By Kimberly Maul
Since its opening in April, Four and Twenty Blackbirds has made its mark on the Brooklyn food scene, appearing on The Cooking Channel’s Unique Eats, as well as in New York Magazine and the New York Times. The pie shop, owned by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen, makes seasonal pies…meaning you’re not getting a peach pie in the middle of December.
Luckily, I’m here at the right time for a stone fruit lover and enjoying a slice of apricot and cherry pie while Emily hops between my table and the back kitchen, making a black and blueberry pie. I grew up enjoying my own grandmother’s Ohio-State-Fair-Award-Winning cherry pie, but had never had apricot, and the tart and sweet flavors mixed together perfectly. I’m also a big believer that the crust can make or break a pie, and Four and Twenty didn’t let me down there either. Buttery, and sprinkled with sugar on top, the crust was crisp and kept in the flavorful filling. It made me want to bust out my grandma’s recipe and start baking pies at home— or, more likely, just come back to Four & Twenty Blackbirds again soon.
The older of the two sisters, Emily has been in New York for about 11 years and has an arts background. Sculpture and photography, to be exact. She is also a founder of the Gowanus Studio Space. Melissa, who has a degree in finance and business management, joins the conversation after biking to the shop. Both sisters bike a lot, including to the shop, and Four and Twenty is very bike-friendly, providing locks and a tire pump for use.
Starting the shop “combined our love of food and desire to be creative,” Emily says. The sisters grew up surrounded by food at their mother and aunts’ restaurant in Hecla, South Dakota, where their grandmother made the pies. Or, as Melissa describes it, “good food has always been in our family.” Their other grandmother was also a good baker, known for her cakes.
The shop sits close to the Gowanus Canal, and the goal was to “be a neighborhood place, a neighborhood coffee shop that has pie,” Emily says. The space is next door to Brooklyn Homebrew and will soon be joined by a Chinese restaurant on the other side. The Elsens and their friends renovated the space, and it now showcases the original tin on the walls and handmade wooden tables, including a communal table.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds locally sources its ingredients as much as they can, and Emily says that is about 75-80% of the time. However, Melissa adds, their Dad still sends them rhubarb from South Dakota, where it grows plentiful and later in the season than in New York.
Rhubarb is often a part of the pies here, as the sisters’ grandmother was known for her rhubarb pie and it was important to the family as the girls were growing up. And while pie seems to be moving in on cupcakes as the “it dessert,” Melissa just shrugs and says, “it’s always been a part of what we’ve done.”
Going forward, the Elsens hope to keep up with demand of the growing shop, which makes about 10-15 pies per weekday, and 20-25 per weekend day, plus special orders. (Whole pie orders require 48 hours notice.) In addition to the sisters, there are two baking helpers, plus the barista staff.
Emily adds that they really identify with the food renaissance happening in Brooklyn right now, so it’s safe to say we’ll definitely see more of them here on Nona.
Emily and Melissa’s Favorites:
Favorite Pie: Grapefruit Custard (Emily) and Peach or Blueberry (Melissa)
Favorite Place in Brooklyn: Prospect Park (Emily and Melissa) and the Waterfront (Emily)
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Address: 439 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215
Phone: (718) 499 2917