Massart's homemade pies are a sweet Tarentum tradition
For these famous pies, there are no measuring cups used or timers set.
Kirk Massart, owner of Massart’s Restaurant in Tarentum, relies on his memory and his years in the kitchen.
On a recent Wednesday morning, Massart was multi-tasking as usual, at his place where he knows most of the customers by name. They come by daily for the made-to-order breakfasts and tasty specials of home-cooked meals and often finish off the dining experience with a slice or two of the fruit and cream pies with signature flaky crusts.
Made daily, these pies are addictive.
Massart prepares them in the back kitchen in between his morning chef duties — preparing eggs, bacon and pancakes on the grill.
You need to watch him live to fully understand his talent. One minute he’s mixing the fruit filling for a peach pie and the next he’s flipping pancakes, cracking eggs and placing slices of bacon on the grill.
He walks through the swinging door to the kitchen too many times to count.
“You can’t just do one thing at a time when you are a small-business owner,” says Massart, in between rolling out some homemade pie crust. “You learn to prioritize, and when you have a few minutes to do something, you take advantage of that time.”
He certainly does. And he has a mind like a machine — he doesn’t have to measure any ingredients for the pies and can remember that a pie crust is in the oven without having to set a timer.
“There are times I mess up,” he says. “But not too often, because I have a system. I remember when I have pies in the oven.”
Learning in the kitchen
Making fresh pies began with the first meal served at Massart’s by Kirk Massart’s grandfather, Jake Massart, in the early 1920s. Kirk Massart’s father Harold “Stubby” Massart and uncle Joseph “Gail” Massart continued the tradition.
“I don’t measure anything — you just know it’s right by how it feels,” says Massart. “My dad and uncle would show me one time, and if I didn’t get it right then, they would just say ‘move out of the way let me do it.’”
He begins by making the filling, whether it is a cream concoction or fruit.
The pies he makes varies throughout the week but you can most likely find a cream selection and one fruit choice daily. And he doesn’t make too many because he would rather they be fresh.
Most days he makes banana and coconut cream and, at times, lemon meringue, chocolate, cherry cream, blackberry, apple or cherry. The cherry is the top seller.
The pie crust is made from flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, as well as shortening and water. Having a flaky crust is key, Massart says.
When making it, if it crumbles nicely you have enough shortening, but if it doesn’t stick together too well, then add more. How much?
“A little bit,” Massart says.
It’s also important to sprinkle some flour in the pan before placing the bottom layer of crust and then some flour on top of the crust, which he pinches along the sides of the pan.
“I know how much to make because I have been making pies for years,” he says.
“I do mess up once in a while, but I strive to make the same every day and get as close as you can to the same level of quality every day,” he says. “For all these years, we’ve used the same recipe.
“That is why people come here, because the pies are fresh and homemade,” says Massart. “It reminds them of years gone by when their mom or grandmother would make the dessert.”
As the pies bake in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven, he makes sure to spin them occasionally and definitely lets the baked crusts cool before adding any filling of vanilla, milk, egg yolks, sugar, salt and yellow food coloring for the cream pies.
He later adds the meringue, a combination of egg whites, sugar, a shot of vanilla and some cream of tartar.
When adding filling for a cream pie, he says, it might not look smooth initially, but once it cooks it will settle. He adds slices of bananas to one cream pie and writes a big “B” on the meringue so the servers know that’s the banana cream selection and drizzles coconut on another.
After he adds the meringue, they are ready to bake.
For the fruit pies, he adds a little more sugar and a bit of tapioca pudding before covering them with the top layer of crust.
A few minutes later, he pulls them out of the oven.
“There you go,” Kirk Massart says. “They just need to cool a little and then we can slice some pie.”
A slice is $2.95-$3.15. Customers can order a whole pie a day in advance for $9-$11.
Massart’s Restaurant is located at 310 E. Sixth Ave., Tarentum.
JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or email@example.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.