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Chef Plans to Feature Savory Pies in White River Junction

  • Piecemeal Pies owner Justin Barrett, left, speaks with carpenter Brin Keenan in the White River Junction location that will soon house the restaurant on Sunday, July 17, 2016. Piecemeal Pies will be Barrett’s third restaurant and is set to open in early September, featuring a menu of British-inspired pies sourced with local ingredients, along with salads, soups, pastries, and a cider bar. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Piecemeal Pies owner Justin Barrett gathers pine boards that once lined the shelves in the building’s basement, which he plans to use as the flooring in the restaurant on Sunday, July 17, 2016 in White River Junction, Vt. Barrett, an architect-turned-chef, feels that his former job informed his decision to repurpose the existing qualities of the building to accent the restaurant. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Carpenter Dan Martin works in the storefront of Piecemeal Pies on Sunday, July 17, 2016, in White River Junction, Vt. Set to open in early September, Piecemeal Pies will feature a menu of British-inspired pies sourced with local ingredients, along with salads, soups, pastries, and a cider bar.(Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In medieval England, bakers used to enclose whole fowl, joints of venison or beef, or even porpoise flesh within their meat pies, according to the Oxford Companion to Food.

Justin Barrett, the designer and chef behind Piecemeal Pies, a cafe and bakery slated to open to the public in early September in White River Junction, will not be attempting to squeeze entire chickens, ox knuckles or porpoise into his pies.

But he has designed a menu of savory vegetarian and meat pies that include such ingredients as smoked trout, pork and parsnip, chicken and leek, beef and mushroom, and spinach and feta.

Barrett, who has lived in Vermont since 2010, is overseeing the construction of Piecemeal Pies in part of what used to be the old J.J. Newberry department store on South Main Street; Tuckerbox Cafe is expanding into another part of the space.

White River Junction, Barrett said, is the “only place in the Upper Valley I would open a restaurant business. It’s got a great history, it’s a real town and it’s undergoing a renaissance.”

Barrett, who is 33, is financing the 25-seat café through both Community Capital of Vermont in Barre, and the Hartford Business Revolving Loan Fund, which operates as part of the Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation.

When Barrett talks about meat or vegetarian pies, he’s talking about the kind of pies which are common to the U.K. and Ireland, and are often called “pasties” (pronounced “past-ees”). Shaped like turnovers or Indian samosas, they are usually served warm, have golden-brown crusts, and can be eaten out of hand.

Barrett fell in love with the meat pie during a trip to Ireland and England in 2012. He liked its long cultural tradition in the U.K. and that it’s associated with an old-fashioned workman’s lunch.

“It can be something unique but it’s also approachable and comforting,” he said.

And Barrett wanted to bring to White River Junction a place where you can get good food and drink (and take-out) in a relaxed, unpretentious environment. He also liked the idea of giving the meat pie a modern twist, using ingredients that can be found in Vermont and New Hampshire year-round.

Barrett, who was raised outside Baltimore, got his start in the restaurant trade in Portland, Ore. in 2006 after getting a degree in architecture from the University of Oregon. He’d intended to pursue a career in architecture, but had always loved food, loved cooking, and had the epiphany that going into the food world would be a better fit for him.

After a stint in the Portland restaurant scene, considered one of the most innovative in the country, he moved to New York City.

There he did a gastronomic tour of duty, including working at April Bloomfield’s Michelin-starred The Spotted Pig, a restaurant beloved by critics and the public alike. It was from Bloomfield that Barrett learned, he said, to really pay attention to the quality and nature of each ingredient.

He also worked for a catering and events company called Silkstone, and helped conceive the design for a restaurant that Silkstone opened on the Lower East Side called The Fat Radish, which met the New York criteria for great food and greater buzz.

Eventually he felt burned out by the New York restaurant treadmill — “I didn’t want to die of a heart attack at 35,” he said — and moved to Vermont in 2010 with his then-girlfriend, who was born in the state.

He immediately set up his own business called Piecemeal, doing pop-up supper clubs at sites throughout the Upper Valley. He’d set the number of guests, announce the location, take reservations and cook the food. This led to a catering and wedding food business. He also worked at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford and later at the Mountain School in Vershire, where he cooked and farmed.

It was in Vermont that Barrett began to learn more about growing food, educating himself on a healthy soil, pest control, when to harvest, putting up food after the harvest, and raising and slaughtering livestock.

He took some time away in 2012 to move temporarily to Maine, where he worked at another farm and restaurant that have garnered high praise: Salt Water Farm in Lincolnville, and Salt Water Farm Cafe in Rockport, in midcoast Maine. He then took the 2012 trip to the U.K. with the founder of Salt Water Farm, where they toured restaurants with farms attached — or vice versa, depending on one’s perspective.

Earlier this month, Barrett offered a reporter a tour of what will be Piecemeal Pies. The space is 1,400 square feet, which he is dividing in half between the cafe and the kitchen. He’s designed an open-plan space, consciously blurring the delineation between restaurant and kitchen.

“I’m all about breaking down those boundaries,” Barrett said.

He found in the basement old pine boards that were used for Newberry’s stock shelving, which he is reusing for the floor. He is using poplar wood for countertops; it’s usually considered a throw-away wood, but he’s putting an epoxy varnish on it, giving it a deep-hued marble effect. And he uncovered the original brick wall that abuts the Antique Junction store next door, and has given it a “distressed” look by applying a wash of white paint, which permits the brick to come through.

“I like taking a material and making it shine, which is how I feel about food,” Barrett said.

There will be a counter along the big front windows so that people looking out can see the small dramas and interactions of the street, and the people on the street can look in to see people enjoying a meal. The menu includes pies, of course, but also soups, salads and dessert. Barrett plans to offer a cider bar that will feature on tap hard cider from smaller Vermont producers, as well as bottled British hard cider, Vermont craft beer, and house red and white wines.

Prior to the opening, Barrett is holding several “soft openings,” try-outs where he invites people he trusts to sample the menu. The idea is to work out any rough spots or kinks in advance of the official public opening.

Once the café opens, Barrett will hire only a few key people as waitstaff, cafe manager and a full-time baker of desserts. Barrett will cook the savory pies himself.

With more than a decade’s experience in the restaurant trade, Barrett knows that it can chew up and spit out entrepreneurs.

“The key to success is eliminating as many variables as possible,” he said.

He studied the market carefully, considering such factors as when people in town head out for lunch, when the courthouse is in session, and patterns of foot and car traffic on the street. At the beginning, the schedule will be slightly more limited, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. And he’s starting with a relatively small menu, because too large a menu leads to more waste, he said.

It’s important to see what the needs of the town are first, before he considers any expansion of hours, staff or menu, Barrett said.

“I think that (the menu is) a good balance of stuff that’s not necessarily unfamiliar, but is unexpected. It’s simple and very well-executed,” said Bethany Fleishman, a pastry chef and friend of Barrett’s who also works in the transportation program at Vital Communities of the Upper Valley in White River Junction.

Barrett’s hope, he said, is to develop relationships with local or regional farms that could provide him with produce, meat and even fish for the pies. This would work both to his advantage and theirs, he said: “They don’t have to sit at the farmers’ market and hope they sell one pork chop.”

But his first objective is this: “I want to be, and aim to be, what the neighborhood wants,” Barrett said.

For information on Piecemeal Pies, go to piecemealpies.com.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.