Pies 'n' Thighs
166 South 4th Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (at Driggs; map); 347-529-6090; piesnthighs.com
Service: Ranges from casually friendly to vacant and indifferent
Setting: Casual, homey front room with outdoor seating in back
Compare It To: Egg
Must-Haves: Biscuits and gravy, doughnuts, chicken & waffles
Cost: $4-10 for a breakfast dish
Grade: Food, B+; service, another matter
Want crowds at your restaurant? Win a small local fanbase, close up suddenly, and spend years pushing back the reopening. The first Pies 'n' Thighs, offshoot of a Williamsburg dive bar, closed in 2008, fearing a crackdown from the Department of Health. It vowed a reopening, and in the interim, seemed to win more fans the longer it wasn't serving food. Earlier this year, when it opened the doors of its sunny Williamsburg outpost, the crowds descended so quickly the first brunch service ran out of silverware. And several months later, the brunch line hasn't budged.
We were happy, then, when SE'r Maggie alerted us that Pies 'n' Thighs recently beefed up their breakfast, taking it from two sandwiches, eggs, and a doughnut to a lengthier menu with a good dozen options. They've kept the prices low—refreshingly low, really, with nothing cracking $10. And unless you're there for the crowd (in which case, have at it), it's the weekday breakfast that we'd point you to.
The somewhat spartan setting seems much more comfortable when you're not sandwiched in on all sides; it's easier to get an iced tea refill, easier to flag down a waiter. This is food you want to linger over: some because it's delicious, all because it's so heavy you won't be bounding off your bench. And really, so many highlights of homestyle cooking—grits and biscuits and sloppy sausage gravy—are just better at breakfast.
While I don't generally think of doughnuts as best super-crunchy, the crust is the best part of this massive cake doughnut ($2, with coffee $2.50), sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, encasing a soft crumb that's tangy and nutmeg-laced. Almost as good was a zucchini-bran blackberry muffin ($2.50), neither too sweet nor too wholesome, swollen blackberries intact but seeping into the bran base. And if you're looking for a light breakfast, you'll be having the yogurt and granola ($6.50)—not as virtuous as it sounds, the tasty granola as sweet as a bowlful of Honey Bunches clusters.
A "banjo," in Pies 'n' Thighsese, seems to be a sandwich, though the two we tried were radically different creations. The Bacon Banjo makes a fine five-dollar breakfast, fried egg and cheese stacked on a biscuit with two salty bacon strips, thick and crispy from end to end. Though we rarely pass up a bacon sandwich for a veggie one, we actually preferred the Hippie Banjo ($7)—cheddar, avocado, veggies, and a fried egg layered on honey-sweet anadama bread that I'd happily order on its own.
What we loved about the chicken biscuit ($5): the crunchy-fried white meat, Frank's Original RedHot on top, and a sweet, melty honey butter. What we didn't love? The appalling amount of honey butter. And not seen through the eyes of a calorie counter or cholesterophobe, not just an "Oh no, I really shouldn't"—it's difficult to look at, spread in a layer as thick as the biscuit half. But we can't deny the appeal of that fried chicken, here or as chicken and waffles ($10). Though thighs may get top billing at this joint, the breasts are just as tasty, and in a sense more impressive—brined within an inch of their lives, uniformly moist and plenty salty under a substantial crust that flakes but doesn't fall off. It's juicy, it's crunchy, it's worth an order even if the waffles go untouched.
From biscuits and gravy ($8), we expected the following: split biscuit, sausage gravy. What we got? Split biscuit, sausage gravy, and sausage—at least a few links' worth, sweet and sage-y. But we're not complaining in the slighest. It's not thrown in to compensate for lost flavor elsewhere; that gravy packs a salty, meaty punch of its own. Perhaps the best dish we tried.
And even at breakfast, there's pie for dessert. Banana cream pie ($4.50/slice) was excellent, the barely sweet interior like a just-spotting banana magically whipped into filling, the buttery Nilla Wafer crust adding just enough sweet, salt, and crunch. Though the lemon-blackberry pie ($4.50/slice) was tasty, it hardly said pie to us—with a cookie-like crust and a thick lemon curd layer, it was more like a lemon tart.
It's homey food, from the muffins to the gravy; much of it, very good homey food. The service? Anything but. Sure, you don't go to a chicken shack under the Williamsburg Bridge expecting white tablecloths or a solicitous hostess. Complaining about young Brooklyn service is somewhere between trite and a waste of breath—it's taken for granted, at this point, that your waiter will slink over and scribble your order without venturing eye contact.
But really, Pies 'n' Thighs servers: a little affect goes a long way. Our server recited the specials in a vacant monotone, gazing blankly off in another direction as we asked about a few dishes. Even when the food arrives promptly and warm, it's easy to feel like you're not a welcome customer here. When we picked up a few slices of pie to go, containers of whipped cream were dropped on the surface of the pie itself, crushing the filling and pulling some of it off entirely. Little things like that. It's thoughtless.
When I paused by the counter on my way out, I got a smile and a bit of friendly chatter from the guy behind it—and immediately found myself wishing our tip had gone to him. There's a lesson to be had. If the somewhat cramped surroundings are what keep prices down, that's fine by me. But a smile doesn't cost a damn thing.
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