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Maybe it’s a sign of our selfish times, but I don’t want a piece of the pie, I want my own pie. My current obsession is hand pies, not plate-bound slices topped with whipped cream. As I type this with one hand, I’m eating a Hinman’s Bakery cherry pie with the other, pleased by the fact that there is plenty of sugar-studded crust and tart cherry in every bite.
Whether they are baked, fried, stuffed with a dessert filling, or worthy of a complete meal, hand-held pastries are beloved across the planet, from Greek tiropitas, Middle Eastern boreks, and Indian samosas, to Slavic runzas, Cornish pasties, Jamaican patties, and empanada variations from Argentina to Mexico.
Lucky for Denverites, there is a bona fide hand pie boom occurring all along the Front Range, with artisan bakers producing a world of tastes within simple crusts you can eat out of a napkin or paper bag. Here are four of my favorite spots.
4850 E. 39th Ave.
John Hinman, the owner of Hinman’s Bakery in Denver, says the inspiration for his flaky hand pie was not a dessert baked by a treasured grandmother. “I’ve always loved fried cherry hand pies, like the classic Hostess and 7-Eleven pies. I wanted to do a better version of it,” Hinman says. His half moon-shaped sweet pies are comprised of a flaky, all-butter pastry packed with fruit. Fillings for the cellphone-shaped savory pies include a Colorado classic—mildly spicy pork green chile and cheese—and the Buffalo chicken with blue cheese, which pairs well with a brew.
Also Available At: Leevers Locavore, the Bindery, Allegro Coffee, Vert Kitchen, Moonlight Diner, Brew Tea & Coffee Bar in Lafayette, Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli locations
105 N. Public Rd., Lafayette
New Zealand native Robert Morrow loves living in Colorado, but noticed a gaping void in the state’s cuisine: his homeland’s beloved savory hand pies. He and his long-time partner, pastry chef Christine Carr, launched Tip Top Savory Pies starring Carr’s wonderfully tender crust and first-class fillings from a tiny shack in downtown Lafayette. Get the best-selling roast chicken pie, which is Mom’s Sunday dinner in one tasty unit, or meatless pies such as mushroom-and-ale and the samosa-like cauliflower tikka masala. Kudos also for the not-too-sweet apple brown butter pie and the smaller, crescent-shaped “nipper” pie jammed with warm béchamel sauce, bacon, macaroni, and cheese.
Also Available At: Denver Distilling Co., Laughing Goat at the University of Colorado Boulder
1298 S. Broadway, 950 Broadway, and 1700 Platte St., with additional locations in Greenwood Village and Aurora
Lorena Cantarovici brought her love of empanadas and tango from her Argentine home to Denver in the form of Maria Empanada, an iconic Colorado pastry success story. After starting with the Classico (ground beef, bell pepper, hard-boiled egg, green onions, and green olives) enveloped in a chewy crust, she added a dozen varieties of mostly savory hand pies. Try the Tango, which contains the quintessential Denver omelet or the comforting corn and Parmesan variety.
4166 Tennyson St. and 2615 E. 3rd Ave.
Pasties (pronounced pass-tees) may have been Colorado’s first hand pie, arriving with the gold-seeking miners. Pasty Republic crafts authentic, meal-size version of the Cornish-born pasty in traditional flavors such as the Shepherd (beef, cheddar, mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots) and the Drover (lamb, leek, mint, and potato). More inventive fillings are also available: the Foreman, a vegan bundle of joy, is crammed with sweet potatoes, onions, creamed corn, peas, carrots, and rutabaga, while Nutella, peanut butter, and cream cheese make the Swirl a sweet ending (get it à la mode with Sweet Action Ice Cream).