Chef’s Favorite: Pipers Restaraunt
Thanksgiving is probably the biggest cooking event of the year — highly anticipated for all its tryptophanorific goodness — but highly daunting for those who have more experience making reservations than mashed potatoes.
If you are one of the increasing number of families choosing to forgo bird-basting in favor of feasting out, you’re in luck. Pipers, located at 2130 West Southport Road, is just a phone call away.
For the past 24 years, Pipers’ Owner and Chef Will Osgood has been the go-to guy for familiar Thanksgiving dishes and sides from scratch. Whether you’re dining in or taking your turkey to go, remove cooking headaches, and add flavor.
“Thanksgiving has been a tradition at Pipers forever. It’s crazy, crazy. Every year it gets more,” says Osgood. Early October finds him already up to his eyeballs in catering requests, changes to his lunch menu and, of course, ordering turkeys for an anticipated 700 guests.
“People don’t want to deal with leftovers and all of that stuff. They want to buy the food and that’s it.”
Cordoned off in a corner of the restaurant with a cell phone pressed to one year, Osgood orders over 220 lbs. of turkey and 56 lbs. of cranberries, as casually as a customer ordering a ham sandwich. “So we’ll have 30 to 40 turkeys we’ve got to cook in advance. Cool down then pull the meat and get it all ready to go.” That prodigious slow roasted turkey will be served alongside mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, country green beans, and cranberry relish.
If turkey isn’t your thing opt for their spiral sliced honey baked ham or a choice tender New York Strip Loin. The loin is rubbed with fresh garlic and herbs, roasted to perfection, sliced thin, and topped with a rich portabella demi-glace. Vegetarians can indulge in eggplant parmesan served with a rich tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables.
“I’m a cranberry relish freak. Because I grew up with that and my mom would always make it,” says the Detroit native. That’s not the only nostalgia he brings to the table: Osgood’s mother’s apple nut sage dressing is another big hit. It’s moist and marries fall’s best flavors without being too heavy.
Diners with more southern tastes can also choose from their country cornbread stuffing and oyster dressing made with real oysters.
No matter how much turkey you’ve eaten at dinner, there’s always room for at least one piece of pumpkin pie, hot apple cobbler, or bourbon bread pudding.
“You’ve got to love what you do if you’re in the restaurant business. Either you love it or you hate it. And I’m one of those poor suckers who love it,” the 62-year-old says with a twinge of exasperation that hangs over the table only to be interrupted by his wife and general manager, Amy, who presents him with new sandwiches to be considered for the menu.
“My whole family works here,” he says. As if on cue, his son, Chase, peeks his head out of the kitchen to ask a question, followed by his daughter, Allison, who is gearing up for her shift behind the bar.
However, it almost didn’t happen that way.
Forty years ago and fresh out of the Navy, Osgood wanted to take care of turkeys, not cook them. His dreams of becoming a veterinarian were quickly dampened after learning how much schooling was involved. That’s when he opted to start cooking instead. Little did he know he would hardly be taking the easy way out.
Entering the restaurant industry, at 22-years-old Osgood went from garnishing plates at Steak and Ale restaurants to managing dozens of the chains all over the country. He followed this with formal education, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY in 1981. Osgood then found himself working everywhere from Italian restaurants in Washington D.C. to seafood joints in New Jersey. He finally headed to Indiana in 1984 where he became the first and only corporate chef at L.S. Ayres. “I came with the Colts,” he jokes.
When his corporate gig ended four years later, the thought of midnight caravanning in moving vans was no longer appealing so, Osgood, now married, decided to plant his roots for good. In 1988 Pipers was born.
What started out as a small idea has now grown into a cognitive dissonance of sorts. On one hand Pipers is like a massive, kitschy Las Vegas behemoth: there are huge ballrooms connected by archways adorned with custom crown molding, inspired by the fictional Overlook Hotel in Steven King’s novel The Shining. In the dining room, separated by slabs of beveled glass, sits a full-size aquarium running the length of one wall and behind another is a professional catering kitchen that churns out food for hundreds of corporate and wedding events each year.
On the other hand, the restaurant itself feels quaint. Perhaps it’s their food (think chicken pot pies, meatloaf like mamma used to make and fettuccini alfredo) which is sourced locally, made from scratch and served in such a way that diners don’t feel captive, hushed or held upside down and shaken so that every nickel falls out of their pockets.
Finding a way to compete without the high prices or the high drama, however, doesn’t come without its difficulties. “It’s hard to compete with the chains. They’ve got immeasurable resources,” Osgood confesses.
But what those chains don’t have is a customer base that spans decades. Customers, who not only feel comfortable enough to invite Osgood to their weddings, but to vacation in their Florida condominiums as well. “We really have relationships with people. We really do. We really are connected with people.”
Even his staff has stood the test of time. Both of his executive chefs have worked for Osgood more than 20 years, and some servers have been with Pipers for at least 12 years. “I feel like I’m dad,” says Osgood, running a weathered hand through his salt and pepper hair.
“I really care about the people who work for me. I really feel responsible to keep this thing healthy and vibrant and that’s exciting to me. I love making food. I love people and I love what the core of this industry is all about. And that’s serving people and being there.”
And when Osgood casually mentions that he was once a pastor, it’s not surprising to learn that he also feeds those less fortunate. “Whatever [food] is left over will go to feed people under the bridge.” Every week Pipers donates their leftover food to feed more than 70 homeless people in Garfield Park. “Your left hand shouldn’t know what your right hand is doing. So I am not doing it to get credit,” says Osgood.
Like it or not, though, most will be giving credit where credit is due come Thursday, Nov. 22nd.
Remember Pipers is just a phone call away.
And that’s a lot to be thankful for – gastronomically speaking.
Apple Nut Sage Stuffing
1 red delicious apple
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup walnut pieces
1 tsp puree garlic (2 cloves crushed)
2 ounces butter
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (slightly crushed)
3/4 ground sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
1 quart stuffing mix (bread only, discard any seasoning packet)
2 tbls all purpose flour
1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cup chicken stock (or broth)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in large skillet, add vegetables (not garlic) apple, nuts, and begin to cook until softened. Just before vegetables are softened add garlic. When vegetables are soft, add all dry herbs and blend well (don’t burn). Toss bread/stuffing in flour and add to vegetables. Add enough stock to make very moist. Stir in salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, until a little crusty on top and cooked through.
1 12oz bag of fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
Quarter the orange and place in food processor. Add cranberries and sugar. Liquefy, leaving 1/8th inch pieces of orange and cranberry. Let sit in refrigerator overnight.
Heather MacWilliams is a reporter for Fox 59 News in Indianapolis. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked as a personal chef and caterer. For more information, visit her website at heathershautecuisine.com.