Linda: I love pie. It reminds me of home, the aroma of apple pie baking in the oven, picking blackberries so mom could bake us a fresh blackberry pie. I think that pie is the homiest and most American of all desserts. And what better way to look toward summer than a pie crawl. We sampled ten pie slices over a four hour period, with the help of two friends. Each slice of pie cost us between $4 and $5 – more expensive than a grocery store pie, but, oh so much better. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
We focused on shops that specialize in pies, use fresh ingredients (no canned fruit!) and roll their pie dough by hand. To me the perfect pie has a tasty, flaky crust which marries harmoniously with its filling. It's not easy to achieve perfection, but when you do, it's divine.
We found three pie shops that met our exacting standards: Sweety Pies in Skokie, Bang Bang Pie and Coffee in Logan Square, and Hoosier Mama Pie Company on Chicago Avenue.
Sweety Pies, 8042 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, IL
Linda: This was my favorite pie shop, overall. We sampled their raspberry, crocodile, chocolate mousse, and apple crisp pies. All the pies were delicious. I especially liked the raspberry pie with its unique cake-like upper layer and an intense raspberry-flavored lower layer. One of the owners, Dana Kruger, told us that it was her mother's recipe. This is a family-owned and run business and you can taste the love and care that they put into their products.
I absolutely loved the chocolate mousse pie, perfect chocolate taste, not too dense, not too light. The crocodile pie is a pecan/chocolate pie. Normally I don't like pecan pie, it's too sweet. But with this pie, the chocolate cut the sweetness of the pecans. And the crust was perfect. One of our tasters, who grew up in Louisville, said that this would be called a Derby pie in Kentucky. He thought this crocodile pie would put to shame a lot of Louisville grandmothers' Derby pies.
Sharon: I must say that I am in total agreement with your opinion of this top shop. When first walking in the door I was overcome with the feeling of warmth and all things good. I was waiting for my grandmother to come out from behind the counter dusted in flour. They offered my favorite pie of the day, raspberry. This was a little surprising because it is not quite traditional with its' cake-like crust. The other eye-opener was the pecan (I also don't usually care for pecan (too sweet and cloying). But this was like biting into a gourmet chocolate.
Bang Bang Pie and Coffee, 2051 N. California, Chicago, IL
Linda: This place has a laid back, hipster vibe. The wife makes the pies, the husband roasts and brews the coffee. We sampled three pies: the coconut cream, shaker lemon, chocolate with whiskey sauce, as well as their biscuits. The coconut cream pie was so light and the crust wasn't soggy, as can often be the case with cream pies. Their crusts are delicious – they use Ceresota flour and a combination of lard and butter. The biscuits may be even better than the pies. As our Louisville taster said: "a biscuit that will make you cry."
Sharon: After all the hype of Bang-Bangs' long-awaited opening, I must say I was just a tad bit disappointed, but only because there were only 3 selections. Very high marks to their coconut cream – the best coconut I have ever eaten. The crust was perfection and the cream was as light as air. I feel that I have to comment on the shaker lemon. I was not a big fan of the lemon rind in the curd. It gave the impression of something "stringy" in the pie. Maybe smaller pieces of rind would work better without sacrificing flavor?
Hoosier Mama Pie Company, 1618½ Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL
Sharon: This TINY storefront was just as memorable as my first visit almost 2 years ago. Homemade is the key here. From the décor to the bustling kitchen, we could be caught in a 1950's movie. Of the ten or so sweet pies made daily, we sampled two, traditional apple and lemon meringue. The apple pie was my 2nd favorite of the day. Chunky apples (not sliced), perfect balance of sugar and spices, and hand-rolled flaky crust to die for. Talk about warm and fuzzy feelings. You can't get any better. Quite different opinions regarding the lemon meringue. Of our 4 tasters we were equally divided regarding the consistency of the meringue. I personally thought it was not light and airy enough. It was just a little too creamy and dense for my taste.
Of note: You can find Hoosier Mama pies at various coffees shops around the city and they also sell the homemade confections at the Green City Market. They also offer savory pies.
Linda: If you close your eyes and eat a bite of their apple pie, it tastes home-made, not store-bought. The apples are firm, not too tart, not too sweet. The crust is flaky. Personally I liked the lemon meringue pie, the filling was tart and the meringue was dense and rich.
I only wish this store hadn't been our last stop of the day. I would have loved to sample a couple more slices from them. Fortunately I can swing by another time to do just that. I know I will be back soon.