The Pie Hole and Coolhaus team up to win over Pasadena
By Erica Wayne 06/05/2014
June is busting out all over, and so will I if I give in to my yearnings and visit the Pie Hole and Coolhaus again and again over the summer months.
Coolhaus opened its doors in the heat of August last year, serving up what the company calls “architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches.” It occupies the front quarter of a cavernous industrial space at 59 E. Colorado Blvd. (part of the Indiana Colony, a still-developing complex named for the first pioneer settlement in Pasadena, founded in 1874).
According to its Web site, the women who founded Coolhaus (Natasha Case and Freye Estreller) began putting cookies and ice cream together into “cool houses” in 2008. Their first “venue” was a beat-up postal van that they took to the Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2009. They now operate a fleet of 11 ice cream trucks and carts in California, New York and Texas. Their ice cream flavors have expanded to well over 60, and their prepackaged ice cream sandwiches, pints and hand-dipped bars can be found at more than 1,500 markets in 40-plus states. But (lucky us) Pasadena’s Coolhaus is only the company’s second retail outlet; the first is located in Culver City.
I’ve managed to keep my visits to Coolhaus limited to date, but then I heard that the Pie Hole was coming to join them in the same space, a second site as well for this company founded by Matt Heffner, Sean Brennan and Rebecca Grasley; the first opened in downtown LA in 2011. Now there would be no way to keep me from coming more often. The Pie Hole’s reputation for excellent pastry preceded its arrival and exceeds that of Mrs. Lovett’s at the height of her (relatively brief) success. And, unlike Mrs. Lovett’s, the Pie Hole’s Web site makes it clear that the owners focus on “ethically sourced” ingredients.
On our first visit to the Pie Hole (at the rear of the space), my friend Pam and I descended into the depths of flaky decadence, ordering three savory pies: chicken and cornbread ($6.75), mac and cheese ($6) and vegetarian curry ($6). Plus, we had a strawberry lavender pocket pie, a bit like an adult Pop-Tart, square, flat and with drizzles of powdered sugar glazing, for $4. The chicken and curry pies were “potted” and about three inches in diameter. The mac and cheese was more like a miniature flattened football.
Our favorite by far was the curry, fragrant with coconut milk, dyed gold from the turmeric in the Thai yellow curry powder, spiked perfectly with Thai chili and sweetened with golden raisins. The vegetables were peas, potatoes and cauliflower. I’m not convinced mac and cheese needs a dough wrap, but its sauce was a rich blend of predominantly sharp cheddar with caramelized onion, with a nice dusting of seasoned panko on top. Our chicken pie was colorful, with celery, potato and red and green peppers keeping the breast chunks company in a mild velouté. We felt the pocket pie could have been a bit plumper but enjoyed what there was of the lavender-kissed filling.
All our pies were ordered at the counter. Like Coolhaus, the Pie Hole is a minimalist entity consisting of an L-shaped counter with display case and a few stools, plus an overabundance of light wood tables and chairs. The food was brought to us warmed and with plastic utensils, paper napkins and pressed paper containers to absorb any grease. After finishing everything and gulping down excellent cold-brew iced coffee ($3), my eyes turned southward to the front of the building where a small crowd was gathered in front of the Coolhaus counter, checking out the new flavors.
Soon I was hurrying back to Pam with two cups (supposedly one-scoop size — $4 — but with two flavors in each) to make our lunch one of pies a la mode. The flavors I chose were relatively staid: balsamic fig and mascarpone, baked apple with apple pie spices, apricot sorbet and pistachio with real, not chocolate truffles. I toyed with fried chicken and waffles and almost succumbed to brown candied bacon. If some of my favorites, like blackberry ginger sorbet, cinnamon maple bun or coffee and doughnuts, had been available, my decisions might have been harder.
After our debauchery, we traipsed over to the ArcLight Cinemas to see “Chef,” a wonderful film about a master chef who leaves a constraining restaurant job and eventually outfits his own food truck to resounding success and fulfillment, a perfect finale to our outing. And, natch, I’ve been back to the Pie Hole to sample some of the pies we didn’t get to that day, among them coconut raspberry cream, Earl Grey (cream) tea, Mexican chocolate, maple custard, rhubarb, double crust apple, strawberry (the only disappointment), two tarts (rhubarb crumble and lemon meringue) and a fabulous, pizza-slab-size dark chocolate crostada with salted caramel (all between $4.50 and $6).
Last week, however, we went to the Laemmle to see “Fed Up,” a new documentary about obesity in America and the toxicity of sugar. The movie’s message was so dire that it might just curb my frequent visits to the Pie Hole/Coolhaus for a while. But, fortunately, another quarter of the Indiana Colony space, just behind Coolhaus, is occupied by Pressed Juicery, part of a chain specializing in bottled cleanses and juice blends at about $6.50 a pop.
Perhaps, if I buy a bottle of greens with coconut water, kale and Asian pear at Pressed, I can use it to wash down my Mexican chocolate pie and bananas Foster/butterscotch budino ice cream and also wash away the guilt over these sinful pleasures.
The Pie Hole
59 E. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena
59 E. Colorado Blvd.,