Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
Every morning, without fail, I have a cup of chai tea. Sometimes I have more than a cup. Sometimes it's a veritable pot's worth of tea, but always hot and always chai.
As a child, I was enamored with the chai latte at Starbucks before I worked a brief stint at the coffee shop and found the tea isn't made with tea at all, but sugary syrup mixed with steamed milk. Since then, I've enjoyed my chai tea black, strong and bitter. I can't start a day without it.
I was intrigued, then, the first time I saw the "Chai Pie" on the menu at Pondicheri. Could it be my favorite morning pick-me-up has been transformed into an evening treat?
Yes, it could be, and even with my expectations high, the spiced chai pie exceeded them.
Chef/owner of Pondicheri Anita Jaisinghani explains that the name for the dessert came first. She wanted to create something called "Chai Pie," and the concept evolved from there.
"We had SO much fun with the chai pie," Jaisinghani says. "I made three or four versions that were good, but not great, and then our pastry chef Alexa Hernandez took over and made magic with it!"
The year the Chai Pie was introduced (2012), it made a list of "101 Of America's Most Crazy-Awesome New Desserts" put out by New York Magazine's Grub Street. Jaisinghani told the magazine, "you will never have anything like it in your life," and she's right.
The crust is made of Parle-G biscuits, Indian tea cookies with a texture similar to graham crackers, which makes them ideal for crumbling into a crust. The flavor is more buttery though, and similar to a traditional British-style biscuit.
On top of that is a layer of thick, cool caramel, which keeps the crust from getting soggy. The most important element, though, is the chai filling, a sort of cheesecake with a distinct chai spice flavor. You can taste the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise and ginger. It's spicy without being overwhelming, and the cold creaminess of the filling keeps it refreshing, rather than heavy. And the best thing? Like the chai tea that I like to drink, it's not too sweet.
The pie is garnished with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and candied cashews, perfect for a bit more crunch along with the smooth pie.
Now if only I could get Chai Pie for breakfast too.
The list so far: No. 85, Tacos at Taqueria Maya Quiché No. 86, S'mores at 13 Celsius No. 87, Calamari at Lillo & Ella No. 88, Pulled Pork Nachos at Way Good Food Truck No. 89, Garden Sammie at Local Foods No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette