BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
Start with the pie. Really. It’s all good at Hive but if you don’t save room for the Hive Pie (aka, buttermilk pie) you will have a hard time forgiving yourself. Or, full, you will eat it anyway and pay for it later.
True, there are other pies. A decadent chocolate that will glue your teeth together with its caramel topping, and a seasonal pie that oozes the juices of whatever fruit is currently ripest and sweetest. But it’s Hive Pie that captures the essence of Hive.
It’s a pale yellow, like its cousin the sugar cream pie. The crust is ruffled and crispy and you can tell just by looking at it that it’s rich and flakey and you probably won’t be leaving any on the plate. And, bonus, it has just the right amount of saltiness to offset the incredible, over-the-top sweetness of the filling.
And so you take a bite. And it is sweet. But it is the sweetness of every precious childhood food memory sliding across your tongue; every rich, creamy nursery dessert you ever craved; and the secure and safe feeling you had while eating it—a sensory experience you thought you’d maybe never capture again.
I was embarrassed, the first time I tasted it while in conversation with Hive’s creator and owner Jeff Mease, discovering I had actually closed my eyes and left the conversation. I was seduced into a reverie of flavor nostalgia I couldn’t fight. I had to ask him to repeat what he had just told me.
And I guess that is kind of the point of Hive.
Mease has traveled a lot. He’s an extraordinary businessman and local entrepreneur (co-owner of Pizza X, Lennie’s, Bloomington Brewing Co., and One World Catering), but more than anything he is a thoughtful, curious, and innovative guy. When the Indiana University Foundation asked him to open a place serving fast, fresh, healthy food (though I have my doubts about the cholesterol count of that pie) in a spot they owned at 10th Street and the 45/46 Bypass near IU’s Cyberinfrastructure Building and the new hospital complex, Jeff put in a lot of thought. And a lot of miles. He traveled and ate with smart people and kept thinking.
The menu he came up with, although he claims it is accidental, is international comfort food.
While the ultimate point of Hive is to specialize in chicken—you can order the whole roast bird and all of the fixings—you can also have a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich; a steaming, beautifully arranged ramen dish; a Cuban breakfast bowl; or a green and herby kuku, a breakfast quiche without the crust that is just darn good. Happily for the vegetarian, almost everything can be made with tofu.
The restaurant is as transparent as the menu. The space is open and all glass—you can see who is driving into the parking lot at any given moment. There are no secrets. The fresh-baked bread, the house-baked pastry, the corned beef that Mease had to track down from the same guy who supplies the famous Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is all exactly what it is. Hive food is not food that tries to surprise you or impress you with its clever disguise as something else.
Except the Hive Pie. It’s definitely a bit of heaven.