WORCESTER — I have nothing against Polar seltzer. The omnipresent fizzy beverage with the cult following is perfectly serviceable. The company is genius at marketing limited edition and seasonal flavors that capture the essence of unicorn kisses (huh?) and also Meghan Markle. With that disclaimer in mind, let’s begin.
Despite the Polar hype, Worcester’s finest contribution to the culinary world is not its working man’s Perrier, it’s Table Talk Pies. If you grew up in these parts, you knew it was going to be a good day if you opened your “Charlie’s Angels” lunch box and there was a Table Talk pie in it. The promise of dessert deliciousness visible through a cellophane peephole was the encouragement any child needed to get through a day of math and dodgeball, especially if the child in question was a smartly dressed boy who carried a “Charlie’s Angels” lunch box and therefore was a running target in dodgeball. I’m just speculating about this whole “Charlie’s Angels” dodgeball situation.
So, in summary, Polar Park should be renamed Table Talk Pies Pasture, and Polar should gracefully stand aside until it begins production of hard seltzer. Give me a ring, Polar: I have hard seltzer flavor suggestions that involve both unicorns and “Charlie’s Angels.”
Let’s be clear. Table Talk does not produce gourmet, artisanal pastries. I’m not comparing Table Talk to Tatte. The fillings are made of fruit, but you don’t actually see any fruit in the blueberry pie. The crust has a tendency to be too doughy. Sometimes the best memories have a specific flavor. Like our memories, those flavors aren’t always perfect, which makes them even more endearing.
As a child, I was fixated on Table Talk’s 4-inch lemon pies. Therefore it was imperative to run interference at the grocery store to ensure that my parents bought lemon rather than my sister’s favorite. I was so effective at this move that I can’t remember my sister’s favorite flavor anymore. Looking back, I’m starting to realize why my sister was always threatening to beat the snot out of me.
There are no more grocery store tag-alongs, just adult indulgence. In 2017, Table Talk opened a store in downtown Worcester, not far from the ballpark. Bonus! It sells pies at a discount. These are pies with small visual flaws that could be called irregulars, but they seem fine to me. When it first opened, the pies were 25 cents each (!), now they’re charging 50 cents a pop. It’s worth picking change out of your car’s cup holder and heading into the store if you find yourself in Worcester.
If you’ve never tried a Table Talk Pie (for shame!), here’s a handy ranking of flavors, from best to bust. There were a few seasonal flavors that I couldn’t get my hands on, despite my best efforts: Pumpkin, sweet potato, and pecan. I also skipped the sugar-free offerings. Finding all the flavors sold in the classic red and white boxes can be a challenge, so I recommend the website famousfoods.com, which specializes in selling New England-based favorites.
This is not an easy flavor to master for the masses. Too tart, and you alienate your young audience. Too bland, and you’ve lost the adult demo. Table Talk serves up a tangy lemon delight that hits the Goldilocks sweet spot (not too sharp, not too sugary). It’s gooey, thick, and rich with a superb crust-to-filling ratio.
You won’t find these in every store, but Table Talk’s pineapple filling is like eating the best part of a pineapple upside down cake, encased in doughy crust. Those of us with a penchant for the fibrous yellow fruit get just enough pineapple texture hidden in the sweet sap. You will not be transported to Hawaii, but at least you’ll take a stroll down memory lane.
If a pie company cannot produce a decent apple pie, then you know you’re in trouble. Table Talk’s apple filling is not extraordinary, but better than most snack brands, such as Hostess and Entenmann’s. It would have been nice to see more actual apples than just the apple goo filling, but this is still a solid offering for the category. There are pleasant notes of cinnamon, although I couldn’t find cinnamon listed as an ingredient. The crust on the apple pies that I tried (in the name of research) was perfectly golden at the edges.
4. CHOCOLATE ECLAIR
What do you get when you stuff the innards of a chocolate eclair inside a pie? The answer is creamy dreaminess. If you buy this for the chocolate, you’ll be disappointed. The name is a terrible tease. There are only a few lines of chocolate frosting across the top of the crust. But inside is an (artificially flavored) vanilla filling that makes up for the lack of chocolate. Remember, this is not an eclair from a French patisserie, but for $1, the custard-like filling is very satisfying.
5. WILD BLUEBERRY
These blueberries may have been wild to start, but by the time they reach the pies they have been significantly tamed and their spirit broken. They are cooked down beyond recognition, so think of them as the ghosts of wild blueberries. This is where things become more challenging for food snobs than the rest of us. Come to think of it, the food snobs probably lost interest as soon as they read the headline of this story. No matter how cooked down the blueberries have become, it’s still a flavorful pie with a generous amount of filling.
Maybe it would be best if Table Talk left this flavor to a company based in the South. Its peach pie reminded me of hand soap from Bath & Body Works. It didn’t taste like soap, but the texture seemed as if it would be at home in a bottle with a pump sitting on the side of a sink. My test pie didn’t contain anything that resembled a peach, just aromatic gelatinous paste. It lacked the subtle acidic bite that should accompany the sweet smoothness of peaches.
I recall a time when Table Talk’s cherry pies were significantly better than they are now. In my taste test, the first cherry pie was thin on filling and lacked flavor. The bits of cherry in the filling looked deflated with defeat. To make sure it wasn’t an anomaly, I tried another and found the same thing. I cut into a third — by this point I could handle another bite of cherry — and it was the same story. The color seemed off, and I missed the delicious sour tingle on my tongue that I normally get from a cherry pie.
So it seems that the little boy with the “Charlie’s Angels” lunch box was right all along. Table Talk’s lemon pie still is by far its finest offering.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.