The Best Pie in Every State
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine, if you will, a pie. Not just any pie, but one with a rustic kind of crust, made from rye flour, and filled with goat cheese and honey. Sounds like something you'd see on one of the classier baking shows, or even in the pages of your favorite magazine, right? This pie is just that good, with a gently-sweetened filling yielding the same kind of tang that comes with a great cheesecake, balancing beautifully with the nuttier notes of a rye crust. So, where's the recipe, you're wondering. And if one doesn't already exist, shouldn't someone write it up?
Someone did, and that someone was the Romans, back in the 14th century. Those brushed up on their food history already know—this was the first pie recipe ever documented. According to the keepers of the English language, the word "pie" was already fairly popular at the time. Fast-forward a few millennia, and you'll find that very little has changed. Pie is timeless, ageless, matchless, and fully global. Empires may come and go, but in these uncertain times, it's good to know that pie is—most likely!—forever.
In some countries, pies are typically savory, rather than sweet; in other countries, they don't play favorites, and go for both. America's contribution to ancient tradition has, for much of our modern history, been tightly linked to our collective passion for eating dessert. Some states are merely enthusiastic, some downright fanatical, while others, not content to coast on our global reputation as a nation of pie lovers, are innovators, coming up with ideas so exciting that in six centuries or so, historians might very well still be talking about them. These are the best pies in every state.
Anyone doing a post-mortem on American dessert culture would definitely want to study the South's firm belief in the healing powers of sweet potato pie. In Birmingham, at Frank & Pardis Stitt's popular restaurants (the soon-to-return-from-its-pandemic-nap Highlands Bar & Grill chief among them), pastry boss Dolester Miles recently brought home a James Beard Foundation award, in large part thanks to her pies. Her secret? One of them, anyway, is roasting the potatoes before breaking them down, a rustic touch that gives the pie a deeper flavor. Typically served with bourbon whipped cream, it's one of the finest desserts in the country.
Back in 1993, Carri Thurman found herself in something of a predicament—not only was she pregnant with her first child, but she was also in need of a full-time job. Working out of a shed by the beach in Homer, Thurman was a founding member of Two Sisters Bakery, which over time would become one of the state's best. Today, the business operates out of a charming home, complete with wrap-around porch and wood-fired brick oven, in the same beautiful place. The pies Thurman and business partner Sharon Roufa put out at Thanksgiving are a little celebration of Alaska's brief but memorable harvest, calling on everything from birch syrup to apples and pumpkins to bring local flavor to the holiday table.
If you made a pie in the Southwest, savory or sweet, and didn't find a way to sneak green chile into the recipe, what exactly was the point? At Pie Snob in Phoenix, crisp, tart Granny Smiths marry beautifully with chilies trucked over the state line (Hatch, New Mexico, of course) to create a memorable Apple Green Chile Crumb pie. The topping, a cinnamon-scented crumble made with a zippy-sweet honey jalapeño butter, pulls it all together beautifully. Traci Wilbur, whose grew up in a pie loving family, is all about the little twists and turns that make classic pies exciting again; at Thanksgiving time, her pumpkin pie with a ginger snap crumble crust is a popular seller.
When it comes to possum pie, which is definitely the most Arkansas of pies, there are two types of people—the ones who are hugely relieved to discover that the recipe does not call for actual possums, and the rest of us, who are slightly disappointed that it does not. This is a layered pie, somewhat subject to the whims of the baker, but typically you'll find one vanilla (cream cheese, or perhaps custard) and one chocolate (usually custard) layer, both buried under lots of whipped topping, which is how, supposedly, the pie got its name: from the slang term, playin' possum, which means to play dead, or at least something you're not. It's definitely very different from a roadkill pie, in the end, but also extremely delicious. The pie is popular in towns like Conway, where Patti Stobaugh puts out one of the classiest in the state, at PattiCakes Bakery.
Just when much of the country is snuggling up for pumpkin spice season, the temperatures in Southern California can get downright uncomfortable. Still, this is California, and they really do have it all, even if sometimes you have to get in the car to find it. Even on the most brutal September and October days, you'll find people picking apples, up at 4,200 feet in the tiny town of Julian, just a little over an hour from the beaches of San Diego County. Changing leaves, a bit of classic Eastern architecture, cider mills, pick-your-own—it's all happening here, and has been, at least the apple growing part, since the mid-1800s. During some dry years, the crop gets a little smaller, other years it's out of control. The main change, according to growers, is that the season has started earlier, often before Labor Day. The famed Julian Pie Co. makes their sought-after, classic apple with locally-picked Granny Smiths; they ship via Fed Ex.
Up north, generations of Central Valley kids will remember piling into the car for trips to Apple Hill, a historic agricultural area near Placerville, where dozens of growers (and cider makers) can be found keeping tradition alive. Pick up a pie at the Larsen Apple Barn, a seasonal operation dating back to the 1860s. Back in the day, people used to order slices of apple pie with melted cheese on top, and quite frankly, we're sad that they stopped doing this. Down in Los Angeles, the very modern Cake Monkey is doing their bit to revive tradition, making an exceptional closed pie with Pink Lady apples and Granny Smiths roasted with Vermont cider jelly, brown butter and vanilla beans, baked in a cheddar cheese crust. This low-key work of art costs about as much as two and a half Julian pies, but you don't have to drive to 4,200 feet to get one, either—they'll ship to your door.
Heather Briggs comes from one of those families where pie recipes were passed down from generation to generation, which is to say, she has a great deal of experience. Since 2016, she's been baking the best pies in Colorado Springs, starting out small, selling slices from a truck. These days, Gold Star Pies turns out a lot of whole pies for people to take home, particularly during the holidays. In season, the sweet-tart rhubarb cream (Briggs' favorite, she'll tell you) makes an all-too-brief appearance, reminding us that what this country really needs is a whole lot more rhubarb pie.
Did you skip a trip to the Rockies this year? Bring a taste of the mountains to your kitchen table, with fruit pies shipped from Estes Park Pie Shop & Diner. If you've been, it's the one with the sign that says You Need Pie! out front, and we're definitely not arguing.
New Haven might be world-famous for pizza, but nearby Bridgeport brought dessert, and it has been doing so since 1968, when Sicilian immigrant John DiMarco took something very Italian, which is the cannoli, and turned it into something very American, which is a cannoli pie. For years, you went to Luigi's Bakery to pick one up; after the business closed a couple of years back, DiMarco and a few pals launched The Cannoli Pie Company, which ships pies, made from a flaky crust of cannoli shell filled with a sweet, three-cheese cream, across the country. Bridgeport's contribution to the dessert table may have gone wide, but the pies are still handmade. Of course, Connecticut pie history goes way further back than the 1960s. Lyman Orchards in Middlefield started out in the mid-1700s, and their apple pies remain some of the most popular in the state.
There was a time, back in the 1800s, when the First State was also first in peaches. Nowadays, there are other places more closely linked to one of America's finest fruits, but real ones know that Delaware peaches—let's be honest, Mid-Atlantic peaches in general—remain some of the absolute best that money can buy, during their too-brief annual season. Peach pie is Delaware's state dessert, which gives you an idea of how seriously people take it around here, but where to get it? Everywhere, really, but Keith Irwin and crew put the same care into the pies as the rest of their bakes at Old World Breads in Lewes. Flavors here are seasonal, so for now, you'll need to treat yourself to pecan, or apple, or pumpkin—not exactly a hardship.
The first thing to know about the Key lime is that it's not from the Keys at all, or at least it wasn't, until pioneering horticulturalist Henry Perrine brought it there from the Yucatan Peninsula, back in the 1800s. The other thing to know, if you didn't already, is that Key limes are the best, most delicious limes. They're more fragrant and more tart, with a more aromatic quality to their sought-after juice, and over time they've become the bedrock of Florida pie culture. From the Chanticleer Eatery in homey Grayton Beach on the Panhandle, to late-night strawberry key lime tarts in the dessert room at the legendary Bern's Steak House in Tampa, to the Amish and Mennonite markets near Sarasota, in the dining room at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, and on down the Keys to Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe, at the foot of Duval Street in Key West itself, you're never very far from a celebration of one of Florida's finest contributions to American food culture.
Back in the day, when you didn't have much in your pantry but still wanted dessert, you baked what came to be known as a desperation pie. Generations later, these basic-by-necessity pies are some of the most popular in the country, which just goes to show that simple sometimes really is better. The buttermilk pie, with a filling made from buttermilk and flour, has proven to be one of the most enduring within the genre—the ones they make at the Yesterday Cafe in Greensboro are so good, Carrie Underwood famously ordered 300 of them for her wedding. At Mashama Bailey's The Grey in Savannah, the justifiably exalted salted honey pies are a decidedly luxurious take on the genre. Something like a pecan pie without the nuts, the star here is the filling itself, which walks the tightrope between sweet and salty like an absolute pro.
When the Hori family, now into their fourth generation of bakers, opened Hawaiian Pie Co. in Honolulu a few years back, you could almost hear the old-timers cheering. Off and on for close to half a century now, the family has been baking for Oahu, and this recent return to form was an unexpected treat. Still, what people really wanted to know was, would they be bringing back the passionfruit pear pies? The answer was yes—that and a lot else. Classic island flavors are centered here—not just lilikoi, but guava and pineapple too. Pumpkin pie gets a local upgrade thanks to a layer of custard, and, of course, there's coconut pie too, with a rich macaroon-style filling wrapped in a buttery crust. Good news—they ship to the mainland.
Like many people enjoying the relatively rarified air of Sun Valley, Rebecca Bloom made a few chic stops before arriving, like at the Ritz-Escoffier in Paris, and various pastry kitchens in Southern California. Once here, she started her own business, Piedaho, putting her considerable skills to work, and before long, Bloom was reading about her own pies in O Magazine. Strawberry vanilla bean, blackberry with a thyme crust—these are pies made by a serious pastry chef, each one decorated to the nines. Tradition dies hard, however—one of the most popular sellers has, and according to Bloom, probably always will be, her salted caramel apple.
Ever dip a French fry into your chocolate Frosty at Wendy's? Maybe you've had the pleasure of a fresh-from-the-fryer yeast donut, topped with a really good chocolate ganache? If so, you already know why Stephanie Izard felt compelled to create a chocolate French fry pie, the hot seller at Sugargoat, Izard's recently-opened bakery, in Chicago's West Loop. The crust is made with loads of crunchy, salty fries, the filling is a rich, malty chocolate cream, and on top you get more fries—think potato sticks—covered in still more chocolate. You don't have to trek here to try one, either—they'll happily ship.
Same goes for Justice of the Pies, Maya-Camille Broussard's smash-hit, Chicago-based pie business. Her salted caramel peach pies aren't just exceedingly good; buying one supports Broussard's considerable efforts to improve lives in her hometown.
Back in the day, when Hoosier bakers found their pantries almost bare, they traditionally turned to the sugar cream pie, a recipe said to have reached the state as early as the 1800s, brought by Shaker and Amish settlers. This pie is not much to look at, typically lacking the crackly top that a buttermilk or chess pie might lure you in with, but there's a reason such a humble, no-egg pie remains an important part of so many regional celebrations—after a big meal, a simple dessert can be just the thing. Wick's Bakery in Winchester traces its roots back to World War II, when Duane Wickersham gained a serious reputation around town for his pies, made from old family recipes. All these years later, they're still using those recipes, right down to the lard in the crusts. One of the most popular sellers remains—no surprise there—the sugar cream.
Mrs. Anita Van Gundy of Des Moines took home the top prize of $150 this year, in one of the more important contests at Iowa's State Fair, where master craftsmen carve butter sculptures. The contest was about pie, a very specific, very Iowa kind of pie, the custard-filled, dried fruit-studded sour cream raisin, which comes topped in either a little or a lot of meringue, depending on whose making yours. The best are typically found under cake savers on kitchen counters across the state, but lacking an invitation to Mrs. Van Gundy's, you're going out. The pandemic, and time, and old age have claimed too many classic cafés here in recent years, but at the Ox Yoke Inn, a highlight of any trek to the historic Amana Colonies region, sour cream raisin remains a constant on the dessert menu. You can carry out an entire pie, if you like—that is, if you can think about eating again, after one of their family-style dinners.
From sweet chess pies studded with tart rhubarb to a harvest-times cranberry apple infused with orange zest and buried under walnut crumble topping, The Upper Crust in Overland Park is all about pushing the boundaries just enough so you barely notice you're trying something a bit different. The strategy has made them one of the most popular makers in all of Kansas City; highlights include pucker-up gooseberry pies, gooey-delicious, cinnamon-scented oatmeal pies you could eat for breakfast, and chocolate chip cookies in tart form, because why not? Sisters Jan Knobel and Elaine Van Buskirk bring serious cred to the locally-popular theory that Kansas makes some of the best pies in the country.
Over in little Dover, out on the plains just near Topeka, Norma Grubb once brought the regional pie culture all sorts of national recognition. Grubb passed a decade or so ago, but the quirky little Sommerset Cafe, located inside the historic community hall, still makes pies the way Norma used to, or at the very least, good enough that servers have been known to encourage you to order dessert before you start your meal, in case they sell out while you're busy eating fried chicken.
France has its network of spies, just making sure that sparkling wine producers elsewhere are not tempted into calling their work champagne; Kentucky has the Kern family. Pie is serious business around here, just like the Kentucky Derby, and when the Kerns became popular, back in the 1950s, for their Derby Pie, which is something like a really good chocolate chunk walnut cookie, except baked into a pie, they had the good sense to trademark the name. (That decision that has led to more than a few cease and desist letters over the years.) Let's just say that nowadays, you get your Derby Pie from Kern's Kitchen in Louisville—they bake approximately 100,000 of them a year, and will ship anywhere in the country—or you don't get it at all. What you do find a lot of here, however, and not just during Derby Week, is the Kentucky bourbon pie, on the menu in cafes, restaurants, and bakeries all over the state. This is more like a pecan pie, sometimes with chocolate chunks, sometimes not, along with a splash or two of bourbon, talk about a civilized upgrade. Stop by one of the Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen locations, scattered around Louisville, for one of the most popular versions.
Quick—what's the oldest city in Louisiana? Answer: Probably not the one you're thinking of. Founded in 1714 by French explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the handsome, if sleepy, river burg of Natchitoches has New Orleans beat by four whole years. Nowadays, the much smaller town is known primarily for two things—one, being the place where Steel Magnolias was filmed in the late 1980s, the other being meat pies. For almost as long as there have been European settlers in the area, meat pies have been central to the local cuisine. Made with beef and pork, and seasoned with onions, bell pepper, and cayenne, among other things, a Natchitoches meat pie looks a lot like an empanada; some food historians will say that's because nearby Spanish settlers contributed to their creation. (There are a lot of theories flying around.) Mostly, people don't get hung up on how the meat pie got here, they just eat them, at restaurants like the long-running Lasyone's in downtown Natchitoches and events like New Orleans' annual Jazz Fest, where the locally-made pies (look for the equally popular crawfish, and even a vegetarian version) are popular enough that when the festival was cancelled two years in a row, the vendor that makes them held pop-ups, so fans could get their fix.
In the more than two decades Puzzle Mountain Bakery has been operating on the honor system, selling baked goods from their little shed by the side of the road in Newry, the biggest problem that owners Ryan and Devon Wheeler say they've encountered isn't people taking pies without paying—it's the local black bear population, who like to show up at the end of the day and themselves to the leftovers. Not that there's typically much for them to choose from, particularly during blueberry season, when pies filled with local, wild-picked fruit tend to fly off the shelves as fast as they're added. Of course, you don't have to trek all the way up here to get a pie, though you really should, one of these summers.
Down in the Portland area, easily one of the great baking capitals of the country right now, Two Fat Cats Bakery is known for their outrageously good wild blueberry pies, available both in and out of season—these are low-intervention pies, just lots of Maine's favorite fruit, a dash of lemon, a sprinkle of sugar and spice, and plenty of experience rolling out great crusts. Best of all, they ship.
Named for the German immigrants who famously baked them for years, Berger cookies are as Baltimore as crab gut and movies with Divine in them. Think New York black and white cookie, but without the white part, just the fudge (lots of fudge, more fudge than cookie sometimes). Simple and simply delicious, the Berger cookie is the at the heart of every Baltimore Bomb pie, the top seller at Dangerously Delicious Pies, founded by local musician Rodney Henry way back in the late 1990s. The generously-frosted cookies get crumbled into a sweet vanilla chess filling, with terrific results.
Back in colonial times, meat pies were the thing, just like in the old country; fast forward to now, and the Bay State remains one of the best places for meat pie lovers to run into others just like them. Centerville Pie Co. on Cape Cod is famous for their chicken pie, an Oprah favorite, but you can get even more authentically olde worlde at places like Thwaites Market in Methuen, one of a handful of bakeries in the entire country that have been making very proper, English-style pork pies for generations, and places like Hartley's Pork Pies in Fall River, founded by an English immigrant who brought his recipes with him, all the way back in in 1900. (Yes, they ship.)
And what's for dessert, you ask? Boston cream pie of course, which isn't even a pie, but more like a Victoria sponge, with custard in between the layers and chocolate on top, but who's complaining? Boston's Omni Parker House Hotel, where French immigrant Augustine Anezin invented the thing in in the mid-1800s, will ship one directly to your door.
Other states can grow cherries, but it takes a special kind of cherry to make a really great pie. Anyone in Michigan will tell you that what you want is a nice, tart cherry, and furthermore, did you know that Michigan produces the most tart cherries in the world? A whopping 201 million pounds per year at last count. The crop was recently estimated to be worth roughly $300 million, and probably a lot more than that by next year—thanks, inflation! Every local with a rolling pin and an oven seems to want a piece of the cherry pie tourism action, so we'll make this simple. Do what you like, but start at Sweetie-Licious in DeWitt, right in the dead center of the state, near Lansing. Owner-baker Linda Hundt's pies have won their share of awards for good reason; her buttery crumble-topped Cheery Cherry Berry pie, which introduces blueberries into the mix, strikes that perfect balance between sweet and tart.
Supposing you're not lucky enough to live within driving distance of the shop, and you just want a Michigan cherry pie delivered to your door—more than a few makers in the state will be glad to ship you one, from Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, which has their own mail order business, to Achatz Handmade Pie Co. in Chesterfield.
Situated rather enviably on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the town of Two Harbors is one of those places where you could eat a peanut butter sandwich you brought from home on the breakwater at Agate Bay, and still go home telling everybody you had the best time. Fortunately, at least during the less-cold months, there's Betty's Pies, just over Highway 61 (yes, the Bob Dylan one) from the beach. For well over half a century, this friendly diner, named for the best thing it makes, has been an essential stop for those driving one of the Midwest's finest roads. Betty's is popular for their crunchy crumble-topped fruit pies, but for those not fanatical about pie crust, the French blueberry cream pie—featuring a relatively unobtrusive graham cracker bottom—is something of a dream, with acres of fluffy filling made from cream cheese and whipped cream, topped with a wild blueberry compote. Most bakeries are hesitant to ship cream pies—Betty's seems to have it down to a science.
Back in the 1990s, Mary Jennifer Russell started selling cakes and pies from her home in Northern Mississippi. Over time, demand grew to the point where she opened up Sugaree's in New Albany, celebrating the classic recipes of the Deep South, and honoring tradition by doing everything by hand, and in small batches. While other states might be more widely known for their pecans, Mississippi is one of the top producers in the country—Russell's pecan pie is packed with locally-grown nuts, baked into a delicious lard and butter crust.
To make one of Mary Hostetter's Levee-High Apple pies, you need a minimum of 18 apples. Also, you need the patience of Job to slice and stack those apples, Jenga-style, so they don't come crashing down before you have time to cover the thing. Or, you could just leave the work to the team at Blue Owl Restaurant & Bakery in Kimmswick, where Hostetter's pies remain the center of attention, decades after she first became a St. Louis-area sensation. The final flourish? A flood of caramel glaze—absolutely necessary, of course.
The thing about huckleberries is, you can't really tame them. Many have tried to domesticate the regional answer to wild blueberries, native to the wilds of the Northwest, without success. To pick them, you have to do battle with the elements (and the bears), and you have to know which berries are for eating and which will make you sick and/or kill you. Then, after all that, unless you use or freeze them pretty quickly, they'll spoil. All that required heavy lifting doesn't seem to keep Montanans from collecting and eating and—most importantly—baking a ton of huckleberries into pies, each year. You'll find them everywhere, from Loula's Cafe in Whitefish, to the touristy but fun Huckleberry Patch in Hungry Horse, a popular stop on the way to Glacier National Park. One of the state's star bakers works wonders with still more local produce—the tiny pies from Elle's Belle's Bakery in Bozeman come out of the oven busting with flavor from hand-picked blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Thanksgiving Day isn't exactly known for balmy weather, not around Omaha anyway, but that hasn't stopped local hosts-in-the-know from making the switch from your traditional holiday desserts to something perhaps even better—seasonally-themed ice cream pies. Then again, it does help that the source of temptation is one of the better ice cream shops to grace the Midwest in recent years; Coneflower Creamery is owned by two pastry chefs with years of industry experience, so they've made a pie or two. These pies are far from ordinary, and once you make the switch from regular sweet potato to theirs—roasted sweet potato ice cream in a brown butter crust, topped with bourbon caramel and a puffy cloud of torched meringue—you might never go back. Vegan gingerbread ice cream pie, in a gluten-free oat crumble crust, is like something Paul Hollywood would roll his eyes at—that is, until he tries a bite.
Culinary Institute of America grads Tyler & Aubrey O'Laskey were both doing great work in New York and California, respectively, when the couple decided to settle down in Reno and open their own place. Rather quickly, Perenn Bakery has become one of the city's favorite small businesses, bringing strong, coastal chic vibes to the dry side of the Sierras. One of the hardest seasonal pies to snag on this list is also one of the most unique. You probably wouldn't find an apple caramel pie-kouign amann mashup—essentially, a giant pastry with pie filling, plus plenty of crumble—in a patisserie window in Brittany, but that's the whole point of moving to a place like Nevada. People don't look over your shoulder and say, that's not how we do things around here—they ask you if they can reserve one for their Thanksgiving. In Las Vegas, Oakland expats Brett Boyer and Brendon Wilharber run Desert Bread, one of the state's best new bakeries, out of their home; their seasonal fruit galettes are a reminder that sometimes sticking to tradition is an absolutely beautiful thing, and also that Las Vegas is changing.
There are a lot of New England farmers in Jim Richardson's family tree, going all the way back to the pre-revolutionary era. Sometimes, at Richardson's Farm in rural Boscawen, you're not entirely sure you've made it all the way to the present. Still, it is common knowledge, among those who have bothered to make the journey, that the apple pies here are some of the best around. To get one, you'll just have to slow down a little, pick up the phone, and have a chat, most likely with Jim's wife, Sue. You will then have to pick up your pie in person, and you will pay for it in cash. For your troubles, there's equally good ice cream on offer, in classic New England flavors like Grape Nut pudding and peppermint stick. Fairly close by, right on the outskirts of Concord, Apple Hill Farm not only grows some fascinating varietals, often referred to as heirlooms, or antiques; they also make great pies.
Really, the best pie in New Jersey is always going to be a tomato pie, but this isn't a list of the best pizzas in America. Then again, when it comes to actual pie, the Garden State has plenty up its (baking) sleeve. Once harvest season starts winding down, Delicious Orchards turns its attention to the holidays, making tens of thousands of seasonally-appropriate pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas—even a fine mince pie, which is something we don't see often enough on this side of the Atlantic. Their apple crumb pie isn't like everyone else's, marrying that marvelous regional tradition (the mostly-streusel crumb cake, hiding under a blizzard of confectioner's sugar) and with the classic American favorite.
When Kathy Knapp closed the Pie-O-Neer due to the pandemic, because you can only stay open for so long doing curbside pickup in a town with a population of just over 100, tiny Pie Town, New Mexico reeled. Then came the announcement that the owners of the last remaining pie baking establishment in town were thinking of retiring, and people began asking—if there's no pie, should it even be called Pie Town anymore? (Dating back about a century, the name came from a local bakery that specialized in apple pies.) For a moment there, it was looking like Pie Town was going to be Pie-Less, but then Sarah Chavez, a local baker, stepped into the void—the Pie-O-Neer is back, serving up local peach and apple pies zipped up with green chiles, to the delight of those passing through town on Highway 60.
Step out of the grey of the Lower East Side in November, and into the warmest, welcomingest country kitchen you are likely to find along Delancey Street. Petee's Pies has been celebrating the best of Americana on their busy Lower East Side block since Petra Paradez, raised in a pie-loving family in Virginia, left another career to dabble in what turned out to be her destiny. The house chocolate chess pie not only competes successfully with Southern versions of the regional classic, there's a good chance it is altogether better, in part due to the magic that happens when you toss a little sea salt into something that sweet. You can have one delivered to your door, as long as your door is within 50 miles of the shop. The PieCaken from PieCaken Bakeshop is an unholy-delicious layer cake made from whole pies, something you might definitely have expected to find somewhere down south, but this beautiful beast is, most assuredly, a New York creation. Pastry chef Zac Young struck it big when he whipped one up for a special event; he does a brisk mail-order business at this time of year.
Like so many of the best pies in America, the chess pie is a very simple thing to make, assuming you know your way around a crust—next to that, whipping up the simple, custard-like filling can be relatively easy. Which is a good thing, because customers at the Angus Barn steakhouse in Raleigh, one of the state's most iconic restaurants (and a fixture on the landscape since the 1960s), tend to order a lot of the chocolate chess pie off of the dessert tray—in a recent count, the restaurant was making over 100 of the crackle crust-topped pies per day. This isn't the kind pie that ships easily, so you'll have to actually show up to try it—while you're there, Raleigh's Slice Pie Company makes its own version of the local favorite, a double chocolate chess pie topped with chocolate ganache. Owner Michael Mullins became well-known for his pies (and specifically, his family's generations-old crust recipe) after winning the blue ribbon at the state fair one year; chess pies they won't ship either, but that's okay—their terrifically good pecan pies they will.
Quiche, at least the way it's typically made in the United States, is most definitely a pie, and anyone who says it's not is probably a gigantic Gallophobe, just putting that out there. When stopping at the sweetly French-ish Nichole's Fine Pastry & Cafe in downtown Fargo, we like to think of the savory tart as the pie we eat before we get to eat more pie, of which there is plenty, from tangy strawberry rhubarb to even tangier lemon meringue, all made with a relatively delicate hand, particularly when compared to some of the more traditional, middle-of-the-country pies on this list. North Dakota native Nichole Hensen opened up shop in 2003 after a rather circuitous journey out of North Dakota, up to Alaska, and then home via the Culinary Institute of America. The rest is Fargo pastry history.
Sorry to everyone who lives in the big cities of Ohio, but do you really think your pies are ever going to fully compete with the ones in Holmes County? Ohio's flagship Amish Country (there are a couple) is a schlep from most places, but the pie payoff is considerable. Here you'll mostly find the blissfully simple and straightforward, the way pies always were before baking started trending again in this country. To look at the fruit pies at Mrs. Yoder's Kitchen in Mount Hope, you might not know you were in the presence of greatness, but you are. The crusts are the crusts (good, but not world-changing); the toppings are non-dairy, inoffensive; but in season, the fruit fillings are so perfect, it's like eating whatever—fruit, apple, the works—from the tree. Start here, but make sure to eat as much pie as you can, while you're in the neighborhood—for starters, it's the pecan pie at the classic Boyd & Wurthmann lunch counter in Berlin, and absolutely, definitely, your fill of the fried hand pies at Hershberger's Farm & Bakery, which also has a petting zoo.
Speaking of fried hand pies, which are absolutely pies (let's not fight about it), we're not sure anybody does them better than Oklahoma, where, at Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies in Davis, you can have a three-course meal of fried pies: savory, maybe a bacon egg and cheese, perhaps a tart-sweet apricot, and then a cream pie for dessert. (The chocolate pies, packed with rich custard, are rather insane.) There are locations around the state, but the Davis original has had the most time—over a century, now—to practice. Most people stop here on a drive between Dallas to Oklahoma City. If the latter is your destination, make sure to save room for whatever is in the case at Pie Junkie. Then again, if you've just come from there, you already knew that.
Fuse the sharp sweetness of a Northwest blackberry with the sophistication of a good wine grape, and what do you have? Real Oregonians know—it can only be a marionberry, named after for the county that is this distinctive, highly-sought-after berry's spiritual home. During the season and often well outside, it has to be everything marionberry-flavored for fans, including pie, of course. Many of these pies come from Willamette Valley Pie Company, started by a family of long-time berry farmers in Salem, using their own recipes. They ship, too.
After working with Nancy Silverton in California for years, Kim Boyce started her own Portland-based enterprise, Bakeshop PDX, which quickly become one of the best bakeries in the Northwest—her brown butter apple buckwheat streusel pies yield a sophisticated taste of fall.
Is shoo fly a desperation-style pie, birthed out of necessity? Or were Pennsylvania Dutch bakers just really into simplicity? Sometimes explained as a coffee cake with a very wet bottom, which obviously means you can eat it for breakfast, shoo fly pie is, from gooey molasses base to generous crumble top, not really missing anything at all. At Lancaster County favorite McClure's Bakery, from-scratch chocolate shoo-fly pies are made with an old family recipe. This is a pie that would be most welcome on any Amish or Mennonite table, and yours, too—they ship nationwide. Ditto the popular pies at Miller's Bakery, featured quite prominently at their sister smorgasbord, the best of Lancaster's many buffet restaurants.
In America's littlest state, the farm stand isn't just a place you stop by a few times per summer or fall. Some of them are year-round destinations, catering to all kinds of needs and wants. At Wright's Dairy Farm in North Smithfield, it's not just about the milk, but baked goods as well, including an awfully fine coconut custard pie, a classic affair made with rich cream and milk from the cows out back. From May until the end of December, Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown relies largely on whatever's in season to craft its road-trip worthy pies, from blueberry at summer's peak to cozy-making apple pies toward the end of the year. Like yours à la mode? No need for a second stop—both farms make their own ice cream
Every host ought to have a talented baker in their little black book of dinner parties. Savvy planners in the greater Charlotte area are fortunate enough to have Christine Priester Simmons, a local pastor's wife with a busy home baking business, just over the state line in Fort Mill. Anything from Priester Pies, beginning with the excellent sweet potato (vegan or not vegan) with just a hint of lemon is a wise idea. (Priester Simmons will even deliver by hand, if you're in the area.) Down in the Lowcountry, tomato pie makes for a perfect summer brunch, with many a maker putting their own spin on the regional fave. Sometimes its almost a quiche, other times it looks like you're about to dig into an apple pie, except you cut through the crust and—voilà—tomatoes. At Stono Market and Tomato Shed near Charleston, it comes out almost like a casserole, served up in generous portions—nothing you'd serve at a sophisticated dinner party, but so delicious, people drive for miles to get their fix.
If you're German, which plenty of people are in the Dakotas, the part of the day where you knock off for a refresher, and ideally a bit of gossip, was always just referred to as "kaffee und kuchen." The first word you know, the second translates as cake, except cake in German can mean a lot of different things, and here, it means a pie-cake-tart hybrid pastry filled with custard and whatever fruit is in season. The passion for kuchen remains strong around here, enough to see it voted the South Dakota state dessert a decade or so ago. There are kuchen festivals, too, with parades. Also, in the tiny town of Scotland, you have Roger and Lori Pietz at Pietz's Kuchen Kitchen, where they turn out scores of simple, simply delicious kuchen year-round, delivering to stores large and small all across the state. Not into fruit fillings? Go for the chocolate chip.
Custard-style, and sporting a beautifully crisp topping, the chess pie has as many origin stories as there are spins on the classic. At Kat Gordon's Muddy's Bake Shop in Memphis, you can have it a variety of ways, but we'll go for the chocolate, aka the Cocoa Crackle, a stealthily luxurious pie using only the best ingredients, all ruggedly handsome crust and civilized, silky filling. In Nashville, Arnold's Country Kitchen isn't just one of the finest meat-and-three restaurants in the South—they also ship their excellent chess pies, chocolate or otherwise, all over the country.
Starting out in a charming, 1930s bungalow in Dallas' burgeoning Bishop Arts District, Megan Wilkes and Mary Gauntt's Emporium Pies has become something of a smash hit, with shops all over the area. Ten apples at a time go into their deep dish apple, rich with housemade caramel and topped with cinnamon-laced streuse. You will address the considerable result, if you please, as Lord of the Apple Pies. Everything really is bigger in Texas. And what's more Texas than pecan pie? Have one shipped from the oldest surviving bakery in Texas—Eilenberger's in Palestine started out in the late 1800s.
The most unusual pies on this list come from a state that never saw a filling it couldn't love. Generations of Utahns have been stopping for slices of pickle pie at Sunglow Motel & Cafe in Bicknell. Sweet pickles, finely chopped and mixed with spices, lemon extract, margarine, and cream—spicy and tangy all at once, you've probably never had anything quite like it, even if the spice profile is similar to pumpkin and sweet potato pies. Except it's a pickle pie. And it's kind of green. The recipe goes back to the Great Depression, when local pie queen Cula Ekker was growing up, making do with what the family had. And what they had in abundance, it seems, were pickles. Y
ou've come all this way, don't stop eating pie now, not yet. Another iconic Utah favorite (in more traditional flavors) is sold at the Gifford House, a historic homestead located inside the park. These pies are a sweet tribute to the Mormon families who once tended to orchards in the scenic valley, which they settled in the 1880s and named, rather accurately, Fruita.
Pie fixes everything, reads the optimistic slogan on every box at Poorhouse Pies, a home-based operation in the tiny town of Underhill, named for its scenic location in the shadow of Mount Mansfield. The name of the business comes from where Jamie and Paula Eisenberg thought they'd end up, once they left their jobs and tried to make a living baking out of their home, a few years back—not a chance. The maple cream pies alone could probably keep them afloat; syrup from just a few miles up the road is combined with condensed milk, eggs, and everything else you need for a seriously good cream pie, poured into a graham cracker crust. Topped with cream, this is about as Vermont as you get without sticking your head into a cloud of steam at the nearest sugarhouse. Everything is sold on the honor system, from a photogenic little shed on property—look for the sign that says "Pie Today," which, it turns out, is nearly always the case.
Dating back to colonial times and still a staple in small towns throughout the Old Dominion, the peanut pie is about as uniquely local as you can get around here, dessert-wise. Too bad, then, that many people find the classic recipe to be a stodgy affair, one possible reason why you don't see it on every dessert menu in the region, something that for a long time bugged baker Brian Noyes, whose cult favorite Red Truck Bakery in Marshall is widely regarded as one of the best in the state. Starting out with the best Virginia peanuts, the Red Truck version gives the old girl a beautiful upgrade, incorporating crumbles of chocolate cake, coconut, and bit of hot honey, which balances nicely with locally-produced hickory syrup. You've probably never had a pie quite like this.
One of the great things about Seattle is how close you are, food-wise, to Hawaii. Once you know where to look, you're never far from good poke, spam musubi, loco moco, or brightly colored chiffon cakes. No surprise, then, that over time, the Blue Hawaiian pie at Chris Porter's A La Mode Pies has become one of the city's most iconic. What starts out as a standard blueberry crumble pie takes on a distinctly island flair, with the addition of pineapple (and a bit of piña colada mix) to the berries, plus toasted coconut in the crumble topping.
It will brighten up any dark winter day, and yes, they ship. Do you have a Twin Peaks fanatic in your life? Send a cherry pie from Twede's Cafe in North Bend, which played a significant role on the groundbreaking TV show.
Most every year, just after Mother's Day, a sign goes in the window at Jim's Steak and Spaghetti, one of downtown Huntington's finest classic establishments. Strawberry Pie Today, it reads. Why they go out of their way to put up a sign is unclear—it's not like you're getting within half a block (bare minimum!) of that front door to read it. And besides, if you've spent more than ten minutes in Huntington during your lifetime, you've probably already heard about that too-brief, but blissful annual moment when the strawberries start coming in, and Jim's has pie, and they always sell out. These are stripped down, completely homemade pies, designed to let the strawberries work their magic, simply prepared and topped with cream. At last count, just before the pandemic put the tradition on hold, the restaurant counted nearly 11,000 slices sold. In one week. (They probably could have sold more.)
Sometimes referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, laid-back Door County is the 70-mile peninsula jutting way out into far northern Lake Michigan. It's extremely cherry focused, whether cherries are in season or not. As you traverse the highways and exceptionally scenic backroads, heading towards the end of the line, you are likely to find yourself tempted by any number of cherry-related come-ons, but serious pie lovers know that for the very best, you keep going, all the way to Ellison Bay. There, a humble, cinder-block hut is home to Bea's Ho-Made Products, which has been standing for generations. In a world of shrinking pies, Bea's sticks up for the old ways, cranking out generous, 10-inch beauties made with hand-rolled, from scratch, lard-laden crusts. (Pie, they like to remind you here, is not a health food.) You don't have to be a cherry person to make the pilgrimage—Bea's apple pies are pretty terrific, as well. No shipping, not of pies anyway, so you'll just have to hurry up and get here—the season ends shortly after Thanksgiving. Year-round, way down in so-called civilization, Racine's O&H Danish Bakery is best known for a style of Kringle pastry unique to the area. Their hybrid Apple Kringle pie—a pie, with a whole Kringle baked into it, now you know—is an exceptionally Wisconsin conversation piece for your holiday dessert table. (Yes, they absolutely ship.)
For somewhere so remote, there sure are a lot of ways to get to Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Tetons. Travelers along Route 26, which nudges its way northwest across the state from Nebraska up to Jackson Lake, do not find much in the way of manmade distractions, the small, unabashedly Western town of Dubois being one exception to that rule. Once you're here, there isn't a whole lot of choice, but that hasn't stopped the Cowboy Cafe from being very good at its job of feeding both the locals and the tourists—nobody, however, will argue that the best reason to come here is the pie, of which there always seems to be plenty. Everything's good, but the rhubarb ginger pie, if you can land some, is in a class by itself.