Poor Pie. It's the red-headed stepchild of desserts, eclipsed by hip, sophisticated siblings Creme Brulee and Chocolate Lava Cake. Seriously, why does Cheesecake get all the glory while poor Pie is relegated to diners and once-a-year holiday meals?? Pie is comforting. Pie is natural. Pie is sexxxy.
In preparation for Chow Bella's upcoming Pie Social on Saturday, November 13, which will give Pie the recognition she deserves, we went in search of some crusty inspiration. For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we sought out a favorite autumn treat at two cozy establishments known for their homemade pies.
In One Corner: Kiss the Cook
4915 W. Glendale Ave. in Glendale
Word of mouth, combined with five-star reviews from Citysearch and two thumbs up from frequent Urbanspooner AxeMan, led us to the cozy Kiss the Cook in downtown Glendale. It's been family owned and operated since the early '80s and has gained a cult following among breakfast starved west-siders who are otherwise condemned to grab their eggs and biscuits at large, faceless corporate chains.
If you're seeking sleek modern decor, keep driving. KTC is reminiscent of a southern granny's kitchen, with worn wooden floors, hideous floral curtains and woven baskets, china plates, needlepoint pictures and other knickknacks cluttered on every available wall. "This place is so cute, it's like my grandma's attic, mismatching chairs and ugly little floral arrangements," writes Urbanspooner Anne. My dining partner and I took our seats in a smaller back dining room and were greeted with a smile and a basket of tiny carrot muffins.
KTC offers a rotating selection of homemade pies; pumpkin was the seasonal daily special on our visit. After chowing down on tasty huevos rancheros and interesting beef hash, the pie we'd been anticipating finally arrived. It was a small slice, just enough for a few bites, with a bright orange color like fresh scooped pumpkin.
"Wow," remarked my companion as she swallowed her first bite. "This is really good. It's very light and I suspect it wasn't made with pumpkin in a can!" Coming from a house where all desserts were store-bought, I could understand her sense of wonder and amazement at that revelation.
The pie filling was light and airy, almost whipped in texture. It wasn't sickeningly sweet like some bakery versions. Instead, it had a delicate earthy taste similar to sweet potato pie. Nutmeg and allspice were used sparingly, allowing the pumpkin to take center stage.
The homestyle crust was made up of buttery crumbs that crunched and then melted in my mouth, providing a gentle contrast to the smooth filling. A dollop of fresh whipped cream on top added a finishing touch of sweetness. Really, the only downside of this pumpkin pie was that there wasn't enough. I'm certain that the two of us could've polished off an entire pie given the chance.
In the Other Corner: My Mother's Restaurant
4130 N. 19th Ave. in Phoenix
It's amazing how infrequently pie is mentioned, even on the 'Net where everything from hot chili pepper eating contests to the cruelty of foie gras manufacturers is regularly discussed around the virtual dinner table. Once glance at the Chowhound boards and the lack of good restaurant pie becomes tragically apparent. Trader Joe's?? Really. Wildflower? Come on. Where are all of the great little indie pie places? *Hint, hint - that idea could be a winner!* One Chowhounder even recommended having your pie Fed-Exed in from Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon where they have "real pie." Ugh.
In among the mundane and impractical suggestions was My Mother's Restaurant, a family-run joint in Phoenix that looks like a seedy Mexican restaurant on the outside and a stuffy brunch spot circa 1985 on the inside. I think I even spotted the ugly peach floral curtains of my childhood in there. Shudder. My friend and I suspect the building housed an Italian restaurant once upon a time, based on the faded murals of gondoliers and leaning towers. Either that, or "Mother" is really proud of her Italian heritage.
Service and grub at My Mother's is top-notch. The pot pie is among the best I've ever had, and the salad bar a welcome throwback to more abundant times. At the end of the meal, two good-sized pie slices arrived on our table. I tried to explain to our server that we'd only ordered one slice to split between the two of us. He nodded. "That IS one slice," he replied.
WHOA. Clearly there's no recession going on at My Mother's -- even the pie servings are stuck in the '80s. I dug into the heart of my slice, "oohing" and "aahing" at the rich, creamy texture. It was darker in color and heavier than Kiss the Cook's version, with a dollop of freshly whipped cream on top.
"It tastes like pumpkin," said the Captain Obvious at my table. "It doesn't scream ALLSPICE or NUTMEG or PUMPKIN IN A CAN!" I agreed with his overall assessment. Traditional pumpkin pie spices were used sparingly, and the pie tasted homemade regardless of how the filling was sourced (I seriously doubt they were scooping out pumpkins in the kitchen and cooking and pureeing the innards, though you never know). The only disappointment was the crust, a bland flaky crust that paled in comparison to the delicious chewy version used in their savory pot pie.
The Winner: Kudos to both restaurants for making gorgeous pumpkin pies worthy of our Pie Social, but I've got to give props to Kiss the Cook for their light, fluffy filling and yum-o-licious butter crumb crust.