Pie is home. Pie is comfort and consistency, when life is anything but. I’ll take pie in any form: the crimped-edge, single-crusted oculus splendor, the vented double-crusted surprise, and even the lowly hand pie, with all the adult pop-tart binge baggage that comes along with it. And sure there’s a dark side to this obsession. My penchant for flaky crusts and sweet fillings has lead to undesirable trips to the tailor (I’m talking to you, skinny jeans), a couple of “I don’t feel so good” upset stomach moments, some unintentional excitement in the dentist’s chair (though causality or correlation has yet to be substantiated to my satisfaction), and innumerable half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.
The whole sordid affair began with a “sliver”. “Sliver” is a storied word in the familial lore on my father’s side of the family. We did not coin it. We do not claim its etymological origins. But it does have a particularly special meaning to us. It’s sort of a hereditary trait, perhaps a genetic disorder, pronounced over and over again through the generations. It may also have something to do with our Catholic upbringing and the inherent feelings of guilt and penance that the religion engenders in its acolytes.
Now, my family loves to eat. No, really, we do. But we also feel ambivalent (yes, in that uniquely Catholic sense) when we overindulge. Enter the word “sliver”. It works like this: You tell yourself, I won’t take a WHOLE piece, I’ll just take a “sliver”. But the heart wants what the heart wants, as they say. And so you have another “sliver” and another “sliver” and another “sliver”. Eventually, you’ve eaten three pieces of pie and you’re thinking about the next time you have to go to confession. Or therapy. Or both.
A famous incident in my youth still occasionally pops up, to my horror, as conversation fodder over family meals. Believe it or not, I was an inordinately skinny child (don’t let the contradictory visual evidence in our posts confound you). It didn’t matter how much I ate, I simply never put on weight. And like most children with extremely elevated metabolisms, I was constantly, insatiably hungry. What I remember most about my childhood is an acute feeling of deprivation. I was the type of kid who finished my plate, as well as three helpings of sides, and, to my parents’ astonishment, still managed to reach — Shaun of the Dead zombie-style — for that last piece of chicken at the dinner table.
The incident in question occurred the night after Thanksgiving. My mother and late grandmother — indisputably the most dedicated and prodigious cooks I’ve ever known — had prepared a feast. Inevitably, there were plenty of leftovers. In particular, I recall the last, untouched, hermetically-sealed apple pie sitting in the refrigerator.
Late the very next night, I crept from my bedroom, long after everyone had gone to bed, propelled by the hunger pangs of a predator seeking his flaky-crusted prey. In the overwhelming silence and near absolute darkness, I drew open the silverware drawer and made off with the desired tools: a knife and a fork. Next, I made my way, ninja-style, to the refrigerator and pried open the door, a glaring blade of light slicing through nothingness. I removed my prize, closed the door and placed the pie on the counter, standing quietly, waiting for my eyes to adjust.
Shortly thereafter, I began with a “sliver”, then another and another and another. Vaguely, somewhere in my pie-intoxicated brain, I knew I’d get caught, but I convinced myself that perhaps my father or one of my brothers would be suspected. (I hoped it would be Chris, to be honest, as I was still sore that he had absconded with me and my elder brother’s Easter baskets one year.)
But alas, the very next day the finger was squarely pointed at me from the jump. The physical evidence — flakes that had fallen from my shirt into my bed — was overwhelming. And when confronted with the evidence of my crime, what was my response? I said, It was JUST a “sliver”. Unfortunately, that’s not much of a defense for eating half a pie in the middle of the night.
So now that I’ve confessed my long sordid love affair with all things pie, I feel uniquely qualified to offer a few personal recommendations. As you know, dear reader, Thanksgiving (or as I refer to it, Pie Season) is upon us. To usher in this baked-goodness extravaganza, I will here impart my favorite pies from around the city for your edification.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Brooklyn, NY
Hands down, the best pie I’ve ever tasted. Period. This is the Everest Summit of pies in the five boroughs. They have an incredible selection, and you simply can’t go wrong, but it would be a criminal not to mention my partiality for the Salty Honey, Lemon Chess and Black Bottom Oat. Go there. Eat everything.
Bread’s Bakery, Union Square, New York, NY
Now, everything’s good in this acclaimed bakery, from the bread to the pastries to the quiche. But everyone knows the star of the show is the award-winning Chocolate Babka. So what if I tell you that they make a Chocolate Babka pie for Thanksgiving? Whaaaat????!!!!! Yep. I won’t even bother telling you why you should place your order for this immediately, but I will double dare you to just eat a “sliver”. Goo-ood luck!
Petee’s Pie Company, Lower East Side, New York, NY
I remember, vividly, my first experience here. I was walking along, minding my own business, when a smell wafted out of a nearby door, and I stopped dead in my tracks. While I cannot vouch for the rest of their pies — though it’s a solid bet they are delicious — the Salty Chocolate Chess is incredible. I’m not exaggerating when I say that someone — probably your mother — will be very disappointed in you if you don’t buy a slice and give it a go.
Two Little Red Hens, Upper West Side, New York, NY
This right here is a classic, no-frills bakery: old school cake cases, pie stands, hefty glass cookie jars and the requisite odd collection of glazed ceramic hens. But don’t let its garishly folksy atmosphere throw you, there’s amazing pie to find at this uptown shop. I’m partial to their fruit pies, especially their exceptional Strawberry Rhubarb when it’s in season. If you’re in the neighborhood, a slice and a cup of joe is an absolute must.
Baked, Red Hook, Brooklyn NY and Tribeca, New York, NY
Known for their baked goods and custom-made cakes, it would be outrageous to ignore the pies. I particularly love their Chocolate Bourbon Pecan and Pumpkin varieties.
Mah Ze Dahr, West Village, New York, NY
Before the recent grand opening of their brick-and-mortar location, you could only get your hands on their pastries by ordering online or over the phone or by visiting one of their partner locations. And I may have been one of their greatest advocates. Between their acclaimed Brioche Doughnuts, delectable Dark Chocolate Brownies or incredible Lemon Ricotta Bread, you’re a winner with any choice. But my absolute favorite is one of their decadent hand pies. The Banana Nutella or the recent seasonal offering, Spiced Pear and Apple, are mind-blowingly delicious. Pick some up. Pick many of them up. Add ice cream. You’ll thank me.
Megpies Bakery, Brooklyn, NY
Billed as “artisan tarts”, these hand pies are simply highfalutin’, adult pop-tarts, down to the haphazard frosting. When you have a last minute craving and can’t go out of your way to satisfy it, these are the no-nonsense, down-and-dirty answer to your pie-lemma. They have Strawberry, Raspberry, Chocolate and, my personal favorite, Cinnamon and Brown Sugar flavors. Pop these bad boys in the toaster oven for a warm, crispy treat. You’ll never consider that childish box at the grocery ever again.
This list should give you a solid head start on prepping for the holidays. (Or your next pie crawl.) If you’ve made a pie discovery or you have a long-time favorite that isn’t listed here, we‘d love to hear about it! Find us on Instagram, G+ and Facebook, or send us an email. Sharing is caring.