Bean Pie, My Brother?

If 2011 is supposed to be the year of the pie, I would like to humbly submit the bean pie for consideration as one of the great examples of pie innovation throughout the years.

At Conscious Cafe -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- you can buy bean pie by the slice or get the whole pie for only $10. And for those unfamiliar with the concept of bean pie, it's pretty simple: Yes, it's made with beans. Navy beans, to be precise. And that's because sweet potatoes are one of the many foods that Nation of Islam followers are forbidden from eating.

But what does any of that have to do with one another?

Nation of Islam followers are traditionally African-American, and when the religion was first organized in the 1930s and 1940s by founder Elijah Muhammad, the followers dutifully adhered to the dietary restrictions set forth in How to Eat to Live but also sought replacements for the popular foods that were now forbidden. That included sweet potatoes, and, by extension, sweet potato pie.

What wasn't forbidden? Navy beans. In the video below, a documentary called "Bean Pie, My Brother?" by Hassanah Thomas-Tauhidi, Elijah Muhammad's son Jabir explains how the sweet pie was adapted to use navy beans instead, to great success.

As a result of its roots up north, bean pie is still far more popular in cities like Chicago and New York than it is down here. In fact, it's pretty difficult to find in Houston unless you have a NOI connection of your own. But that's where Conscious Cafe comes in.

Bean pie doesn't taste like beans, of course. It tastes almost exactly like the sweet potato pie it was meant to replace, with warm ribbons of cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves woven through the dense center. And at Consicous Cafe, the pie crust is made with graham crackers, lending a nicely flaky texture and light, gingery flavor along the edges. Eaten with a cup of the Cafe's organic coffee (add raw milk for $1.95!), it's a heavenly pairing -- whether you're interested in the pie's religious origins or not.

Read more about Conscious Cafe, a charming vegetarian restaurant in the Third Ward, in this week's cafe review and see photos of the dining room and kitchen in our slideshow.