Ah... apple pie. It's as American as mom and baseball, Botox and Internet porn. When I spotted a gargantuan version of this classic dessert in one local restaurant's refrigerated case, I knew it was fodder for a brutal Battle of the Dishes.
Will my original find nab top honors in this week's showdown, or will it fall under the mighty weight of a local breakfast joint's cleaner version? Let's watch. (And drool.)
In One Corner: Sucker Punch Sally's Diner
4 E University Dr. in Tempe
You know that old nursery rhyme about the "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?" Yeah, that's exactly what Sucker Punch Sally's 20 Apple Pie looks like, perched atop green checkered cloth in the old-school diner's display case. This $30 pie is ginormous -- and yes, it's actually made with 20 apples. According to our spunky and very informative server, the apples were hand-peeled by Sally's dishwasher, who just got out of the military. Way to put those potato peeling skills to use.
Sally's, owned by the same folks who sell choppers, is a 24-hour diner with a classic rock n' roll twist. The bones of the old Ruby Tuesday are still there -- brick arches, wood-paneled walls, big booths -- but Sally's took the place up a notch with bright teal walls, sparkly vinyl-covered booths and rock guitars hung on the walls. Each table has its own retro theme; ours contained vintage instructions for putting together a carburetor.
Back to the pie. As our server set a slice down on our table, my dining companion and I burst into laughter. Seriously? Adam Richman of Man v. Food needs to get his ass to Tempe, stat! Pair this thing with a Sasquatch burger from The Lodge (think giant burger tucked between two grilled cheese sammies) and you've got a combo Adam might have trouble getting down. Or at least, keeping down.
"Mmm, the apples are very crisp and tart," my friend said as he wolfed down the first taste. "Give me some of that whipped cream to cut the bite!"
The good: The crust was flaky and dense. The Granny Smith apples were sweet, crispy and best of all, clearly NOT from a can. Most diner pies are made with canned pie stock, so this was a refreshing change. When I grabbed a forkful of back crust with the filling, the pie tasted just like the $1 Hostess fruit pies I used to gorge on as a kid, when I could eat anything and not get fat. Sweet, sweet memories.
The bad: The pie was a little thick on the cinnamon and the apples were so tart and acidic that my dining companion puckered up like cellulite thighs.
The ugly: There's no way one human being can finish this thing, unless you fast all day and eat this as one big meal. Or have the stomach capacity of a sperm whale. Tip: Walk off a few calories on Mill Avenue afterwards and the street kids will happily take your leftovers.
In the Other Corner: Hillside Spot
4740 E. Warner Rd. in Phoenix
A gigantic 20-apple pie seems hard to beat. I'd spotted a massive red velvet cake slice on my last visit to Hillside Spot in Ahwatukee, so my companion and I decided to see if their apple pie could stack up against Sally's.
great open-concept space with exposed ductwork, bright colors and community tables. As you order at the counter, you can watch the chefs making breakfast or barbecuing meat.
Pastry chef Rebecca Reeder is a big fan of desserts, especially those with chocolate, so she doesn't skimp on portion sizes.
Our hunk-a-hunk-a apple pie showed up on a white diner plate after breakfast (ok, as breakfast, but what are you, my mom?). This was a huge slice of pie, though it still paled in comparison to Sally's monster version. Both pies were served cold, sans ice cream, for the freshest flavor.
The good: Hillside's pie was very fresh, with crisp, sweet Fuji apples in addition to the traditional Granny Smiths. The spice blend was perfect: very little sugar, well-portioned cinnamon and nutmeg and a zesty undertone I later identified as ginger. "There's no sugary aftertaste," my companion pointed out. "It's a very clean pie."
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The bad: The crust was very basic, with little to no seasoning. Without ice cream or whipped cream to counteract the acidity, the pie was a little intense. Otherwise, awesome.
The ugly: Hillside's tasty pie does not make the best breakfast. An hour later, our asses were dragging. Make sure to add an omelet or some pulled pork to your order.
The winner: You really can't go wrong here. Sally's pie wins on volume alone. But on taste, Hillside Spot's cleaner, lower-sugar version gets my vote.