Is there anything more guaranteed to elicit a smile than pie? Single crust, double crust, hot, cold, fruity, custardy — we’ll take this filling-plus-pastry combination in every way imaginable.
Pie is the quintessential dessert to grace a Thanksgiving table. But if you don’t have the time or skill to crank out one (or two or three . . .), there are plenty of local bakeries crafting holiday-worthy sweets. Here’s our guide to Pie Season in the Washington area. (Per-slice prices are listed where available.)
Apple pie is the chocolate chip cookie of the fruit-in-crust universe: widely beloved and made in so many styles, each with their own charms. But what we prefer is a pie that’s substantial enough to serve a crowd, and that’s the kind Pie Gourmet in Vienna delivers.
It’s an almost-three-pound masterpiece. Baker-owner Dorah Ogolo starts with a load of peeled, locally grown apples, cut to retain a slight crunch and tossed with sugar and cinnamon before they’re heaped into a vegetable-shortening crust. At this time of year, they’re most likely Jonagold. She used to toss in raisins, but her customers talked her out of it. The crowning touch of her French Apple Pie is its crumb topping, made with flour, butter, brown sugar and walnuts; there’s enough of it to please the recipient of every slice.
Pie Gourmet, 507 Maple Ave. W., Vienna. 703-281-7437. www.piegourmet.com. $26.95 for a 10-inch deep dish pie.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
A type of custard pie, chess is steeped in Southern tradition. The main difference, says Ansa Cox of Mom’s Apple Pie Co., is a touch of cornmeal that adds a thin layer to the filling. Cox’s parents, Steve Cox and Avis Renshaw, started selling their pies at farmers markets around Northern Virginia in 1981 and now operate storefronts in Leesburg and Occoquan. The rich and creamy almond amaretto chess pie is quite sweet, a characteristic — or perhaps requirement — of chess pies. But the buttermilk custard remains balanced by a healthy dose of amaretto, offset in an all-butter crust with the contrasting crunch of almond slices. The pie is good year-round, Cox says, but if you warm it up, “it’s killer with some coffee and perfect for sitting by the fire.”
Mom’s Apple Pie Company, 220 Loudoun St. SE, Leesburg. 703-771-8590.
126A Commerce St., Occoquan. 703-497-7437. www.momsapplepieco.com. $16.99.
— Kara Elder
Sol Schott describes his Nutella pie as the United Nations of flavors because it includes nods to so many regions. “You’ve got North Africa, Italy and Belgium in one pie,” says the owner of Acme Pie Co. The dessert — one of his few flavors available year-round — starts with a handmade vegetable shortening crust and a layer of mini, bittersweet Belgian chocolate chips. Next, he adds toasted hazelnuts and pours in the base of the pie: a filling similar to the consistency of a pecan pie made from freshly spun Nutella, Moroccan orange-blossom water and a pinch of Aleppo pepper, for smokiness. The crunch from the hazelnuts offsets the gooeyness of the filling, and the inventive mix of flavors is unlike any Nutella concoction you’ve ever had. “You get the whole gamut of textures and flavors,” Schott says.
Acme Pie Co. 202-215-3063. www.acmepieco.com. Whole pies available at Stachowski’s, 1425 28th St. NW, and the Local Market, 246 W. Broad St., Falls Church. $28 for a 10-inch pie, $12.95 for a six-inch.
— Holley Simmons
Don’t just throw them: Eat one and you’ll understand why cream pies are so much more than just the official dessert of slapstick comedy. Especially at Dog Tag Bakery, where the Oreo cream pie is a retro slice of Americana. That’s the whole idea, says pastry chef Rebecca Clerget. The Georgetown cafe trains and employs veterans, so “we wanted everything to be patriotic themed, very American on the menu.” And Oreos are as American as — well, okay, Dog Tag has apple pie, too. To make the Oreo pie, Clerget layers a parbaked crushed-cookie crust with chocolate ganache, Oreo cream and white chocolate mousse for the center, before topping it all with chantilly cream. A two-day process, the pies are a big hit with chocolate fans. “They’re worth every bit of the effort,” Clerget says.
Dog Tag Bakery, 3206 Grace St. NW. 202-407-9609. www.dogtagbakery.com. $35 for a whole pie, or $4.75 per slice.
— Maura Judkis
If you thought making pie crust from scratch was a science, wait until you hear what goes into a gluten-free variety. “We use a precise combination of rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and a tiny bit of xanthan gum,” says Jack Revelle, the head pastry chef at Rise Bakery and an alum of Bread Furst. The resulting crust is a little more crumbly than most, but the taste is spot-on. And when it’s holding sugary, sticky pecan pie filling, you barely notice. Made simply with sugar, eggs and corn syrup, the filling is then topped with hunks of toasted pecans. The kitchen at this tiny storefront in Adams Morgan is completely gluten-free, meaning there’s no risk of cross-contamination for those with serious allergies. “A lot of customers tell us they haven’t been able to have food like this since they were diagnosed,” Revelle says. “But I like to think that a lot of our stuff can be thought of as its own entity, and not just something that’s gluten-free.”
Rise Bakery, 2409 18th St. NW. 202-525-5204. www.riseglutenfree.com. $24.95.
— Holley Simmons
The icebox pies at Bakeshop are equally rich in flavor and nostalgia. The six-year-old bakery offers several varieties of the chilled dessert, which have been developed — and sometimes made — by owner Justin Stegall’s mom. “They’re kind of ice creamy,” Stegall says. “I kind of liken it to ice cream in that mid-stage between frozen and wet.” Bakeshop starts by making a cookie-based crust that is chilled before fillings in such flavors as Nutella, lemon buttermilk, peanut butter and peanut butter-Nutella are poured in. The fillings, which set in the freezer, are silky thanks to a mix of cream cheese and heavy cream. They’re topped with a pretty igloo of piped whipped cream and an attractive garnish: Our peanut butter pie was sprinkled with bite-size pieces of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Stegall said the icebox pies are particularly popular during Thanksgiving, and with their luscious but light texture and good looks, we can see why.
Bakeshop, 1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington. 571-970-6460. www.bakeshopva.com. $26.
— Becky Krystal
Sherman McCoy has offered this crowd-pleaser at Best Pie Co. almost since he opened the small shop in Bowie nine years ago — but not before he put in sufficient R&D. The filling, a combination of fresh lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and eggs, is baked in its graham-cracker crust, which is not the norm for such a pie. The result is creamy smooth, with less pucker power than you’d expect. In truth, the fruit McCoy uses are the common limes we find year-round at the grocery store, not the smaller, tart Key limes: “What was I gonna do, call it a Persian Lime Pie?” he says with a wink. The shop makes it year-round, although he ramps up production in the summer because his customers crave it as a finishing touch for their crab and seafood feasts; best to call and order in advance.
Best Pie Co., 13600 Old Annapolis Rd., Bowie, Md. 301-860-0620. www.bestpiecompany.com. $30.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
The key to a successful pecan pie is achieving the correct ratio of pecan pieces to the gooey stuff that binds it all together. “Keeping the balance is really important,” says Erin Blakely, one of the three siblings behind Pie Sisters in Georgetown. In the pursuit of pecan equilibrium, each nine-inch classic pecan pie uses an equal portion of pecan morsels and larger chunks, suspended in a mixture of sugar, egg and light corn syrup, where most pecan pies call for richer dark syrup or a mixture of the two. “Considering pecan pies in general are pretty heavy, we try to make it not as heavy as other people do,” Blakely says. That formula goes out the window entirely when it comes to the top-selling bourbon chocolate pecan pie, which gets its signature kick from a healthy glug of Evan Williams. “If people want to order the classic, they’re more than welcome to,” Blakely says, “but it’s very rare that people order the classic pecan once they’ve ordered the bourbon chocolate pecan.”
Pie Sisters, 3423 M St. NW. 202-338-7437. www.piesisters.com. $32 for the classic pecan pie, $34 for the bourbon chocolate pecan pie.
— Alex Baldinger
Pumpkin pie typically marks the end of a Thanksgiving feast’s overindulgence, but Baked & Wired’s offering might make you want to begin your morning-after leftovers spree with a slice, too. That’s how the bakery’s Tessa Velazquez says her family enjoys their pumpkin pie: with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream on the Friday morning after the main event. The precisely crimped crusts are filled with a pillowy, house-made pumpkin puree that’s seasoned just enough to highlight the gourd’s subtle flavor. “It’s like bringing a baby into the world,” Velazquez says of the shop’s creative process. “It takes a lot of care. We can’t just throw it together, put it in the oven, forget about it and set a timer. There’s constant monitoring of it to make sure it’s coming out just right.”
Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW. 703-663-8727. www.bakedandwired.com. $38.
— Gabe Hiatt
When Spike Gjerde closed Shoo-Fly earlier this year, it became that much harder to get your hands on the sticky, molasses-rich pie for which the James Beard Award-winning chef had named his short-lived Baltimore diner. These days, the best places to find shoo-fly pie are the same ones we’ve always sought out: Pennsylvania Dutch bakeries, which, as the name implies, are usually found way, way north of the D.C. border. But three days a week in Laurel, Stoltzfus Bakery sells a good-and-gooey shoo-fly pie at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market, a sprawling indoor marketplace packed with sweet and savory goods from Pennsylvania Dutch producers. The Stoltzfus shoo-fly pie features a “wet bottom” (vs. a dry one, obviously), which means these slices sport a custard-like base and a crumbly, cake-like top. Taken together, the two halves add up to one uniquely sweet pie.
Stoltzfus Bakery at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market, 9701 Fort Meade Rd., Laurel. 301-356-9098. $9.95 for a nine-inch pie; $5.25 for half, $1.95 for a slice.
— Tim Carman
A certain local concern has had a lock on D.C.’s sweet potato pie market for many years — certainly in terms of sheer numbers sold. But for me, May Evans produces the best one around. The longtime District vendor at the Saturday RFK Farmers Market starts with boiled, mashed sweet potatoes, flavoring them with the lightest touch of cinnamon and nutmeg, along with vanilla and lemon juice. “Never clove! Too heavy,” she says. Her vegetable shortening crust is a tender companion to the filling. Order one for the table and one for the cook, because these sweet potato wonders are a bargain.
(That local concern: Henry’s Soul Food Cafe, scheduled to reopen on U Street NW in early 2016.)
Aunt May’s Pies at the Open-Air Farmers Market at RFK Stadium, Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue NE (Parking Lot No. 6). Order by phone 48 hours in advance: 202-246-0045. $10 for a nine-inch pie, $12 for a deep-dish version.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
Dangerously Delicious Pies is known for its rich and filling chess pies, which call for butter and/or cream and a crust that’s often brushed with butter or egg wash. For its selection of vegan fruit pies, however, the Baltimore-based company came up with an egg-free crust recipe. The result is an almost crackerlike crust — instead of the flakier version on the non-vegan pies — that’s dusted with sugar.
The star of the vegan pies is the sweet fruit filling, which rotates seasonally. This time of year, there’s usually blackberry, sour cherry and blueberry, which gets some zing from lemon zest. The real winner, though, is the crowd-pleasing mixed berry pie. Don’t tell your friends it’s vegan — what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
Dangerously Delicious Pies: 1339 H St. NE, 202-398-7437; and 675 I St. NW, 202-450-1292. www.dangerouspiesdc.com. $30 for a whole pie; $6.50 per slice.
— Fritz Hahn
Crack Pie, from the wildly popular, just-opened-in-Washington Milk Bar , is a bit hard to classify. It’s kind of sweet, kind of salty, with a soft, gooey filling that gives way to a chewy, slightly hearty crust made with ground oat cookies. Like pretty much every other interestingly offbeat treat at the bakery, it’s the brainchild of owner, founder and Springfield, Va., native Christina Tosi. Milk Bar describes the dessert as “gooey butter cake meets chess pie.” We’ll add that there are definite notes of toffee and butterscotch, too. Crack Pie gets its name for how addictive many people find it, but it’s not a cheap habit. Not to worry, though. If you just can’t get enough, you can find Tosi’s recipe all over the Internet — including on Milk Bar’s own Web site.
Milk Bar, 1090 I St. NW. 855-333-6455. www.milkbarstore.com. $44; $5.50 per slice.
— Becky Krystal