Molten Lava Cake, Death By Chocolate, Mississippi Mudslide, Chocolate Bombe. Why are so many popular desserts named after disasters, natural or otherwise? I like a kinder, gentler type of sweet. Perhaps that's why I'm a pie kind of girl. Chess pie, grasshopper pie, shoofly pie? You have to admit it. Pie is less alarming.
But seriously, while I'm not known for my love of ultra-sugary, ultra-rich desserts, I do love a sweet punctuation mark at the end of a great meal. And I love an afternoon treat best paired with a dark cup of coffee. And I don't want to celebrate the holidays or a birthday with crudité or a cheese platter. And this is where pie comes in. Buttery, juicy, fruity, sometimes even tart, it's my one dessert weakness and the dessert of choice for many a diner with an underdeveloped sweet tooth.
So I was excited to try A Pie Stop, the specialty shop/cafe located in the strip mall behind City Diner.
A Pie Stop has a low-key charm despite its inauspicious locale. It's a bright, cheery space with a few cafe-style tables and a sign on the wall that reads: "Stress does not exist in the presence of pie." A couple of moms and their children were enjoying an after-school snack of pie and house-made ice cream. A staff member was, awesomely, handing a pie to a waiting car through a drive-up window.
I placed an eclectic order, starting with a couple of beef pasties ($7) and a Mexican pot pie ($7) -- the day's special -- for future dinners. The shop offers a different pot pie on each weekday (chicken, bacon mac and cheese, pot roast, Mexican and, on Fridays, quiche). In addition, I ordered a chocolate cream pie ($22 for a whole pie, $5 for a slice) to bring to a friend's party that I knew would be well attended by the under-12 crowd. Lastly, I ordered a plain mini-cheesecake (a bargain at $7) to bring home to my daughter, who is a cheesecake connoisseur.
Chocolate cream pie is not my pie ideal but I knew it would be a crowd pleaser. Turns out, it was also a me pleaser. Unlike the pudding-like sugar-bomb that I was expecting, it was a creamy, surprisingly subtle delight. Distinctly chocolatey and decadent, it was also restrained in the sugar department. Even the whipped cream was gently sweetened, allowing me to enjoy the texture and the flavor of the filling and the light, flaky crust. It was a pie for grown-ups despite itself. Side note: It was also a hit with the kids.
I myself make pasties pretty routinely and I was curious to compare recipes. I heated the pretty little pies up according to instructions (350 degrees for 20 minutes). This was a pretty classic version -- beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and (I think) parsnips. The beef was a bit chunkier than I'm used to; cut into stir-fry sized slices instead of finely minced. I would have liked a smaller dice because the meat was a bit tough, requiring the knife-and-fork treatment rather than an easy-to-eat hand pie. Also, I felt the dish was not as seasoned as I would have liked; a dash of salt and Worcestershire solved this. However, the dish was comforting and wholesome. It tasted like home cooking, not take-out, and I felt relatively virtuous feeding it to my family.
The mini cheesecake was a hit. Though it was not as smooth as I might have wished, it was light and pleasantly tangy. The generous layer of sweet crumb crust at the bottom was the perfect contrast both in flavor and texture.
The next day, I heated up the Mexican pot pie for lunch. Like the pasties, it was comforting and nourishing. However, if you associate Mexican food with spice and heat and bright, bold flavors, you'll want to re-name this pie. It's stuffed with lots of good things -- chunks of chicken, vegetables, and gently seasoned rice -- but here again, I took the seasoning into my own hands and introduced a liberal dash of heat courtesy of Tabasco. Though a bit bland, it made a filling, pleasing meal and I felt satisfied, not weighed down, after I ate it. That said, this is a generous portion and one would do nicely for two diners with, perhaps, a salad.
On my second visit, I picked up two pies, key lime and triple berry, to bring to a friend's house for Easter dinner. Fellow diners require it, so I opted for gluten-free crusts on both. The key lime was smooth and creamy with a brightly assertive citrus flavor. The scent of lime zest hinted strongly at good, fresh scratch ingredients. The sweet, graham-cracker-style crust lent balance to the limey zing of the filling. I was glad when a leftover slice made it into my car at the end of the night.
Of all the delicious things I tried from A Pie Stop, the triple berry pie is my favorite. Plump, juicy whole berries were lovingly embraced by a surprisingly light and flaky crust. The fruit tastes fresh and isn't overwhelmed by sugar, allowing the bright natural flavors to sing. That Easter morning, Anchorage was greeted by a gloomy smattering of snow. But in that triple berry pie, summer had arrived.
A Pie Stop
Hours: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday
Location: 3020 Minnesota Drive, Suite 1
Contact: 907-677-PIES (7437) and www.apiestop.com