed, “My wife could make a better one.”
“Which he had no business saying!” Mrs. Moore said in a phone interview last week, 60-odd years after the fact.
“I was only 23, and I hadn’t cooked that much,” she said. “I was into babies” – they had two at the time, and went on to have two more, including youngest son, Bill, who is now Eat’n Park’s director of safety and security.
“I thought, ‘Oh, crud,’” when her husband said she had to come up with a pie, she said.
She started with a recipe from a long-since-forgotten cookbook but “fooled with it” until she came up with the recipe she liked. She foisted pie after pie on the neighbors, asking for their opinions: Was it too sweet? Too solid?
When she finally came up with one that everyone seemed to agree on, that’s the recipe Eat’n Park adopted.
Bill Moore said the pie recipe is one of only a handful of recipes that haven’t been changed or tweaked at all in the 35 years he’s been working for the company.
The pie’s popularity hasn’t waned, either. Two years ago, when the Post-Gazette asked expatriate Pittsburghers to tell us which foods they miss most from their hometown, many people mentioned Eat’n Park’s strawberry pies. Last year, the chain sold more than 65,000 whole pies and nearly 180,000 slices of pie. More than half of Eat’n Park’s strawberry pies are sold in May each year, especially for the Mother’s Day and Memorial Day holidays.
Bill Moore grew up knowing his mom was the creator of the famous pie, but ironically, he never liked strawberries as a kid. He didn’t even try his first slice of Eat’n Park strawberry pie until about two years ago, at which point he told his mom, “You know what, this is pretty good. I think it might catch on.”
Mrs. Moore never dreamed her recipe would still boast regional fame 60 years later.
“I was just trying to get out of a jam he’d put me in,” she said of her husband.
And although she’s the daughter of Eat’n Park founder Larry Hatch, she apparently never ended up falling in love with baking. When asked whether she’s made a lot of strawberry pies over the years, she shot back, “I haven’t made one since” the original taste tests.
“Why would I? I can go to Eat’n Park and get them!”
Open Bottle Bistro Wine Dinner: In conjunction with Barsotti Wines, Dave DeSimone presents his first wine dinner; courses include risotto with spring mushrooms, grilled quail with cherries and mushroom sauce and hazelnut zabione. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at Open Bottle Bistro in Shadyside. $65 per person. 412-450-8217 or open-bottle.com.
Grillin’ & Swillin’ Event: Bella Sera chefs demonstrate recipes, marinades and grilling techniques, plus craft beer pairings for each of five courses. 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 30, at Bella Sera, Canonsburg. $72.50 per person. 724-745-5575 or bellaserapgh.com.
Wine Tasting Fundraiser: Wines from Walnut Hill and Raspberry Acres, beers from All Saints Brewery, catered dinner, silent auction, raffles. 6 p.m. Friday, May 30, at Saint Vincent Grove in Latrobe. $25 benefits the Latrobe Lions Club. 412-554-1371.
“Eleven Is Ten” Birthday Dinner: Help the restaurant celebrate a decade in business with a five-course dinner with wine pairings. Big Burrito Group will dedicate all proceeds to pre-approved, locally based nonprofits suggested by the evening’s diners (there’s already a long list online). Thursday, June 5, at Eleven Contemporary Kitchen in the Strip District. $150 per person. elevenck.com/10.
Foodie bike ride
Bike Fresh Bike Local Allegheny County: Two route options (25 and 50 miles) take riders past beautiful Western Pennsylvania farms. At the end, enjoy a local foods lunch (plus beer and root beer) prepared by North Country Brewing and Whole Foods Market. The 50-mile riders will register between 8 and 9 a.m. and the 25-mile riders between 10 and 11 a.m. Sunday, June 1, at the Ice Rink at North Park. Cost is $40 in advance or $50 for walk-ins; proceeds benefit Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. pasafarming.org (click “Events,” then “Bike Fresh Bike Local,” then click on the Allegheny County event).
Student goes national
Nathan Sanchioli, a senior at Central Catholic High School and a rising student in Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s culinary program, was one of four finalists who competed in the Chopped Scholarship competition on May 6 at the Food Network kitchens in New York City. Like TV’s “Chopped,” the competition pitted the four young chefs-in-training against each other.
He did not win the New York competition, but he did win $18,000 in scholarship money en route to the finals.
His family owns Sanchioli Brothers Bakery in Bloomfield. His ambition is to become the first in his family to get a college degree and help to advance and market the three-generation family business.
He and the other finalists will be featured in a 60-second spot to run on the Food Network in late June.