June 28, 2017–This may be blasphemy, but biscuits weren’t that big of a deal where I grew up.
It was not until I arrived in Texas that I realized the foundational role a good biscuit played in a typical southern breakfast. Here, biscuits were buttered, jellied, slathered with honey or Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup, and, my favorite, covered in gravy.
Amy Simpson-Maize, a seventh-generation Texan, honors that history while trying to raise the biscuit to new heights, figuratively and literally. She and her husband, Michael, own and operate The Bender Biscuit and Pie Company, currently serving from a food truck at Fredericksburg’s Munch Food Park on Highway Street.
“It was a big family, so you cooked big meals, and biscuits were a staple,” said Maize, who has memories of standing on a chair and using an old Mason jar to cut biscuits with her grandmother. “Breakfast was biscuits and red eye gravy, or a couple slabs of ham on biscuits. It was something quick and hearty and easy.”
All of Maize’s basic recipes–and the name of the business–derived from her Grandma Bender.
It’s no secret that the ingredients of any biscuit are flour, butter or shortening, and liquid. Maize wanted to create a better biscuit.
“I wasn’t seeing enough good biscuits out there, so I said, ‘Let’s make some good biscuits.’”
So she “messed with the recipe,” seeking a higher rise and sturdier texture.
“I like a biscuit to be crunchy on the outside and soft inside, so it’s good with gravy and doesn’t get soggy,” she said. “It gives a good, crispy bite throughout the meal. I don’t want a pile of sausage gravy and wet bread.”
Aside from texture, Simpson also dressed up the biscuit with new flavor combinations not found in Grandma Bender’s oven. She has incorporated green chile, bacon, chive, potato, and another staple of southern cooking–cornmeal.
“Why not a cornmeal biscuit?” she asked. So she created one. “With cornmeal, you get an airier type of biscuit, but still a sturdy, substantial biscuit that can handle gravy.”
Even with adventurous flavor combinations, a biscuit without a topping is just a biscuit. To bring out the pastry’s true character, you must top it with gravy. And more. The REK starts with a green chile biscuit, covered with Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils braised carnitas, smothered in jalapeno slaw and pickled red onions, and topped with a fried egg. Now that’s a meal that will keep you in the saddle for any riding and roping on your Day Planner.
“I’m just trying to show everyone you can put brisket on something besides buns,” she explained. “Biscuits are not just for breakfast anymore.”
That brings us to the other half of the business name–“And Pie.” Ever since I left the farm, I have been on a quest for cherry pie like mama made–with cherries picked from the two trees right off the kitchen porch, pitted, then lovingly baked in homemade hand-rolled lattice crust.
Maize listened to my plaint patiently, nodding. Apparently I had hit another of her sweet spots. Maize actually built her reputation making pies. In fact when her original jalapeno pecan pie started winning awards, it established her business as well as her baking philosophy.
“I started taking pie-making a little further, trying to test the limits again,” she said. “Everyone loves basic pies, but I like to take more of a savory turn on them.” She experimented with unusual combinations such as peach and Riesling with thyme, cherry balsamic with dry mustard, and apple beurre blanc. “It’s a unique approach, but still has all those flavors that come together.”
As you can imagine, Maize’s menu continues to evolve. When cooler weather comes, she plans on adding savory pot pies, shepherd pies, and Cornish pastries, meals you can take home to feed your own large family. But for now, Bender’s basic biscuit has been selling “like crazy.”
“I want people to feel the biscuit,” she said. “I want people to wake up and say ‘I need a biscuit in my life.’”
The Bender Biscuit & Pie Company is located in Munch Food Park, 1108 Sunco Ave., Fredericksburg.
They are open Tuesday through Sunday, 7 am–2 pm, and in the evenings on Thurs–Sat. www.benderbiscuits.com