The more you learn about pie, the more you realize that much of what you always believed about pie is wrong. Pie isn’t just for dessert after dinner. It’s for lunch and breakfast and betweentimes, too.
Pie doesn’t have to have a bulletproof Crisco crust. Lard crusts, graham-cracker crusts, egg pastry, coconut oil, and unsalted butter are all copacetic. It’s okay for pumpkin pies to waver from the recipe on the Libby’s can. Brown sugar is acceptable, as are a variety of distilled spirits, and the pumpkin doesn’t have to be pumpkin at all. Squash and sweet potatoes are more than capable substitutes.
When it comes to apple pies, it’s apparent that anything goes. Home bakers have been messing with apple pie since Johnny Appleseed’s day, and those experiments have … um, borne fruit. Even the most hardened cooked-fruit hater can find something to love in an American apple pie.
As part of a two-piece Foodie Friday series on pies, we’ve scoured the country looking for the best apple pies. Here’s what we came up with. Feel free to add to this list. And always, always feel free to eat pie first and worry about the details later.
- Norske Nook, Osseo, Wis. (Cranberry-Apple): Most people hit this restaurant in the heart of Pie With Lunch Country for its chocolate and lemon pies and their four-foot meringue crowns (served with all-you-can-stand Norwegian charm), but the Nook’s tart-sweet cranberry-apple pie with its addictive, granola-esque crunchy topping is the way to go the minute the leaves change.
- Bang Bang Pie, Chicago (Apple): See a previous “Foodie Friday” blog for more details, with an update: the bearded Chicago pie-bakers have announced the limited availability of a straight-up apple pie with some of the season’s first orchard apples and toasted white cheddar in a double-leaf lard crust. You heard it here first.
- Whidbey Pies, Seattle (Apple): What’s a pie story without an apple pie from the apple state? For almost 30 years Whidbey Pies has been serving incredible fruit and savory pies from the former site of the world’s largest loganberry farm on Whidbey Island, about 30 miles from Seattle. The Granny Smith apple pie has hints of caramel and spices, all wrapped in a super-tender crust made with unsalted butter and coconut oil.
- Crane’s Pie Pantry, Fennville, Mich. (Apple): And what’s a pie story without an apple pie from the other apple state? Since 1916 the Crane’s folks have been turning out near-perfect pies baked with apples from the orchards that surround their rural digs. You think freshness doesn’t tell in an apple pie? Taste one of Crane’s fall apple pies and then answer that question. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for Crane’s Pie-Biter’s Club, just because.
- Vermont Apple Pie Breakfast Restaurant, Proctorsville, Vt. (Apple): Because any restaurant that uses “Apple Pie” and “Breakfast” in the same breath knows what’s what. It really is a breakfast place, though, so grab your apple pie to go after you’ve filled up on apple-cinnamon pancakes or blueberry French toast with real Vermont maple syrup.
- Elegant Farmer, Mukwonago, Wis. (Apple): Here’s all you need know about this piled-high two-crust pie (baked in a paper bag, no less) from an upper-crust farm market in Milwaukee’s northern suburbs: It’s so good that John Noel, BHTP’s founder and someone who could order in pie from anywhere in the world, has it shipped in for special occasions. If you love apples, this is your pie.
- Slightly North of Broad, Charleston, S.C. (Apple): The acronym may spell “SNOB,” but the cooking is refreshingly down-to-earth. SNOB’s take on apple pie adds sour cream, a walnut crumb-crunch topping, and an eggy French crust to the mix. The result is a mélange of flavors that arrive at once and never fail to delight.
- Pine Tree Apple Orchard, White Bear Lake, Minn. (Apple Pecan): There are only three places where it feels right to get apple pie: an orchard, a diner, and your grandma’s kitchen. Pine Tree’s apple pies are baked on the premises, ands there’s no question where the apples come from. Add some pecans from somewhere south of Minnesota and you have something worth bringing home to grandma. Grab some homemade jam on your way out. Just don’t forget to pay for it.