Monday, June 27, 2011

The Best Pie in Austin

The Pie Society - Buttermilk
Pie is a scrappy, American staple. It's a recession dessert, simple, flexible and celebratory. It also looks like it's mounting an impressive comeback.

Recently I helped pull together a Pie Tasting for about 50 Austin colleagues. We collected in our biggest conference room (the one that's about to get new carpet. Oops), and lined up a dozen of the best pies going in Austin: The Pie Society, Sweetish Hill, Texas Pie Company, and Sugar Mama's Bakeshop. Coffee came courtesy of our friends at Chameleon Cold Brew, and Amy's provided the Mexican Vanilla. Killer sugar rush, #ATX style.

A couple of general findings before I get into the real results.
  1. Crust is king - Basic pie crust has essentially two ingredients - flour and butter. Flourishes may add an item or two. But how crust is handled, how the butter is integrated, how long it's chilled before baking, how thinly it's rolled - is key to making a great pie. Also good - whatever voodoo Sugar Mama's does to make the crispy butter dream that is the Triple Berry crust.
  2. Fruit wins - This is a fact. We voted. It may just be the string of triple-digit days, but given the choice of pie style, fruit beat cream by a 6 to 1 margin. Not many folks I know are going to turn down a coconut cream if it's the only thing on the table, but given the choice, looks like they'll opt for the oozing berries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream over mounds of whipped cream.
  3. The prettiest ones give a little peek - We did an informal poll on the prettiest pies, and first, second and third place were the pies with lattice top crusts (Sweetish Hill blueberry, Pie Society cherry, Pie Society strawberry-rhubarb). I'm kind of a crumble guy, myself, but looking at everything lined up, it was hard to deny the visual supremacy of the near iconic Pie Socieity Cherry.
The Pie Society - Cherry 

So there's the findings. On to the results.

Third place

Tie: Sweetish Hill Chocolate Rum Pecan and The Pie Society Strawberry rhubarb. These couldn't be more different pies. Each has it's roots in a classic, but where Sweetish Hill veers to the innovative side of things, The Pie Society is keeping it classic. Strawberry Rhubarb was stunning and had a lovely rhubarb tang against the sweet strawberries. Filling consistency is always tricky with pies - and the only point that this one lost ground was on that front, a little runnier than most of us would have liked. Chocolate Pecan was also beautiful, and pulled in the chocolate fanatics in the group. I thought it rocked, but in the end, I was unsold on the drizzle of chocolate. It's like nuts in chocolate chip cookies or raisins in bread pudding. Some people love it. It's just not the way I roll.

Second Place 

The Texas Pie Company Chocolate Fudge. No question that this was a tasty desert, that it rocked the Mexican Vanilla, that it sliced as easy as a, well, brownie. Because, truth be told, that's what it was. A giant brownie in a pie crust. At first, I dismissed it as gimmick, but this was a damn good brownie in a damn good crust. Populist win for second place.

First Place
Best Pie in Austin

Sugar Mama's Triple Berry. There were a lot of really good pies for the taking, but the top spot was pretty lonely for the Triple Berry, which took nearly 70% of the votes for best pie, and 80% of the votes for best crust. No argument from me on this one. I'm a die hard triple berry fan, have been for ages, and this full size pie took all the jammy cobbler-like goodness of the mini one Sugar Mama's has in the case, multiplied it by 50, topped it with ice cream and made an entire room of corporate denizens a little weak in the knees. People who didn't like pie loved this pie. People who had given up sugar, given up gluten loved this pie. This is crazy pie.

I have no idea if Pie is a trend that's going to stick, no idea if Sugar Mama's mini-pies or The Pie Society's Crimps will streak past cakeballs to steal the mighty cupcake thunder, but I hope they do. I love that some of the best bakers in town are turning their prodigious talents to the humble pie. If there's a time to think about our history, Independence Day is a good one. And if there's a food to eat while thinking about it, it's a slice of pie.

Sugar Mama's - Triple Berry w/Amy's Mexican Vanilla
Side note: Our friends (and rock-star talented bakers) at The Pie Society were recently selected to provide pies for "A Christmas Affair" in Austin. Big show. Lots of pie. As a startup, this kind of volume doesn't come easy. They've turned to innovative micro-funding site KickStarter to raise funds for the big effort. Go ahead and check it out. Tell 'em Grubbus sent you.

More pictures are up on the Grubbus Facebook page


natalie said...

I'm weak in the knees just thinking about that triple-berry pie.


Unknown said...

Together with that recipe for Chuy's-style Jalepeno Cream sauce you posted? Trouble. Nothing but trouble.

Love TheFirstKitchen - neat idea, beautiful pics.

South Austin Foodie said...

Delicious (non-fattening, I am sure!) and what FUN! Thanks for the great investigation! :)

christyluv said...

Think we can talk Whitney into a Pie Bus tour?? Further research needed!!!

Unknown said...

Thanks guys! Christy - Absolutely. For pie, though, I think we need a frillier bus. The whole no windows/stripper pole/lone star beer vibe more of a meat thing than a pie thing.

Jodi said...

OMG I ordered their cherry pie and it was as delicious as it is gorgeous!

Unknown said...

Would love for you to try Tiny Pies. Let us know how to send you a sample.

Unknown said...

I would love to drop you a sample of Tiny Pies to try....please let me know how to contact you.

Unknown said...

Would love for you to try Tiny Pies. Let us know how to send you a sample.


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