Seated at the lunch counter, retired firefighter Norm Belrose lifts a meaty morsel with his fork and offers his own theory on the popularity of meat pie. "During the Depression, the housewives in this city had to stretch things," he says. "Whatever leftovers they had went into a pie. That's why the recipe is different wherever you go."

Meat pie may well be a comfort food from an age when any food at all could be a comfort, but these days no one skimps on what goes in. Indeed, Al Bernier — owner, manager, chef, and dishwasher at Al's Place — predicts he'll sell 400 pies this month in no small part because his tins are an inch wider than most.

"I use good lean pork and beef, so it's not greasy," says the former Army cook. "I put some mashed potatoes in to thicken it up, and I have my special spices, of course, but I never give out the full recipe, no matter who asks."

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