This past week, I embarked on the beginnings of a pie journey, exploring the many nuances of the food phenomenon that is pie here in our fair city: the hot and savory, the sweet and spicy, and the beautiful places that make each.

I started my journey on Sunday morning with a long, long run, a 14.5-mile training run. You know what sounds amazing after you spend your morning running 14.5 miles?

An f-ing British meat pie, is what.

So I headed to CommonWealth (2882 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), the much-loved Telegraph Avenue hangout spot that reopened this past October after an electrical fire closed it down in July.

CommonWealth is both a cafe and a British public house, which means that on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I found a mix of patrons you wouldn’t normally expect to see sharing a small space harmoniously – students studying with laptops and cappuccinos, solo readers perusing The New Yorker at the bar, and rowdy groups throwing back Sunday afternoon pitchers of IPA while watching the game on TV.

Chris, Stan and Nellie Stokeld (from left to right) run The Pie Shop pop-up at CommonWealth

Chris, Stan and Nellie Stokeld (from left to right) run The Pie Shop pop-up at CommonWealth

It was packed – so packed that I couldn’t find any open tables other than a small one squeezed halfway into the bathroom hallway. So I ordered from The Pie Shop pop-up at the bar and then skulked into my corner to await my food. When my Cornish pasty arrived, I fell on it like a starving bear.

It was delicious, a piping-hot mixture of ground beef and potatoes encased in a buttery crust that flaked apart under my fork. Served alongside a perfect-sized puddle of baked beans (I could have also opted for mushy peas or coleslaw), the $8 meal was neither too little for the price nor too rich for my belly and was fittingly authentic fare for the pub-like setting.

The Stokelds, the folks behind the family-run Pie Shop pop-up, have a long family history in making these pies. In 1962, Chris Stokeld and two of his brothers – natives of Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire, England – began making handcrafted savory British pies and pasties out of a commercial kitchen on W. MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland, and selling their pies wholesale. Stokeld then went on to open several restaurants in Sonoma County, including Ma Stokeld’s the Old Vic in Santa Rosa, where he stamped out his pies while his wife operated the restaurants’ high tea service. The Old Vic ultimately closed in 2003 when it lost its lease.

Last year, the Stokelds’ youngest daughter, Nellie, moved to Oakland from her native Santa Rosa to take an AmeriCorps position with Women’s Initiative for Self Employment. While serving in her AmeriCorps position, Nellie took Women’s Initiative’s Simple Steps business course, which trains women in the skills necessary to start or grow a small business. Until then, Nellie had thought she wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, but she instead found herself writing a business plan to bring her father’s savory British pies back to Oakland. She also was interested in Oakland’s ever-growing pop-up scene, so she connected with Oakland-based pop-up incubator popuphood and began learning about what it would take to open her own pop-up shop.

Now the Stokelds are now back at it, with Nellie helming the order-taking and business end of The Pie Shop and Chris serving as lead pie-maker. Chris’ son Stan commutes from Santa Rosa to bake and plate the pies. The three Stokelds currently pop up at CommonWealth every second Sunday of the month from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering a simple, but hearty menu that includes steak pies (their most popular menu item); chicken, veggie and Cornish pasties; and fresh scones with house-made lemon curd. On each pop-up Sunday, the Stokelds use the commercial kitchen at the Kitchener (372 24th St., Oakland), then trundle their fresh wares down the street to serve at CommonWealth, utilizing a vintage Cambro Oven to keep the pies warm and ready to serve.

Nellie said that the pop-up has found a perfect home with CommonWealth, where the pop-up’s authentic British fare marries famously with the tastes of CommonWealth proprietor Ross Adair, who is originally from Scotland. And, since the fire, CommonWealth has been closed on Sundays, but is available to various pop-ups like The Pie Shop, who appreciatively make use of the space.

Even after all these years, Chris still works unceasingly on perfecting his pies and doesn’t make any compromises on quality, except in one way: He’s found that Americans don’t take to the idea of kidney in their pies.

“I’ll use kidney for my British friends,” he said. “It adds something special. But I don’t use kidney for the pies here.” So next time, if you’d like, be sure to mention that you don’t mind a little kidney with your pasty.

~~~~~~~~

Where The Pie Shop at CommonWealth hearkens to a rowdy British pub, PieTisserie calls to mind a sweet small-town confectioner’s shop. Proprietor Jaynelle St. Jean herself is reminiscent of Juliette Binoche’s chocolatier in “Chocolat” – dark-eyed and brilliant-smiled, with a straightforward way of serving up her handmade baked goods.

Fresh-baked pie at PieTisserie

Fresh-baked pie at PieTisserie

She makes it a point to wear an apron and a signature shade of bright rose-pink that matches the trim on PieTisserie’s windows and emphasizes the spotless white tiling and counter top. When St. Jean stands behind her counter, the whole scene looks like an effortlessly composed postcard.

PieTisserie’s new pie shop, which shares space with farm-to-table Mexican restaurant Nido (444 Oak St., Oakland), just celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 18 of this year, but the PieTisserie business itself celebrated its three-year anniversary on Valentine’s Day.

It was three years ago when St. Jean, in the midst of professional and personal transition, found herself back at her mother’s house in San Francisco. St. Jean had spent the previous 10 years living in New York and Hawaii, two entirely disparate places that each contributed to her interest in making and promoting sustainable, delectable food. At her mother’s house, she decided that what she most wanted to do – her most ideal act of love – was to make good food from scratch and have enough left over to share.

With her decision in hand, St. Jean baked three pies and a chocolate cake that day. She set her baked goods out to cool on the sill of her mother’s kitchen window and offered a slice to anyone who passed by.

“People started calling me ‘The Pie Lady,’” St. Jean said. “One little boy who lived in the neighborhood left and came back with a valentine for me that said ‘Pie Lady’ on it.”

It was with that concept that St. Jean enrolled in the Women’s Initiative small business course. (As a side note, probably 70 percent of the local small business owners I’ve spoken with turn out to be Women’s Initiative grads.) After graduating, she barreled into her pie business full force. She catered events and weddings, popped up at Swan’s during farmers’ markets, set up a pie table at Lake Merritt and used a set-up/take-down pop-up pie window that she could fit into her car.

“Once I decided to start this thing, I never looked back,” St. Jean said. “So that meant just working with whatever I had – which was not anything. Not a pie box. At one point I didn’t have a rolling pin; I was using some PVC pipe.”

St. Jean learned how to make pies from her high school boyfriend’s mother. She knew four pie recipes when she started serving pie out of her mother’s window, but she continues to expand her recipe base, making up original recipes as she goes. Some of her most popular pies include the Chocolate Cream Pretzel and Okinawan Sweet Potato, though her rotating monthly pie menu features everything from Mojito Custard to Pear-Blackberry Chocolate Crumble.

I got to try a mini Valentine’s Day version of the Pecante pie, a traditional pecan pie spiced with cayenne. The  filling was intensely smooth and rich under its crunchy pecan crust and the cayenne didn’t kick in until the very end – a perfectly complimentary linger of mild spiciness that brought out the buttery sweetness of the pecan.

St. Jean said that the last three years have flown by; she’s always keeping busy manning her pie shop, developing recipes and serving customers out of her new pie window.

“I can say one thing,” she said. “I haven’t been bored in three years.”

~~~~~

The Pie Shop

Where: CommonWealth, 2882 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Hours: The Pie Shop pops up at CommonWealth on the second Sunday of each month from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They’re holding bonus pop-ups on Sunday, Feb. 24, and on St. Patrick’s Day (Sunday, Mar. 17).
Phone: (707) 206-5424
More info: facebook.com/mastokeldspieshop

 

PieTisserie

Where: 444 Oak St., Oakland
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday
More info: pietisserie.com

 

Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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