Maya-Camille Broussard, chef and owner of Justice of the Pies, specializes in bold and thoughtful statements on traditional pies, quiches and tarts. Her greater goal has always been to become a social mission based bakery. That’s long before she opened her beautiful new shop in the Avalon Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.
“I love nostalgia treats, and my dad loved pies,” she said. She named the business in a nod to her late father, a defense attorney. “So in this space I’m able to incorporate things that he loved and things that I currently love.”
What Broussard currently loves at Justice of the Pies, her first physical bakery, is a fierce abundance for a community that she did not have growing up.
“I am always thinking from a scarcity perspective,” said the chef, a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Baker in 2022. “Meaning, I’m not going to let something sit on my shelf forever.”
In September, she had a seasonal flight with three slices featuring her fragrant lemon espresso, strawberry basil Key lime and cucumber mango chile lime pies. The chef called it Earth, Wind & Fire.
“The lemon espresso pie is actually the pie that is on the cover of my cookbook,” Broussard said.
The pie was inspired by Christopher LeMark, founder of Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health, which has a cafe in the Lakeview East neighborhood. The inspiration came from the moment LeMark realized he needed therapy, she said, when he broke down crying in a Starbucks because all he had money for was a slice of lemon loaf and a cup of coffee.
Her debut cookbook, “Justice of the Pies: Sweet and Savory Pies, Quiches and Tarts Plus Inspirational Stories from Exceptional People: A Baking Book,” was published last October.
The pie flight was $25, and a fan favorite shokupan cinnamon roll (lovely, gooey and still on the menu) is $11. They were worth every cent as far as I’m concerned. But I asked the chef about balancing her budget with prices for her bakery neighbors who live in historic working class bungalows.
“You let people decide how they want to spend their money,” said Broussard. “The neighborhood has been extremely receptive.”
Neighbors say there is nothing like it, from its architectural design to the food, she added. And I say, they’re right, where the nearest notable food destinations are Harold’s #55 and an outlier Garrett Popcorn Shop.
“Have we had people come in and sneer at our prices? Yes. And then we say, ‘Have a good day,’” she added.
The bakery has also become a destination that’s redefining community, with visitors from Colorado to Canada, and South Africa to China. During my recent visit, some fellow customers said they needed treats that could hold up on a flight back to Montreal.
“What my bakery does is it forces people to travel across the city,” Broussard said.
The building happens to be her mother’s childhood dentist office. Broussard gutted and transformed the space into a modern sanctuary inside and out.
“Before I became an entrepreneur my last job was at 83rd and Blackstone as an art teacher,” she said. “So it’s kind of kismet that I’m three blocks away from where I last was, before I started my entrepreneurial journey in the hospitality industry.”
She owns the building where there’s plenty of free street parking, and seasonal outdoor seating, the latter a rarity in many neighborhoods on the South Side.
“But my food costs and my operational budget doesn’t change drastically just because I’m on the South Side of Chicago,” Broussard said. “So my menu prices can’t change drastically just because I’m on the South Side of Chicago.”
Broussard thinks the menu is fairly priced based on what her food costs are, and food costs are rising. Despite the costs, the chef goes big.
“Can you eat a cinnamon roll in one sitting? Yes. But is it something that you could split with your best friend? Also yes,” she said. “The cinnamon rolls are huge. I can never finish one by myself.”
I could not either, restraining myself from leftovers over several days, along with the quiche du jour, stuffed with smoked Gouda and spinach, as well.
“The quiche I offer as a slice is made in our deep dish pan,” the chef said. “Because I want to make sure you get the value that you deserve.”
The quiche of the day also comes with a salad dressed with a bright housemade cherry balsamic vinaigrette.
“Cherries are not cheap,” Broussard said. “But the people in the neighborhood deserve to experience foods that might be in Fulton Market.”
The jumbo cookies may be the biggest bargain at $6. The peanut butter cookie is an homage to the Chicago Public Schools lunchroom cookie, she said.
“My grandmother used to volunteer at Dunbar High School (Dunbar Vocational Career Academy),” Broussard said. “So my grandmother actually had the original recipe for CPS lunchroom cookie.”
The chef likes to serve them warm to evoke the sensory memories from school.
“It’s that core memory, so you don’t scarf everything down,” she said. “My dad used to inhale his food.”
The chicken and biscuit potpie, topped with a goat cheese and chive biscuit that pulls apart in exquisite flaky layers, has not gotten the hype that it deserves yet. It made me think that The Walnut Room needs to call Broussard for a consultation or a collaboration. Her chicken potpie is $14, which may be underpriced.
“I’m going to have to find a way to make the money up somewhere else, because it’s one of the few savory provisions that I have,” she said. “And I feel like if I would have made that $20 people would complain. Now, the tuna panini, that’s my favorite savory item on the menu.” That is a $20 sandwich, because she’s using Divina fig jam, manchego cheese, white albacore tuna, sun dried tomatoes, olives and lemon zest.
Meanwhile, Broussard’s new bakery tells a design story that speaks with quiet intention of strength and accessibility.
“I have floors in the space that are different textures,” she said. “The penny tile is the retail area, then the big gray tile is the hallway and the bathroom has smaller tile that is a completely different size and texture.”
That’s her way of saying you’re in this room, and now you’re in another room, and now you’re in a third room. It’s not loud or intrusive, but subtle and respectful.
“I hope Justice of the Pies can be the catalyst for not just dining spaces, but for other public spaces to think about how one small change can make a big difference in someone who is blind, who is deaf or who may have neuro sensitivities,” Broussard said.
Broussard is hard of hearing, having lost 75% of her hearing. She wrote earlier this year that when she was a 1-year-old, she fell down a set of stairs and suffered a concussion. Her mother told her this head injury probably caused neuro-sensory loss. She did not talk until she was 4 years old.
She grew up in two separate single-parent households after her parents divorced.
The chef shared memories including mentions of abuse and eating disorders.
“My dad was deprived of food, because his dad was an alcoholic,” Broussard said. “And his dad spent money on alcohol and going to the tavern rather than putting groceries in the fridge. So his passion for food and actually his overindulgence in food stemmed from that childhood memory, and abuse really when you’re withholding food.”
Sometimes going to restaurants with her father was an embarrassing experience, she said, recalling an incident.
“We were at The Nile in Hyde Park,” she said. “My aunt was with us and he was eating a salad.
A server brought out a big bowl of soup.
“My aunt reached to move his plate to make room for the soup that was coming from behind him and he slapped the hell out of her hand,” Broussard said. “He almost had this fear, if I don’t eat it now, it’s not going to be available tomorrow. So he ate out of fear.”
“But my own experience and my own trauma with food, because I do have food issues, was that my dad, like his dad, also used withholding food as a form of punishment,” she said. “My dad put me on punishment a lot.”
“I went to high school in the late ‘90s and I literally had a dollar a day for lunch and a dollar a day for the bus,” she said. “I weighed 117 pounds. Part of that is because I had a high metabolism and I was an athlete. So it wasn’t anorexia, but my family members thought that I was anorexic. And I’m like, no, I eat! But there’s no food here! Talk to your brother and tell him to go grocery shopping!”
At her mother’s house growing up, they sat down to eat at 6 o’clock on the dot every night as a family, she said.
“I just want it to be clear that my mother fed me,” Broussard said. “And being that my mom was a physician, not only did I eat adequately at her house, but she was very intentional about healthy foods.”
“I don’t want to discount the positive experiences I’ve had around food or the fact that my culinary life was normal at my mother’s house,” she added. “Other aspects of my life may not have been as normal at my mother’s house. But we get what we can from each parent. My dad allowed me to be very independent, but my mother was a helicopter parent, probably because she felt a little bit of guilt around me having hearing loss.”
Broussard’s aunt told her that starting the bakery in memory of her father is the chef’s way of forgiving him for all of the food issues he bestowed upon his daughter.
“And it really is,” the chef said. “I have money now. I can eat what I want. I can go wherever I want.”
At her new bakery, Broussard is making peace, justice and much more than pies for herself and a community.
8655 S. Blackstone Ave.
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Open: Friday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Prices: $6 (pie slice), $11 (shokupan cinnamon roll), $14 (chicken and biscuit potpie), $14 (quiche du jour with salad), $35 to $40 (whole pies)
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with restroom on single level
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