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Life of pie: slicing into the stories behind DFW's best pies

Who has the best slice of pie in DFW?
Posted 7:02am on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012

The very thought of pie can be comforting, like the aroma of baked apples wafting back from the kitchen of your childhood.

The memories of pie are vivid. Digging into a beautifully sculpted slice can make you think of late nights in college, where you and your friends had dessert and coffee and talked about, you know, stuff.

And its power should never be underestimated.

As we learned, whether it's in a homey cottage or a hipster neighborhood, pie can give people the courage they need to leave the rat race and chase their dreams. Or, when life hands them lemons, it'll inspire them to make lemon meringue.

This isn't just a taste of some pie places in DFW -- it's a taste of the American spirit.

Our nominees for the DFW Pie Hall of Fame

Miz. G's House of Pies

1644 Knoxville Drive, Bedford

Slice of life: For now, Miz. G's House of Pies is just that -- a house, specifically Gazetta Anderson's Bedford home, which has been the base for her pie-delivery business for three years. But Anderson, who hopes to open a storefront location in 2013, has a long DFW pie history.

In 1983, her father owned a catfish market in Dallas, and Anderson, who was working for Texas Instruments at the time, asked if she could sell her sweet-potato pie there. "I started with 30 4-inch-size pies a week," she says. "By the next month, I had gone up to 60. By the third month, it was a hundred a week." A little more than three years ago, after her third husband died, Anderson, who had been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, re-entered the work force, but wasn't finding complete satisfaction. When a friend asked her what she loved to do, she pursued her dream of opening her own pie shop -- calling a former Tarrant County College professor for advice, learning about modern business plans, joining the HEB Chamber of Commerce to network her pie business and doing whatever she could to get the word out. Business gradually took off.

Sweet inspiration: There's a reason Anderson's sweet-potato pie is called Mudea's sweet potato pie. "My grandmother had eight girls," Anderson says. "My mother's the oldest of the eight girls, and I'm the oldest granddaughter. So I did a lot of things with my grandmother, and I just loved the way she'd get in the kitchen and she'd whip up teacakes or cake or pie or whatever. She had this little bounce when she was in the kitchen, and I would watch her, and I thought, 'Wow.'"

First pie try: In 1978, Anderson had gotten married and was living in Georgia, when she decided to make a sweet-potato pie. "Oh, my god, that pie was terrible," Anderson says. "So I called my grandmother and said, 'Mudea, I was baking this pie, but it does not taste like yours. It is nasty.' So she asked me what I did and I told her I was following this recipe, and she said, 'Girl, throw that away!' And she taught me over the phone how to make sweet-potato pie."

Favorite among her pies: The sweet-potato pie started everything, but Anderson says she doesn't have a favorite. "I like pies," she says. "I like desserts."

Pie nirvana: Her Mudea's sweet potato pie. "The pecan pie is awesome, also, but everything revolves around the sweet-potato pie. That was the beginning."

Pie we tried: With all the sweet-potato pie talk, we had to order one -- and it was amazing, sweet and soft without being overpowering, with a fine traditional crust. We put it out for the office staff, and it was gone in minutes.

Order Miz. G's pies via www.mizgshouseofpies.net or call 817-217-0976. Cakes, cupcakes, cobblers and banana pudding also available. $5-$10 delivery charge. Free delivery on orders of $100 or more within a 20-mile radius.

Which slices stood out? We'll fill you in

Emporium Pies

314 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas

Slice of life: The emphasis is on quality over quantity at this buzz-generating Oak Cliff pie palace, which opened at the beginning of September. The menu consists of pies and only pies, available whole or by the slice, with four pies on the permanent menu and three seasonal ones that change every few months. Mary Sparks is the pie baker; Megan Wilkes does the business side of things. "I had never made a pie till about last August," says Sparks, who graduated from UNT with a degree in hospitality management, and quickly became involved with Emporium Pies. "I've always loved to bake. I used to enter contests, I did wedding cakes and things like that, I worked in a bakery for awhile to make sure it's what I wanted to do, and I loved it." A friend connected Sparks with Wilkes, who had mentioned that she thought a pie shop would be a fun thing to do. They hit it off and started searching for a pie shop, working out of rental kitchens and small grocery stores to get a feel for a good location. They got their greatest response from Dallas' happening Bishop Arts District, with Sparks developing recipes while Wilkes oversaw renovation of a house into a storefront on Bishop Avenue. Even the address -- 314 -- has a little bit of "pi" in it.

Sweet inspiration: "Nobody in my family loves to bake except for me," Sparks says. "When I moved out of my parents' house when I started college, I really wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies, and they tasted like crap. I was really frustrated that I couldn't make 'em, so I became determined to make the best chocolate chip cookies possible. Once I started doing that, I really got into it, and I loved the challenge." Once she mastered one item, she went to another, adding her creative spin as she went along -- which you can find in Emporium pies such as the Smooth Operator, a French silk pie with a pretzel crust. "I think of things that people love that aren't necessarily pies, like chocolate-covered pretzels, and try to make them into pies," Sparks says.

First pie try: An apple pie -- which was not the same as the deep-dish apple "Lord of the Pies" that Emporium sells now. "I did a lot of research first," Sparks says. "I never went to culinary school, but I have a lot of culinary-school textbooks. So I read a lot of those, I watched a lot of YouTube videos, I read a lot of reviews of recipes, and I went in and tried on my own. And it's a lot of trial and error. But once you make a few mistakes and know what you're working with and what doesn't, you can create your own thing."

Favorite among her pies: "It changes, but right now my favorite is the Merry Berry that we're doing for the Christmas season. It's a cranberry pie, and the bottom half of it has cranberries and sugars and pecans and almost resembles a cobbler, and it balances the sourness and bitterness of the cranberries really well. The top layer is kind of a mixture between a sugar cookie and a chess pie, so it's like a sugar cookie mixed with a cranberry cobbler." This description made our eyes roll into the back of our heads; fortunately, the pie will be available till March.

Pie nirvana: The pecan pies that her family would have during the holidays, which was the only pie her mother and grandmother made.

Pie we tried: The Drunken Nut, a bourbon-pecan pie with a shortbread crust. It's available by the slice, but we were tempted to eat it whole in one sitting. Yes, you can detect the bourbon, but it's the sweetness of the filling and the perfection of the chopped pecans that make this Emporium's most popular pie.

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Pies are $5 a slice; $30 whole, available for pickup only. 469-206-6126; www.emporiumpies.com.

Texas Harvest Pie Company

124 S. Main St., Keller

Slice of life: Baker/co-owner Lea Anne Bray-Salinas and her husband, Leo, got out of real-estate-related careers and started a bakery in a historic little house in Old Town Keller. Muffins, cobblers, quiches and sandwiches are also available, but this place has pie in its name, and the pies (which vary from day to day) include fruit, nut, cream and classic varieties. "I've sort of done this my whole life, just played around with baking," says Bray-Salinas, who opened Texas Harvest Pie in 2010. Pies are available in-store and by the slice, but ordering ahead is still a good idea.

Pie inspiration: "[My grandmother] was an excellent, old-fashioned cook," says Lea Anne. "But she did not really have recipes. She did everything 'handful of this and a pinch of that.' It was just seeing all of her beautiful pies and sweet rolls and breads and everything that she used to do. She would always just try to make everybody's favorite, and it made everybody feel so happy." Those memories stuck with her.

First pie try: Lemon meringue. "It was my mother's favorite pie. I was a teenager, and it was a big endeavor, because it's kind of a difficult pie to do. But it turned out pretty good. My mom enjoyed it. She said she loved it."

Favorite among her pies: "I really like a lot of pies, and I kind of switch my favorites. I love the cherry-peach, and I like the lemon chess, the buttery rich, lemony pie. And I love the buttermilk. I'm always surprised every time I have a little piece of buttermilk, and go 'Oh, yeah, this is really good.'"

Pie nirvana: Bray-Salinas says she doesn't tend to eat pie when she goes out because she has so much of it around at her own place. "I love cherries jubilee," she says. "It's my favorite dessert, and hardly anybody makes that."

Pie we tried: The buttermilk, and we're with her on this one: One slice of the sweet, creamy pie and we were going, "Oh, yeah, this is really good."

8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Whole pies $18. 817-337-0701. www.texasharvestpieco.com.

Black Rooster Bakery

2430 Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth

Slice of life: This neighborhood bakery is known for its great bread, created by owner Marche Ann Mann, but it also has a display case full of drool-inducing pastries, including full pies and mini pies. The head pie-baker is Amanda Birk, who has been baking since she was 9. "I was in 4-H and I competed in food shows, so I've had a passion since then," Birk says. "I wanted to go to culinary school, and I baked up till that point, went to culinary school and started my career." She has been at Black Rooster for a year -- and had really only done pies for holidays till then.

Sweet inspiration: Birk's grandmother was a purist pie-maker. "She used to bake pumpkin [for her pies] and not use canned pumpkin puree," Birk says. "She used to bake a pumpkin and mash it all up for her pumpkin pies, so that was really cool."

First pie try: Buttermilk. "I remember the flavor, and if I smell the aroma -- if our buttermilk pie is baking, the aroma is similar. It takes you back."

Favorite among Black Rooster's pies: "I love the cherry," Birk says. "But I'm a big cake person."

Pie nirvana: "I rate places by their coconut meringue." So who has the best in DFW? "Probably here," she says with a laugh. "I'm very particular about my meringue."

Pie we tried: Cherry mini pie with a beautiful lattice pattern and a good tart-sweet flavor. Perfect for two people to share (or one hungry guy to hog all by himself).

7 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. $8-$30 depending on pie size. 817-924-1600; blackroosterbakery.com.

Sugar & Frosting

126 Taylor St., Keller

Slice of life: Sugar & Frosting co-owner Melody Fitzgerald has some pretty good cred for someone running a modest cupcake-and-sweets shop on a side street in Old Town Keller: She's a former pastry chef at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, where she worked under James Wagner and Dean Fearing. If that's not enough for you, she created Julia Child's 88th birthday cake while working in New England. She returned to DFW, where she worked as a pastry chef and design consultant, before opening up Sugar & Frosting in 2011. Fitzgerald also co-owns Southern Breeze Market Cafe, just a couple of blocks away on Olive Street.

Sweet inspiration: "My grandmother and I used to cook in the kitchen all the time. She'd let me try recipes [and] test recipes in her kitchen when I was little. That's how I started. Then growing up, I was not particularly athletic, so when I'd try things and it wouldn't go very well, my mom and I would always bake cookies, so [baking] has always been kind of a go-to for me."

First pie try: "I remember pies being very special to my family, specifically the lemon meringue pie that my grandmother made."

Favorite among her pies: "I can't turn down a piece of the apple crumb. It's super-good. It's a good breakfast."

Pie nirvana: "Y'know, it used to be Tippin's in Arlington. They closed down. But all throughout high school and early college, that was the place and it was the French silk."

Pie we tried: Fitzgerald's chocolate chess, which had a cracked, brownie-like top that led into some of the richest chocolate pie filling we've ever tasted. Dizzyingly good.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Whole pies $18.50; pie pops $2.75, $29 per dozen; mini pies $4, $45 per dozen. 817-562-2500; www.sugarandfrosting.com.

Stir Crazy Baked Goods

106 E. Daggett Ave., Fort Worth

Slice of life: This small shop is an oasis amid warehouses a block south of Vickery Boulevard near downtown Fort Worth. Owner Robbie Werner had been selling her wares at Avoca Coffee on Magnolia Avenue for several months before opening this storefront in late 2011. "This wasn't a lifelong dream," Werner says with a laugh. "My mom is a great baker, and I grew up with her in the kitchen. She did wedding cakes on the side when she was a nurse. So I watched her do that, and when it was my turn to have a family and bake the birthday cakes and things like that, I wanted to do everything from scratch." Werner started experimenting, and that turned into baking for co-workers and friends, which evolved into her having her own bakery. Werner says her specialty is cake, and cupcakes are readily available, but she enjoys pies (which have to be ordered in advance).

Sweet inspiration: "My Aunt Linda has the best pie crust around, and she makes a fantastic strawberry-rhubarb that everybody craves at home.... My mother-in-law makes pies at Christmastime. She's very well-known for her buttermilk pie, so we do that a lot in the bakery. None of the pie recipes are my own. They all come from family."

First pie try: "My first pie that I made, I made for Avoca Coffee. It was a disaster. I think I cried over three pies before I got a good one. At first I said, 'I'm never doing pies again,' but then something sparked and I thought, 'I've got to keep going till I get really good at this.' It was a challenge."

Favorite among her pies: "My favorite pie is my apple-cranberry. That's one that I kind of made up along the way. Second-best is the buttermilk. I made it probably six times before I ever had a bite, and so I tried it in the shop when we opened, and I was like 'Oh, my god, I absolutely love this.'"

Pie nirvana: For Werner, it's the apple pie from Tootie Pie Co., a Boerne-based company that used to have pies in Central Market. It's a 6- pound apple pie that has been featured in Southern Living magazine. If you want to try it -- and are in the mood for a road trip, unless you live in Collin County -- there are Tootie Pie Co. Gourmet Cafes at the Shops at Starwood, 6959 Lebanon Road, Suite 100, in Frisco, and at the Village at Allen, 109 E. Stacy Road in Allen (www.tootiepiegourmetcafe.com).

Pie we tried: In an adventurous mood, we went for Stir Crazy's chocolate-chili pie -- which is indeed a pie with chili powder in it. It was the most divisive pie we tried, with some of the staff loving the mix of sweetness and spicy kick, and others finding the spicy side too overwhelming. But give Werner props for chutzpah with this one. We'll be after the apple-cranberry next.

7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; order pies two days in advance. Pies $20, mini pies $33 per dozen. 682-710-2253; www.stircrazybakedgoods.com.

Artisan Baking Co.

4900 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth

Slice of life: Gwin Grimes has been working with food since 1986 -- as a chef, a baker, an author, an instructor and a consultant. In 2007, she opened the tiny Artisan Baking Co. in west Fort Worth. "It was never planned. It was just an offshoot of my teaching culinary," Grimes says. "I wanted some current business experience, so I thought I'd bake part-time for the [Cowtown] Farmers Market, and it sort of snowballed and turned into a full-time thing where I had to bake more and teach less."

Her chief pie-maker is Dennis Neighbours, whose long hair and generally hirsute looks don't exactly scream "pastry chef." Neighbours (who had worked with Grimes at the Star-Telegram) decided a couple of years ago that he wanted to start making pies for his family. "My wife said, 'You're not making pies if you don't make the crust, too,'" says Neighbours, who lives near the Cowtown Farmers Market and bumped into Grimes there. He began buying dough from her for his holiday pies, and she took him on as a part-time employee and pie-baker.

"I'm a virgin at this, really -- I haven't quite lost my cherry pie yet," Neighbours cracks. "But it's a hoot of a thing to learn, and I'm real interested in making, I don't know if I should say a 'healthy' pie, but pies without a lot of sugar."

Sweet inspiration: Grimes went to culinary school after she graduated from college, doing night school at a community college. "I ended up having this fantastic baking instructor who was a civilian baker on an Air Force base in Louisiana," Grimes says. "I took a class in pies and tarts, and we made, like, 24 of everything. I didn't start out at home making just a pie. I started out making a couple of dozen." For Neighbours, it was just another thing to learn. "I grew up in Southeast Texas, and my parents are Panhandle hicks, but my grandma was a farm wife, and she made great pies. I dream about her pie and her banana pudding."

First pie try: For Grimes, it was a chocolate meringue pie she made for her father after taking the pie class. "It was his favorite and my favorite, too," says Grimes. "I had trouble scaling down that enormous [school] recipe, so the pie was really, really good, but I realized later that I had quadrupled the amount of chocolate it needed."

Favorite among Artisan's pies: Grimes and Neighbours both say they like the no-sugar-added apple pie.

Pie nirvana: "It would be Mary [Swift's] at Carshon's [see "Pie Hall of Fame," page 12], and it would be the chocolate meringue. It's served warm, which is virtually unheard of," says Grimes. "It's my pie of choice. It's what I have instead of a birthday cake every year."

7 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m.-noon Saturday at Cowtown Farmers Market, by appointment Monday-Friday. Whole pies $20. 817-821-3124; www.artisan-baking-company.com.

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