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Review: District Hand Pie & Coffee Bar

Sweet, savory and portable: this Uptown spot is hot for pockets



The genius of hand pies is not a well-kept secret. From British pasties to Jamaican meat patties, most cuisines have at least one version in their repertoire — evidence of the power pastry dough holds when used as a vehicle for savory and sweet fillings.

  Louisiana is no stranger to the portable phenomenon: Crescent-shaped Natchitoches meat pies and fried Hubig's desserts are practically woven into the fabric of the state.

  With the opening of District: Hand Pie & Coffee Bar, owner Chris Audler (who also co-owns District Donuts.Sliders.Brew) and his team are pushing the pie envelope: savory fillings are topped with julienned fruit and sweet glazes, and whole eggs are baked into tiny dough pockets disguised as dumplings or muffins.

  The pies here, most of which are made with a butter and cream cheese shortcrust, have perfected the dough/filling relationship: The dough is flaky and buttery and the fillings, while generously portioned, manage to stay in place without seeping out or making a mess.

  The defining feature of the hand pie — its portability — is not always successful here. Some of the toppings make for awkward to-go accompaniments, while the tiny shop seems designed for a grab-and-go clientele — there only is outdoor seating, and it's sparse. To deal with the issue, the kitchen provides separate containers with boxes that are labeled with instructions for those taking their pies on the road.

  Savory pies take soft cues from their Australian and British counterparts, which are typically game-forward, meat-heavy vessels. Slow-cooked, pulled duck is tossed with guava paste, and the pie is topped with thin slices of apple, jalapeno and mint. Crisp and slightly spicy, the topping provides a sharpness that helps cut the richness of the duck. Rabbit gets cooked in sauce piquante — a method popular in wild game preparations — and, accompanied by savory brown rice pudding and baby carrots. The pastry has a warming, deeply gamey quality and feels akin to its cold-weather cousin, the pot pie.

  A pie filled with boudin and sweet potatoes treads the line between sweet and savory. The topping is not for the sugar-averse: a bruleed marshmallow and candied pecan mixture makes this pie reminiscent of indulgent holiday fare.

  Breakfast pies are roughly the shape and size of their Mexican sister, the empanada, and on most days, the bakers stock meat and vegetarian versions. A combination of bourbon-braised bacon, egg and cheddar cheese is encased in buttery biscuit dough, a medium that provides the perfect breakfast to go. The eggs are scrambled and fluffy while the dough is not overly greasy, an impressive feat given the generous quantity of bacon and cheese present.

  Sweet versions run the gamut, usually featuring a rotating selection of seasonal fruit, some paired with Nutella and often topped with creamy strokes of frosting or showered in confectioner's sugar.

  If some of the menu's offerings take cues from other cuisines, the blueberry hand pie topped with velvety Creole cream cheese and fresh blueberries tastes all-American, like the larger versions served at summertime barbecues.

  The kitchen's creativity doesn't stop at the pies. Ample attention also is given to a variety of pastries, including the perfectly golden kouign-amann, a buttery and slightly sweet confection made with flaky croissant dough.

  When sliced (or bitten), a decadent muffin made with Gruyere, cheddar and Parmesan delivers the surprise of a soft-boiled egg, and the addition of bourbon-braised bacon makes it an indulgent breakfast treat.

  Coffee features prominently here, and cold brew coffee is served on tap.

  The daily brew features a take on the Bulletproof coffee trend where drip coffee is combined with grass-fed butter and coconut oil before getting a whirl in the blender: the result is frothy, creamy, and — like the majority of pies on offer — very rich.

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