If we are to trust the words of NPR, "cupcakes are dead" and pie is seizing the throne as the nation's new beloved dessert. Wedding magazines are declaring pie buffets to be the new wedding cake, cake-decorating classes are being replaced by pie-baking workshops, and, no stranger to narrowly focused dessert boutiques, Seattle has met the trend with a crop of specialty pie shops, offering up a slice at a time for around $4. PIE HAS ARRIVED.
Of course, sensible citizens will point out that PIE NEVER LEFT. Humans have worshipped pie since before we were born and will continue to do so long after we're dead. But pie has made the leap—fueled by whatever combination of commerce and whimsy and the flapping of butterfly wings on the other side of the globe that makes such leaps possible—from home kitchens and roadside diners to boutique cafes, with the last month bringing two new pie shops to Seattle: High 5 Pie and the simply named Pie landed on Capitol Hill and in Fremont, respectively, joining the preexisting Shoofly Pie Company in West Seattle and Seattle Pie Company in Magnolia.
Which is the best? Declaring "the best pie" is like declaring "the best cake"—it can't be done. There are too many factors to consider. Are you a crust person or a filling person? If you're a crust person, do you prefer butter or lard? How about duck fat (speaking of food trends)?
If you believe the crust is more than just a vehicle for a delicious filling, then your journey begins and ends at Magnolia's Seattle Pie Company (3111 W McGraw St, 217-4743). Its leaf-lard-based (sorry, vegetarians) dark golden-brown crust is perfectly salty, flaky, and magnificent. (Leaf lard is the highest quality pig lard available, taken from around the pig's kidneys and groin—oink!) And though the crust tastes like the harvested sweet skin of angels, Seattle Pie Company has mastered the art of not having too much of a good thing (a mistake regularly made by High 5 Pie). This crust is just thick enough to hold up to the mountain of filling, yet thin enough to fall apart into a few flaky layers with each bite.
As for fillings, Seattle Pie Company's small cafe offers up everything from traditional sour cherry to peanut butter cream, but the signature pie really is the best. The Desserted Island Pie (get it? Desserted?) is a mixture of raspberries, marionberries, strawberries, and Granny Smith apples all topped with a cinnamon- laced crumb topping. It's tart, sweet, and salty—fantastic plain, but made even better with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. (And if you're not convinced the trip to Magnolia will be worth it—though it will—Seattle Pie Company's goods are also available in several local supermarkets both whole and by the slice.)
West Seattle's Shoofly Pie Company (4444 California Ave SW, 938-0680) is another shop that does its crusts right. Unlike Seattle Pie Company, Shoofly uses an all-butter recipe, and its vast menu of flavors—featuring all the usual fruit fillings along with dark chocolate pecan, lemon meringue, and the signature Shoofly Pie (rich with molasses)—has kept it a community favorite since it opened its doors in 2007. For Shoofly, pie is not a trend but a lifestyle.
If crust means nothing to you, well, perhaps you'll appreciate the adventurous menu at the newly opened High 5 Pie (1400 12th Ave, 695-2284). Like Shoofly, it has an all-butter crust, but it is not at all remarkable. It's a bit bland, in fact, and there's too much of it, especially in the "cutie pies," which are four-bite mini pies wrought with crust in a muffin tin. As I bit into High 5's crust, not one molecule of salt sizzled on my tongue, and the fluting around the edges was tough, as though it had been overworked prior to baking. Crust is finicky—you can't mess with it too much or it will turn into a rock.
Initial tests found even High 5's fillings coming up short—the cherry almond could've benefited from an extra punch of flavor, and the sweet potato needed nutmeg or allspice. But any missteps are made up for by the coconut cream pie, with clouds of thick, pale-yellow coconut custard and homemade whipped cream piled high and topped with more toasted coconut. It's both light and creamy—heaven. High 5 also features a Froot Loops pie, which is so popular they've been sold out during all my attempts to try it.
Instead of offering pie by the slice, Fremont's Pie (3515 Fremont Ave N, 436-8590) sells handheld treats in two sizes: mini, which is about the size of your average cupcake, and mini-mini, which is a tiny and cute two-bite pie. The mini-minis are great—at only $1.50 a pop, customers can try three flavors for about the same price as a full slice at the other shops. Pie's peanut-butter-and-jelly pie (hooray!) has a crumbly peanut-butter-cookie crust with a dollop of raspberry jam in the center (which tasted almost identical to my grandmother's celebrated freezer jam, made every year with raspberries from her backyard). The key lime pie has a highly tender, all-butter crust with fantastically tart filling (though a little dab of whipped cream on top of the naked pie would've been a nice addition).
And while four pie shops might seem like too many for one city (then again, we have, what, 17 cupcake shops?), Pie is ensuring its longevity by offering something none of the others do: late-night pie! On Friday and Saturday from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., Pie serves pie from a window so you can grab some pie—savory and/or sweet!—while barhopping or on your way home from a show. Genius.