Written by Sarah Barden, photos by Chelsea Fausel
Buttery, flakey pastry. Aromatics of juniper and spices from the dry-rubbed bacon within. A trio of tender apples, leeks and onions. Rich raclette and Jarlsberg cheeses, perfectly melty from their time in the oven. This is the Swiss pantry pie, and it makes up a not-insignificant portion of my diet.
As a food tour guide I have eaten at nearly every restaurant in town (all in the name of research, of course!). I’m a self-proclaimed adventurous eater and my desire to try new places and foods is so strong that I often nix restaurant suggestions because I’ve dined there too recently. I share all this so that when I say that I’ve eaten at Mama Said Hand Pies at least once a week since the beginning of May, you will understand that this is not normal for me.
Hiroko Takashima and Gabe Flores are responsible for this sudden change in behavior. Since 2016 they have been selling their savory hand pies at farmers markets, first in Trumansburg and later in Ithaca. But they endeavored to make this a full-time business—one that could support their family of four—so in June they opened a petite storefront in Press Bay Alley, a collection of micro-retail spaces on Green Street in Ithaca.
Their menu changes often, a rotating selection of nostalgia-inducing, globally inspired flavors. Gabe grew up in Queens and Hiroko traveled extensively during college, so they are always testing new recipes to represent the diverse array of the cuisines they have known and loved. On any given day you might find Uzbek samsas and Latin American empanadas alongside Vegan Sausage Rolls (an English recipe with a very Ithaca twist). The best seller is a Potato & Welsh Cheddar Pastry, filled with buttery mashed potatoes, Collier’s Welsh Cheddar, Colman’s mustard and sneaky onions—so named because they’re undetectable by their most sensitive taste-testers: their daughters.
Gabe and Hiroko are devoted to local ingredients—they began by selling shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers at the market, after all—and rely on Finger Lakes farmers to supply their beef (Windsong Farm and Autumn’s Harvest); milk (Hillcrest Dairy, which they use when making their own cheese); and produce (Jackman Vineyards, among others).
Every pie makes an impression with the very first bite—sometimes because the pie is piping hot, but usually because the flavors are memorable: simultaneously interesting and familiar. A few are served with salsa but most stand alone, a comforting medley wrapped in dough.
If I had fallen this hard for anything else, I might be in trouble. But at just $4 apiece, one hand pie is a satisfying snack, two make a light lunch and when I add a sprout salad from Dancing Turtle (perhaps the only menu item not wrapped in dough) I have a delightful meal.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of the magazine.
Sarah Barden takes every opportunity to try new food, and now leads tours with her husband through their business Ithaca is Foodies Culinary Tours (ithacaisfoodies.com). When she’s not working, she’s still eating – documented on Instagram @ithacaisfoodies.
Chelsea is a lifestyle and wedding photographer in the Finger Lakes with a studio in downtown Ithaca. She spends her spare time with her wife and 4 children hiking, traveling and drinking lots of coffee. Follow her on instagram: @fauselimagery