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Fredericksburg restaurateurs launch handmade pie business
Ingrid and Scott Mahar have won a wide variety of fans in the nearly six years since they opened Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen at
the corner of William and Charles streets in downtown Fredericksburg.
From a loyal local clientele that has kept them in business while other eateries have come and gone, to notice from the national food website Epicurious.com, they’ve developed a strong reputation and been a major component of the burgeoning Restaurant Row along William Street.
You wouldn’t think a married couple of independent restaurateurs with two young children would have a lot of extra time on their hands, but the Mahars recently launched a new business.
They’re making gourmet, hand-crafted pies during their off-hours in the restaurant kitchen.
The venture is called Blackbird Pie Company, and it aims to sell the pies online to locations around the country, through various market locations in the greater Fredericksburg and Washington D.C. metro areas, and wholesale to restaurants and other clients.
The pie business is a separate venture from the restaurant, which they plan to continue to operate.
“We had some creative juices that weren’t being exercised in the restaurant,” said Ingrid Mahar, “And we are massive pie lovers in this family.”
The Mahars have won recognition for their commitment to working with local farmers to source ingredients, and in choosing a focus for their new business, they wanted a product that would allow them to commit to quality ingredients, organics when possible. Pies are made on a small enough scale to make that possible.
Blackbird’s menu isn’t hurting for variety.
Sweet pies include fruit pies that change with the seasons, banana, chocolate, and coconut cream pies, key lime, pecan bourbon made with Maker’s Mark bourbon and a pumpkin pie with mascarpone cream.
Ingrid Mahar said the mascarpone lightens the texture of the traditional pumpkin pie filling.
I sampled the True Blue Apple Pie, with a delicate lattice-top crust. The crust was right on, providing an excellent sweet-salty balance and just the right amount of bite.
The apples were well-seasoned and retained their apple texture, something Ingrid Mahar is vigilant about.
“I can’t stand apple pie where the apples are overcooked and mushy,” she says. “You need to cook them until they release those juices and that’s it.”
For the holidays, Blackbird serves up several specialty pies, including chocolate custard with eggnog swirl, figgy pie and poached pear with chocolate ganache and a shortbread crust, an adaptation of a popular dessert from Poppy Hill.
Fredericksburg-area residents can order the pies through Olde Towne Butcher, whose shop is just above Poppy Hill on William Street, to be picked up with their Thanksgiving turkey. Orders must be placed by Nov. 20.
Blackbird Pies will be doing pie tastings at the butcher shop on Saturdays through the holiday season.
In addition, the Mahars have launched their online store at blackbirdpieco.com. They’ll be adding more varieties to this store as they test shipping methods with different pie varieties, a process that involves mailing pies as far away as California and asking the recipient to videotape the opening of the package to see how the contents hold up. The pies are shipped frozen.
In addition to fulfilling a creative urge for the couple, the pie business will also have a charitable arm.
“The Fifty Project” aims to put 50 hand-made pies on the holiday tables of needy families in the communities where Blackbird Pies has a client base. For this year, the business has committed to giving away 250 pies in communities including Fredericksburg, Baltimore and Richmond.
“I think that it’s 100 percent part of your responsibility as a business owner to give back, and all of those good things will give back to you in time,” Mahar said. “Wherever the pie company takes us, we want to commit to that project.”