Another slice of life, please

Pies: Intrepid food hunter always finds room for dessert. Next stop might be the fat farm

July 15, 1999|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,SUN COLUMNIST

When you eat pie for breakfast, you raise a few eyebrows.

"Pie?" asks the incredulous waitress at Weaver's Restaurant and Bakery in Hancock as I fail to finish two pancakes, two eggs, two pieces of rye toast and a stack of home fries. "I'm saving room for the pie," I plead. "Do you have coconut cream?"

It is a phony question.

I know they have coconut cream pie and apple and lemon meringue. I have been looking at the pies since I walked in the door of the casual, family-run restaurant that for the last 50 years has been a favorite stopping point for travelers.

Hancock sits about 120 miles west of Baltimore, a crossroads nestled in the narrow stretch of Maryland that runs between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Like many downtown Hancock businesses, Weaver's backs up to the C&O canal and the bicycle path that runs alongside the canal.

Travelers, truckers and cyclists are drawn to the restaurant, says Penny Pittman, who along with her husband, Randy, owns the business. "We're about a two-hour ride from Baltimore and Washington, a good break-off point for people heading out to Deep Creek Lake or up to Pittsburgh," she says.

Weaver's is a good place for me to continue my eating odyssey across the state, where I am feasting on local fare and talking to local folks from the mountains to the shore to the cities. I've already tackled the high ground. Now, I am recharging my appetite before weaving my way toward Frederick and Carroll counties.

From my seat in one of Weaver's gray-and-red booths, I keep a close eye on a refrigerated case behind the restaurant's front counter. I watch a stream of customers purchasing homemade pies, breads and rolls that emerge hot from the oven.

Three bakers and two cooks keep the kitchen and bakery working seven days a week. In the morning, folks wait outside for the restaurant to open. Inside, waitresses call regulars by their first names as they hurry hot food to the tables.

After polishing off the last forkful of a slab of coconut cream pie -- a firm yet not-too-sweet pie with a flaky crust -- I squeeze my satisfied but bulging stomach out of the booth and amble over to the cashier. I discover a black raspberry pie made with berries picked just the other day in Western Maryland. I can't resist getting a piece of pie to keep me company on my journey to Frederick.

It may be possible to eat pie while you're driving along a highway, but only if you are a professional pie eater. Even I, a master of pie demolition, have trouble getting to the slab of black raspberry that sits on the passenger seat.

As I enter Frederick, the traffic congestion and street scenes -- middle-aged men in summer suits, college-age guys wearing hiking shorts and baseball caps and well-dressed women visiting antique shops -- remind me that this is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state.

I stop at Brewer's Alley for lunch. The brew pub has the look of a new, suburban restaurant with gleaming copper kettles, polished wood fixtures and tennis rackets hanging on the wall. Yet, the red brick building has a proud past as a town hall, a marketplace, a brewery and an opera house.

The restaurant is an attempt at resurrecting the old, urban core. I toast the endeavor with a Kolsch, a lightly hopped, pale gold ale that is just the beer for a summer lunch. I also have two modern-day pizzas -- one topped with grilled chicken and romaine lettuce tossed with Caesar salad dressing and another with grilled chicken, sauteed onions and salsa. The pizza -- and the beer -- are made on the premises and, as someone who makes his own pizza dough, I am impressed by the high quality of the crusts.

The beer is the work of Tom Flores, a 30-year-old brewmaster who seems to embody the mobile, youthful spirit of Frederick. Flores grew up in Laurel, worked in the Baltimore area at Clipper City Brewing Co. and moved to Frederick two years ago.

Working in a historic building and a former brewery appeals to him, he says. "Every time you walk in, you hearken back to a different pace of life, to the old way when you focus on quality, instead of quantity," he says. "It is neat."

From Frederick, I glide along the rolling countryside of Carroll County. The landscape shifts from the steep grades of Western Maryland mountains to gentle, undulating hills. I am a sucker for undulation.

As I drink in the views and read the signs along Route 77, I notice that folks in this area seem proud of their cattle -- dairy farms announce that Holsteins are on the premises -- and Confederates -- road markers tell of Civil War troops who camped here on their way to and from the battle at Gettysburg.

In Uniontown, I stop at the farm of Scott Williams and Cinda Sebastian, who grow a variety of herbs, vegetables and fancy greens for sale at area farmer's markets. Scott gives me a tour of Gardener's Gourmet farm, including a stop in the fields to eat a purple potato pulled fresh from the ground.

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