Don’t expect your lips to pucker when you take a bite of Occidental Grill & Seafood Restaurant’s vinegar pie. Executive Chef Jake Addeo introduced the Depression-era dessert made with eggs, sugar, and apple cider vinegar after taking over the kitchen at the more than 110-year-old restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Addeo, who comes to Occidental from Bibiana, has been looking at vintage menus for inspiration. “This place has been around for so long that a lot of stuff is lost or has to be found,” he says, adding that some recipes were uncovered during last summer’s remodel of the dining room and bar.
He was also pushed to add the vinegar pie to the menu by server Lindly Haunani. She has worked at Occidental since 1986 and has a habit of gifting Addeo old cookbooks. “Lindley likes to talk and I like to listen to her,” Addeo says. “If I’m going to learn anything, it’s not from a cook that’s only been here for ten years.”
Haunani tried a vinegar pie in Texas and Addeo tweaked the recipe until it was to his liking. “It might have worked in Texas, but it wasn’t going to work here,” he says. “It was a real flat, thin pie. No one would have paid $8 to $10 for it.”
His pie is a few inches thick and tastes rich and custardy. It has the consistency of Key lime pie, but since citrus wasn’t available when times were tough, vinegar was used as the balancing agent to give the sugary dessert some much needed tang. The recipe only calls for two tablespoons of vinegar per batch, so the piquant flavor isn’t overwhelming. Addeo says the vinegar also contributes to the pie’s crispy exterior.
“It was about being as easy as it could possibly be back then,” the chef says. “It was whatever you could come up with at the time. We kind of glorified it by putting some expensive olive oil gelato on the side because we don’t live in a Depression-era.”
Addeo sprinkles some coarse sea salt on top of the olive oil ice cream so that when you go back and forth between bites of pie and gelato, you really taste the contrast between sweet and savory.
Some guests bypass the vinegar and go straight for a chocolate dessert or bread pudding. “But if Lindley’s on it, she’ll sell a whole pie in one night pretty easily,” Addeo says.
He’s not the only one bringing vinegar pies back into fashion. Bon Appétit declared Depression-era pies trendy back in 2015.
Occidental, 1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; (202) 783-1475; occidentaldc.com