H Street Serves the Upper Crust

Posted April 9, 2010 at 4:32pm

Rodney Henry, the proprietor of the new Dangerously Delicious Pies on H Street, has nothing against cupcakes. It’s just that Henry, whose tattooed arms and shaved head make him look more like the rock musician he was than the businessman he’s become, thinks the trendy pastries that seem to be everywhere in Washington these days are a little too … limiting.

Pie, on the other hand, he rhapsodizes, can be sweet or savory, laden with berries or beef.

“You can’t have a steak cupcake,” he says. “You could eat every meal in a pie shop — but if you ate lots of cupcakes, all you get is a gnarly headache.”

The new location of Dangerously Delicious Pies is an offshoot of the shop’s original location in Baltimore, which Henry opened seven years ago after spending years in local bands. To break into Washington’s restaurant scene, he partnered with a group that has experience in the burgeoning H Street corridor: Joey Belcher and Jason Martin, part owners of H Street’s Sticky Rice and the U Street bistro 1905 (Martin also has a stake in the nearby Rock N Roll Hotel), and Sandra McKeever.

Still, even with the local connections, opening the place proved more complicated than the owners expected, and a mass of red tape, inspections and licensing kept neighbors asking for months when the long-anticipated pie destination would open.

Henry finally threw the doors open early this month to the funky pie emporium, which features a rotating selection of about a dozen kinds of pies that on a given day might include apple, pecan, coconut chess, steak-and-Gruyère, and a decadent chocolate concoction called the Baltimore Bomb. A popular flavor is the Marionberry, a type of blackberry, that’s made into an homage to the city’s former mayor: The shape of a dollar sign is carved into the top crust, and the whole thing is sprinkled with rock candy.

All of the crust is hand-mixed from scratch (made with vegetable shortening, so it’s vegan — and extra flaky) and formed into rustic-looking rounds. Henry says the homemade look is intentional, reflecting his own story of learning to make pie with his Midwestern grandmother. “I’ve had people come in and they try to make them all pretty and perfect, and I’m like, ‘Chill, OK?'”

And although the pies might look like something cooling on your grandmother’s windowsill, the interior of the shop sure isn’t granny’s kitchen. Vivid punk-themed photographs line dark-gray and blood-red walls, and the holes punched in a pie safe behind the counter are in the shape of the store logo, a pie with cross-bones underneath. A fire-engine red rocking chair sits outside on the sidewalk, a cheeky nod to the Americana nostalgia that pie evokes.

Henry, who still performs with the Baltimore band the Cold Cold Heartbreakers, plans to have live music as often as possible. And also keeping the place hipster-friendly, slices of pie might just be H Street’s answer to Adams Morgan’s jumbo pizza slice for the late-night snack of choice: Dangerously Delicious Pies stays open until midnight during the week and until 3 a.m. on the weekends, all the better for pie-eyed customers.

The H Street corridor until recently has been long on places to drink and woefully short on good eats, but Dangerously Delicious is helping to change that. And the H Street outpost isn’t just a new neighborhood hangout. It might just be Henry’s first step in world pie domination. He says he’d like to open more locations across the country, if the conditions were right. “I don’t want it to be like Quiznos — people would have to have their own take on it,” he says.

Sound like pie in the sky? Perhaps, but it’s a pretty sweet dream.