It was around 11AM when I saw the sign for Pie Town. I passed by two restaurants proudly advertising their pies before settling on the Pie-O-Neer. When I walked in the place was empty, and the waitress told me that the first pies were just coming out of the oven, so it would be about fifteen minutes before the cherry pie was ready to be sliced. I told her that was fine, asked for a glass of water, and sat down at one of the many empty tables.
A couple in their sixties walked in a moment later. The waitress explained the situation, and the woman looked at her husband. “Well you want a piece of pie, don’t you?” she said as a statement. “Dang straight I want a piece of pie,” he replied with a laugh. The waitress told them they could sit anywhere, to which they replied that they were “counter people.” They always sit at the counter so it’s easy to talk with folks. I moved up to the counter to join them.
The baker, a woman named Kathy, came out to apologize for the delay. She said normally they would already have some pies out by now, but she got a late start. “It’s my Monday,” she explained, saying that they always seem to get the pies out late on Thursday mornings. Kathy was dressed in Pink from head to toe. Pink bandana to cover her hair, pink earrings, pink plaid apron, patterned pink pants. She had that slightly frazzled look that old female hippies tend to have. She reminded me of Ms. Frizzle. She kept running in and out of the kitchen to talk with us and check on the pies. Kathy was charming.
The older couple was from Lincoln, Nebraska, and seemed to be traveling a similar path as me but in the opposite direction. They were going to visit their son out west, and they explained to me that whenever they drive they always take the highways, never the interstates. I talked with them and the waitress, and told them about my trip. They all gave me tips on what to do and see in the places I was headed. Kathy came back to let us know that after the cherry pie there would be a coconut cream coming out. I opted to wait for the coconut cream, while the delegation from Lincoln opted to share a slice of cherry. As they ate, he commented on the superb nature of the pie. “You know me,” he said to his wife, “I search all over for good pie.”
“It’s a pie quest,” she added quietly.
Before they were finished the coconut cream was ready, and the waitress brought me a slice. It is important to clarify something at this time: I don’t like pie. I have never liked pie. I am a cake person. As a sweets-lover I can certainly choke one down if it’s the only available dessert, but I’ve never actively sought out a piece of pie in my entire life. There are three traits of pie that I normally have a problem with: dryness, sweetness, and cohesiveness.
- Dryness: Pie crusts always seem to be dry and flaky, and they never seem to be very sweet. I often feel like the crust is the forgotten vehicle used to deliver filling. As such, whenever I bite into it I feel like I’m eating a plate.
- Sweetness: I am rarely one to claim something is “too sweet,” but to me, pie fillings usually are. They are a different kind of sweetness. They are syrupy. I don’t like syrupy. I don’t understand why you would do something like that to perfectly good cherries.
- Cohesiveness: As a result of the two previously mentioned traits, I often find that the pie, on the whole, doesn’t make sense. In theory having something ovelry sweet next to something bland or bitter is a way of cutting one with the other. It is the basic premise behind High Tea in England. But with pie it never worked that way for me. Instead I just end up with one thing I don’t really like paired with another thing I don’t really like, and they don’t seem to go together.
Now, all of that being said: one of the promises I made to myself before I left was that I would take more culinary risks than normal, knowing that the things I don’t like at home might be very different across the country. And, it seemed that if I was ever going to enjoy a piece of pie, it would be in Pie Town. Especially a coconut cream pie fresh out of the oven.
It was the best pie of my life.
It was the pie that made me finally understand what people mean when they say the crust should be “flaky.” The cream was rich instead of syrupy, and the whole thing made sense. Like it was an actual dessert. A very, very good dessert.
It’s been a while since Pie Town, and along the way people have asked me where my favorite place has been thus far. I tell them Pie Town. I have yet to adequately explain Pie Town to anyone, but if I could magically change the next stretch of road on my trip to be momentarily anywhere in the world, I would make it into Pie Town. I suppose it wasn’t just the place itself, but the effect it had on me. That delicious piece of pie was further proof that I should keep being adventurous and try things I don’t think I’ll like. Hearing the Lincoln couple explain that they like to sit at the counter in order to talk to people made me realize that the counter was the best place for me to be if I wanted to meet people on my journey. I haven’t sat at a table alone since. Pie Town was also the turning point in my trip and my life where I began to draw a distinction between the words “highway” and “interstate.” I too prefer highways to interstates, even if it means a longer day. It’s a better day.
Recently I was attempting to explain the glory of Pie Town to someone, and she asked if I knew the town was there when I picked that stretch of highway to drive down. I told her no, I just happened upon it. “Good,” she said, “You never would have found it if you were looking for it.”