HANCOCK, N.Y. -- The bus stops here. Vacationers from New York who have a house in the hills of the nearby Catskills get off; those who are Binghamton-bound continue on their way. The bus doesn't have anything to do with the food you will eat at the Hancock Family Restaurant, but it does help create the ambience of an old-fashioned mom-and-pop beanery along the truck-and-bus route, where the specialty of the house is big pieces of pie -- at least a dozen varieties every day.
You see the pies the moment you enter; they are in a capacious refrigerator case behind the counter. The cream pies are the spectacular ones, with lofty clouds of whipped cream heaped upon their filling. Take your choice among one day's repertory of coconut, chocolate, banana, raspberry, lemon, peanut butter, chocolate-peanut butter and pina colada. There's Boston cream pie, too, and pecan and rhubarb, and about four kinds of berries, plus rice pudding and bread pudding.
The pies are homemade and some are quite good: extremely sweet, and not what you'd call subtle or elegant. But they satisfy.
Before pie, if you want a meal, the menu of the Hancock Family Restaurant is a mixed blessing. They've got lovely pot roast that is butter-tender and exquisitely delicious; and yet it comes sided by bogus mashed potatoes. We like it best as a pot roast sandwich -- a giant swollen mound of meat between two slices of soft white bread smothered in institutional gravy, with French fries on the side. Most of the menu is sandwiches, burgers, etc., as well as a taco salad (eat the shell!) that comes with a half-dozen plastic squeeze-packs of hot sauce. It is not exactly gourmet fare; but gourmet fare would seem rather silly in this outpost of blue-plate specials along Route 17.
The decorative theme of the Hancock Family Restaurant is deer hunting. The waitresses wear plum-colored aprons with the outline of a buck on the front; the wood-paneled walls are hung with pictures of deer; and a hunting guide has a sign posted
soliciting customers. A lot of locals eat here: That's apparent from the way groups of them commandeer a booth with their cigarette packs and butane lighters arrayed before them as they drink coffee, smoke and trade gossip with the waitresses and eat big bowls full of French fries mounded with melted cheese. Outside, the view is of the gas pumps and the bus coming and going. Inside in the other direction is the counter, where local guys in low-waisted jeans and too-short shirts sit gobbling slabs of pie.
Pina colada cream pie
1 1/3 cups dried shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum (or 1 teaspoon rum flavoring)
baked crust (dough or crumb) for 9-inch pie
1 cup cream, whipped
Toast coconut on a baking sheet 5 to 7 minutes in 350-degree oven, tossing frequently, until barely brown. Remove.
Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt thoroughly. Gradually whisk in milk, then egg yolks. Mix thoroughly.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, cook mixture, stirring constantly and vigorously so no lumps form, until it begins to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook and stir 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately stir in butter, vanilla extract, rum and toasted coconut. Stir until butter melts. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming on top of mixture) and let cool 15 to 20 minutes. Stir thoroughly again and pour into prepared pie shell. Chill at least 2 and up to 8 hours. When ready to serve pie, mound with whipped cream.
Hancock Family Restaurant, 96 W. Main St. (Route 17, Exit 87), Hancock, N.Y. 13783; (607) 637-3777.