The slender storefront on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain that once housed Kennedy Fried Chicken became Aurum (the name means “gold” in Latin) in January. Sometimes a sidewalk sandwich board beckons customers with this: “Don’t be scared of the word pies. They’re just delicious baked sandwiches.”
Aurum specializes in savory tri-cornered individual pies made to order and presented in homemade dough. Owner Matt Virzi got the idea from Syrian pies he had seen in Worcester when he was growing up in Shrewsbury. Those individual pies were typically filled with lamb or spinach (many Middle Eastern cultures make them). Virzi calls his versions “new American” and they contain all kinds of vegetarian or meat fillings, with cheese, fresh herbs, dressing, and other combinations.
You can see Virzi shaping your pie and hear the little “ping” of his oven when it’s ready. The dough, something like pita, is pinched together along the top three seams to hold in the fillings, and when baked, they’re appealingly floury on top.
A pie named The Fall River ($5.99) is filled with scrambled eggs, chourico, bell peppers, and onion, and is deliciously satisfying for breakfast, or any hour. Lunch and dinner pies include The Whiskey River ($6.99), stuffed with grilled chicken in a whiskey barbecue sauce, mixed with Gouda and mozzarella. It’s a little honey. So is The Beast of Burden ($6.99) with shaved steak, salami, and provolone. The Fahmah ($6.99) contains seasonal vegetables, right now sweet potato and kale, and goat cheese.
Carne asada with cilantro and red onion fill The Cousin Mundo ($6.99) and the beef is succulent. The Lu ($6.99), with sauteed spinach, tastes more like some bland Middle Eastern pies I’ve had. Add a side or drink to any of the lunch or dinner pies for $9.99.
Beet chips made with sliced or crinkle-cut roots ($4.99) are pretty terrific, as are cauliflower florets, dipped in batter and deep fried ($4.99) into golden, moist, and juicy nuggets. You could eat the spicy mayo that goes with them off a spoon.
Fresh juices ($5.49) mix up apple and kale, beet and carrot with berries, sweet potato, and cantaloupe.
Virzi grew up in a bakery his mother, Lucille Virzi, owned in Shrewsbury called The Cookie Connection. He worked at Ittyo Japanese Restaurant in Cambridge, Robinwood Cafe in JP, and ran a wholesale business called the Original Beer Cookie. His own chocolate-chip cookies (99 cents) are dense, chewy, and chunky with big nuggets of chocolate. But they’re often sold out.
An Italian wedding soup ($3.99 and $5.99) is packed with tiny meatballs and teensy round pasta, and though it’s very good, the broth is the turmeric color that signals commercial stock. Virzi is also buying salad dressings, which are too sweet and thick and not nice enough for his bowls. One beautiful composition is greens, romaine, plump Kalamata olives, and feta in the Greek salad ($8.99). Fattoush, which is all baby lettuces (no heft), and cukes, red onion, and toasted pita ($8.99), deserves something homemade to dress the leaves.
If these hand pies are the new sandwiches, Aurum is sitting pretty. When the shop works out some details, and when carryout doesn’t arrive home with spills because everything got jostled inside a flimsy bag, Aurum will indeed strike gold.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.