Curried Carrot Pie
Side Dish Runner Up
- The Phoenix Tavern | Johnstown, Pa.
- Pittsburgh Division
The curried carrot pie is a savory yet somewhat sweet and spicy dish that incorporates curry paste, coconut milk, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, cilantro, onion and, of course, carrots in a baked pie crust. A hit at the Phoenix Tavern, it was a dish that co-owner Colleen Sapolich stumbled upon because her son was going through a curry phase.
"My son was really into curry for a while and everything had to have curry," she said. "And he liked carrots so I went with it." Sapolich said it was a quick hit with her son and with diners, especially because it was an unusual dish for Johnstown. "We're a small town so you don't really get a lot of those flavors," she added. "It has enough spice to make it interesting, but not overwhelming. It's nice to have something different once in a while." Even though the pie is reserved more for events, Sapolich modified the recipe and created a curried carrot soup that is on the menu at the restaurant more often, which makes her customers happy.
"It's a little outside the box of what we usually do," she said. "If I make something one time, I'll get requests to make it again and this is one of those things."
David Sapolich's parents first opened the Phoenix in 1973. They built it up into an easy-going spot where everyone feels welcome — "older, younger, church crowd, my kids' friends, a lot of families: parents, kids and grandparents," Sapolich said.
Colette and David worked there for 30 years before taking it over. And it’s still a family affair. Their kids have all worked there and now their granddaughter comes in on Sundays to learn to cook.
In the 40-plus years Phoenix Tavern has been open, not much has changed with the 90-seat spot and customers like that. People come for the homemade ingredients, the fresh pies and pastries, the overall familiarity.
"We have people who have lived out of town for 20 years and come back and say it's the same as it was back then," Sapolich said. "They come in and say they're dying for a piece of pie they had 20 years ago. They get a good feeling."
What’s on the menu? Eight versions of wings, housemade soups, pizza, burgers, a variety of sandwiches and more. Customers also love the chicken balls. It's a dish that came about somewhat accidentally, perhaps with a little divine intervention, and became one of the restaurant's most sought-after dishes.
"We couldn't do wings at a festival [one year]" so Sapolich created chicken balls instead. It combines stuffing, uncooked shredded chicken breast, potatoes and seasonings. They put it in beer batter, fry it and serve it with mashed potatoes and chicken gravy. "It's like Sunday chicken dinner," she added.
That's just another reason people continue to return to Phoenix Tavern.