In honor of the season, we figured this week's Battle of the Dishes should spotlight a treat we find on our own holiday dinner table every year.
Pecan pie is a guilty pleasure -- thick, rich and chock full of enough calories to bust any "this year I'll stick to my diet over the holidays" promises in just a few bites. Oh, well. That's what New Year's resolutions are for, right?
We compared the homemade pies at two local eateries to see if we'd go nuts for their versions of this holiday dessert staple.
In One Corner: The Farm Kitchen at South Mountain
6106 S. 32nd St. in Phoenix
Phoenix may be the land of strip malls and urban sprawl, but that only makes us appreciate places like The Farm more. Set on a 12-acre working farm which boasts 2 other restaurants, a wellness center and an art studio, The Farm Kitchen is a cozy little getaway from city life.
It's basically a little wooden cottage with a kitchen. There's barely enough space inside the screen door to squeeze a dozen or so people in. The formula here is "order inside, eat outside." Guests order drinks, select any pre-made salads from the ice cooler, choose a fresh baked dessert from the counter and place their order at the register. Then it's time to head outdoors.
The Farm is lovely this time of year. We sat at a picnic table shaded by giant pecan trees as the yellow and orange leaves fell around us. We didn't have to wait for our pie, which was pre-packed by the slice in a little paper deli tray. The slice was huge, with a layer of whole pecans (gathered from the trees above us) atop a light toffee-colored filling. It looked oddly summery for being a traditional fall dessert.
"This is candy-sweet," commented our dining companion, a Southerner who's picky about pecan pie. "The filling doesn't really have any weight or flavor to it."
The pecans were the best part of the pie -- naturally crunchy, with just a hint of sugary caramel coating. The filling was almost too sweet in contrast, with a slight lemony undertone offset by a hint of nutmeg and other traditional pie spices. The crust was heavier and less cloying than the other components. If you could order pecan pie in the same way you order coffee, this one would be "light and extra sweet."
In the Other Corner: Texaz Grill
6003 N. 16th St. in Phoenix
Talk about extreme contrasts. While The Farm Kitchen gave us the feeling of being out for a Sunday drive in the country, Texaz Grill is a good old-fashioned lowdown & dirty dive. It's the stereotypical Texas watering hole, with wood paneled walls, beer labels and ball caps on the ceiling and three barstools with brass plaques for the most dedicated regulars. Seriously, Guy Fieri might want to put Texaz Grill at the top of his list the next time he pops into town for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Texaz Grill is always packed -- day or night, weekday or weekend -- but they'll find you a spot to sit somewhere. Servers are friendly and will chat you up about the delicious daily specials (or your new baby, or your bad day at work) in-between delivering plates of award-winning chicken-fried steak and catfish. Yee-haw, this is some good eatin'!
Texaz Grill also has a rep for their pecan pie, which is made in-house. An ample triangle of pie arrived topped by a thick, dense layer of chopped pecans caramelized into a stiff brittle. Underneath was an inch-high layer of filling the color of dark chocolate.
"This looks like the evil twin of The Farm's pie," joked my companion. "It's as dark and thick as sorghum molasses."
Our first bite of the pie yielded an intense, rich, buttery flavor. This was a traditional Southern-style pecan pie, likely made with dark corn syrup and molasses instead of the light corn syrup preferred in Northern kitchens. The crust was thin and flaky, more of a supporting player to the dense filling.
The chopped pecan topping was chewy and sweet, with a hearty flavor similar to a Look! candy bar. There was just a hint of saltiness from the nuts, which contrasted nicely with the sweet brittle. This was one addictive pie. We savored every last bite, scraping the plate clean enough to make Momma proud.
Both pies were tasty, but Texaz Grill's chewy caramel brought us over to the dark side.
The Winner: Texaz Grill
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