Hoosier Mama has the best chicken pot pie around.
This pie-centric café offers many other delicious distractions from the rest of your life, in the form of its legendary apple pie, or any of their other stellar menu items, really. More importantly, it’s located just a short bus ride, CTA trip or even leisurely walk from campus, down on Evanston’s Main Street.
My first visit was on a windy Friday afternoon. Natalie and I were a bit disappointed to learn that their electricity had gone out earlier that day, so they were only able to serve a limited selection of their sweet pies, among other menu items.
The Chocolate Chess pie sticks close to the heart of the chess pie concept, incorporating ingredients like flour, butter, sugar and eggs in the filling. The inside was soft, rich and chocolatey, while the crust was buttery yet firm. It was dusted lightly with confectioner’s sugar and I was really loving the fat slice they gave me, it (almost) justified the ~$5 price tag.
I snagged a bite of Natalie’s Pear Apple Cranberry pie, which came topped with a nutty baked crumble. The dark pink filling was bursting with the tart cranberry flavors, and the cooked pear and apple provided a nice body to the filling.
Aside from that, I also ordered a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie, as part of a promotion called Happy Hour that they carried out in January. The hot chocolate came in a wide mug, rich and deep in flavor. The top was swirled with cream, with two homemade marshmallows plopped in. The chocolate chip cookie I opted for was rather small and a bit drier than I hoped, but still decadent.
Hoosier Mama’s real show-stopper, however, is the chicken pot pie.
My friend Gerardo and I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon and ordered a slice each, which came highly recommended to me by many friends. It was bursting with flavor, with a rich and creamy white sauce bathing the traditional peas and carrots. The chicken, however, was shredded and had this unique, deep flavor. I think the secret ingredient might have been something like honey, that gave the filling a subtly sweet flavor.
The CRUST. The pie must have been freshly baked, because the crust was flaky and buttery, and I could sense every single layer that was folded on top of each other with every bite. It was probably the most memorable and standout pie crust I’ve had in a long time.
I savored every bite. It’s worth the $5. Get the chicken pot pie.
Gerardo also ordered a slice of sugar cream pie, while I opted for a slice of chocolate cream.
If you’re one of those people who enjoys plain vanilla flavors, you’ll probably love the sugar cream pie, which was essentially a custard cream pie made with more custard than cream. It’s flavored simply with sugar and vanilla, unless there was some secret ingredient that eluded me (which is entirely possible).
I impulsively bought a large chocolate cream pie ($25), and from eating it slowly (sharing with friends – sometimes) over the past week, I’ve learned the following:
1) You never really get tired of the taste of chocolate cream pie – thick chocolate mousse filling topped with a tall layer of whipped cream and large shavings of dark chocolate…
2) But the crust on this pie was less crispy and a bit underbaked, compared to that of the chicken pot pie.
3) It’s really unhealthy to buy a large pie for yourself.
Paula Haney, who started Hoosier Mama, actually has a pretty endearing back story. The pastry chef from Indiana actually started out in journalism, but veered from it when she started working at a coffee shop in Bloomington, IN. From there, she headed to Chicago to work at The Hilton, where she started off separating eggs and eventually ended up as a pastry chef.
She took a leap of faith and began selling her own pies independently, eventually opening up a shop in downtown Chicago. The Evanston location is actually just an extension of the Hoosier Mama brand that she created. She paired up with Dollop Coffee Company to establish a café that Evanston locals, and in turn, Northwestern students, would come to love.
Hoosier Mama is a hidden gem located just far away enough from campus that students treat it as a luxury. Just down the street from Cross Rhodes, the café opened in 2013 following the release of Haney’s cookbook, Book of Pie.
Stop by any day of the week, as the café is open until 9 or 10 nightly. Or better yet, bring a book or a laptop and spend the afternoon there. It’s populated largely by Evanston residents and avoids that collegiate feel that I often tire of, and it’s just a few minutes walk from the Purple Line Main stop.
The differences between the Chicago and Evanston location are quite apparent; the Evanston location offers not just pies, but also cheese plates, quiche, sandwiches and alcohol, while the Chicago one tends to focus on Haney’s specialty, the pies themselves.
Don’t have the time to head down to Main Street? Fear not, because HMPC creations are also available in Evanston’s Unicorn Café and probably any Dollop Coffee Company that you see when you might be wandering around downtown Chicago on a given day.
749 N. Chicago Avenue