Hours: Monday through Wednesday: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prices: Fried pies, $0.85-1.00. No credit cards.
Filled fried pies are one of the common denominators of international noshing. You could probably trot around the world on English pasties, Spanish empanadas, Polish piroshki, Indian samosas, dim sum dumplings and Southeast Asian spring rolls. And we're talking only main courses: dessert versions are just as numerous.
(Actually, around here, we're lucky to have the benefit of so many imported cuisines. The only indigenous American version is New Jersey-style pizza -- that is, slices folded in half longways like a paper airplane and not so much eaten as swallowed point-first like a sword at a sideshow. And, as a young man, my uncle once attempted to make a fortune out of Pronto Pups, something like frankfurters smothered in dough, but that was the only dough he made.)
The advantages of fried pies are obvious. They are the meals-on-wheels of pedestrian traffic, a prepackaged spectator special. It's a wonder they aren't as standard at the ballpark as at the bullfight. And this time of year, when eating outdoors is half the fun, a carryout pie is a fresh alternative to franchised freezer-burgers.
Although the theory is the same around the world, the fillings are naturally prejudiced toward local palates. Chimichangas tend to be cheesy, spring rolls sprouty and pasties meat-and-potatoey.
Caribbean cooking is based on a fairly limited number of ingredients extended (and made more attractive) by enthusiastic spicing. Some of the deadliest pepper sauces to be found are distilled in the islands.
The tendency to tang carries over into their pie fillings, too. Brown's best flavor is the spicy beef: finely minced meat mixed with onion and herbs, dashed with hot pepper and sealed in a turmeric-yellow (food-colored, not flavored) pastry dough that keeps the filling steaming without losing its flakiness. Consumed hot, it's a head-clearer; and chased with imported ginger beer from the cooler, the kind that retains the sweet-hot bite of real ginger root, it's an allergy-sufferer's way to spell relief.
Unlike some versions, in which the ground beef filling tends to be crumbly and dry, Brown's filling is smoothed with a slight gravy that binds the meat. The mild beef filling is identical in consistency -- which also minimizes the fallout problem.
Brown's also offers a vegetarian pie, which seems rather plain on first bite but grows on you. The filling seems to be mostly collard greens, mixed with a little celery and onions and a touch of tomato and sweet pepper, bound together in a potato-starchy gravy.
The bread and sweet potato puddings may seem heavy and gelatinous to American tastes, but they are cooling and fragrant with cinnamon. (The scent of cinnamon, spread over the sticky buns, wafts out from the back room into the street, mixed with the baking aroma of the huge fresh loaves of bread that are Brown's primary business.)
Sad to report, the kitchen has given up offering the carryout goat and chicken curries that used to be a lunchtime staple -- for the time being, anyway.