Dessert First

Jack Daniels Pecan Pie at Rock Springs Café

Chances are that sometime this summer you'll find yourself driving past Black Canyon City on the I-17, where a giant pie will beckon you away from the highway. That would be Rock Springs Café, an Arizona mainstay that's been baking and selling pies for over three decades, using a recipe that dates back to the early 1900s. But, as alluring as pie is, it's not worth stopping on a road trip for any ol' treat, so just how good are the pies at Rock Springs Café?

According to the restaurant's website, they sell "world-famous pies worth the drive from anywhere." If that's not true, at least the drive from Phoenix is fairly short. And there are plenty of options to choose from, so every pie lover will find something their style -- whether it's chocolate cream, peach crumb, mixed berry, or Tennessee lemon. Rock Springs Café also has special order pies available to pick up, including rhubarb and blackberry, but that requires a little foresight since they have to be ordered a couple of days in advance.

Although more closely associated with autumn, pecan pie is a delicious American classic any time of year -- especially when you throw in a little Jack Daniel's whiskey. Rock Springs' pecan pie is available year-round, both with and without the liquor, but you don't have to be a whiskey drinker to appreciate the rich, buttery flavor it adds. Jack Daniels' vanilla and caramel notes play well with the traditional flavors of pecan pie. And yes, the alcohol cooks out, so this pie won't get anyone drunk anytime soon.

The pecans are nicely caramelized, and as pretty as whole pecans look glistening on top of a pie, crushed nuts are much more practical for eating, allowing for neater bites. There could be more nuts, however, to increase the pecan-to-filling ratio (achieving something more like this, with ooey gooey pecans mixed in the filling). That said, at least this filling is really tasty, with a good balance of sugar and butter. Overall, this pie isn't sickeningly sweet, but it is rich enough to induce a wicked stomachache after more than one slice.

Pie cannot be pie without crust, no doubt the toughest part of the baking process. Rock Springs Café's pie crust has a nice nuttiness. Yet the crust is too thin, not very noticeable under the filling. Rather than being an integral part of the pie, the pastry is more like a pecan filling delivery platform. For those who like the crust as much as the rest of the pie, it's a bit of a letdown, but not enough to ruin the experience. A little extra thickness would also highlight the tenderness and flakiness of the crust -- the mark of a perfect pie -- which are there but don't stand out as is.

It's not worth the drive to Black Canyon City just for dessert (unless you're really bored and hungry), but if you find yourself planning a trip up the I-17 this summer, it's not a bad idea to save room or time for pie. A slice can be enjoyed at the restaurant, and whole pies are available to quickly pick up so you can get back on the road. Taking a pie to-go is great for a couple of reasons: first, you get an entire pie, and second, you get to enjoy it at your destination, whether that's back home, in a cozy hotel room, or camping out in the forests up north. These pies might not be as good as a practiced home baker's, but then again, the real charm of pie is that it's a homey specialty. If you are craving classic pecan pie and don't want to wait until grandma fires up the oven at Thanksgiving, Rock Springs Café will tide you over until the holidays.

Follow Chow Bella on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dominique Chatterjee