Round America Trip – Pie Report

This is a report about the best and worst pie we’ve eaten…and assorted pie stories.

Click here for a complete list of the pies eaten and the ratings.

Summary

The idea for our trip originated in 2000.  I proposed to Barbara that we go on “The Pie Trip” — just take off and travel the country and “eat pie.”  We would go on the backroads and eat in cafes and diners where the locals eat (where they always have pie) and just learn about the places we go and the people we meet.  We would write a book about the experience.  We became busy with business and a move to Atlanta, and the trip was postponed.  We were more than a little disappointed when we discovered a book titled American Pie published in 2002 that had a strikingly similar concept and a great name.

We modified our plans somewhat — choosing to make pie a part of the “Round America” trip but not the sole focus.  Rather than traveling randomly, we decided to visit every state, and we carefully researched the itinerary.  We remained committed to eating pie in as many places as possible, but we planned to do much more.  As we met with reporters and folks along the way who learned about the plans for our book (printed on the back of our business cards: “We’ll write about the places we go, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat”), we began discussing pie more and more, and we became even more intent on finding the Best Pie in America.

Prior to Hawaii, we had eaten 167 pies in 136 days.  That’s a lot of pie.  I drove through Toledo as fast as possible and refused to step on a scale, but I am sure I gained at least 20 pounds on the trip.  I did, however, enjoy every minute of it.  I’ll try to remember just how much fun it was as I try to lose the weight.

Prior to Hawaii, we had consumed 103 different types of pie.  We did our best to try new pies every chance we had, but that was the luck of the draw.  Bozzie Jane loves Coconut Cream Pie, and she wasn’t always as interested in trying new pies as she was enjoying her favorite dessert, so we downed 9 pieces of Coconut Cream Pie on the trip.  Only Apple Pie topped Coconut Cream in the totals — enjoyed 13 times.  6 Peach Pie and 4 Peach Cobbler; 6 Cherry Pie; 5 Key Lime; 4 Raspberry Pie; and 4 Banana Cream (my favorite type of pie).

We will update these totals to add Hawaii to the count as soon as the trip ends on August 26.  Halfway through the Hawaii trip, two Hawaii Pies have made the Top 10!

Overall, we can report that American pie is very good.  Most of the pies we consumed were quite good.  There were only a couple of bad ones.  The Best Pie in America is the Raspberry Pie at Dutch Mother’s Restaurant in Lynden, Washington.  The Worst Pie in America is the Blueberry(less) Pie at the Northside Cafe in Winterset, Iowa.

The Best Pie in America

Ten places had pie that we considered excellent.  Five of the ten had been recommended to us, while five pie places were simply cafes, a restaurant, a diner, and a quick lube shop that just happened to catch our eye.  These pies are truly exceptional.  We know; we tasted 167 pies in five months.

It’s a shame that we can’t rate each of these pies as the Best Pie in America, because each was different.  In fact, we will be awarding plaques to each of these restaurants, and they will read “Best Butterscotch Pie in America,” etc.  When you find yourself in any of these towns, do yourself a favor, and make a point to go to these restaurants to eat pie.

  1. Raspberry Pie — Dutch Mother’s Restaurant — Lynden, Washington

This is the Best Pie in America!  Absolutely the very best we had.  Huge raspberries (the size of big strawberries) in a tasty slightly-congealed filling with a wonderful shortbread crust that was truly special.  It’s hard to describe as it was unlike anything else we’ve ever had.  Sweet and delicious.  We had four very good Raspberry Pies during the trip, but this pie was SO MUCH BETTER that it was clearly the Best Pie in America.  It’s the one pie that we’ve kept thinking we wished we had more to enjoy.  We enjoyed three slices of pie at Dutch Mother’s, and each was excellent.  The Bumbleberry Pie ranks 11th — making Dutch Mother’s the only restaurant to have two of the Best Pies in America.  Day 97.  Rating: 97.

  1. Key Lime Pie — Harry and the Natives — Hobe Sound, Florida

Wonderful Key Lime Pie — by far the best we’ve ever eaten!  It’s hard to distinguish one key lime pie from the next, but Harry and the Natives simply makes it better than everyone else.  The crust was especially good — a traditional pie crust rather than a graham cracker crust.  It had a meringue rather than whipped cream, and the texture was fluffy rather than dense.  This pie held the #1 spot for 92 days until we reached Dutch Mother’s.  Harry and the Natives certainly wins the Best Place to Eat Pie award as it is a delightfully funny and entertaining place.  We enjoyed this pie with a Coke for breakfast on the fifth day of the trip Round America.  Day 5.  Rating: 96.

  1. Banana Heaven — Blue Heaven — Key West, Florida

This was not a pie; it was a dessert.  From what we could tell, the chef starts with bananas, butter, rum, and brown sugar, and the bananas are sautéed in that concoction.  The hot bananas and syrup mixture is then poured over a delicious banana bread, and if that isn’t enough, homemade vanilla ice cream is scooped onto the side.  The sticky, crunchy hot sauce was incredible.  It was OUT of this world, and so rich that we barely made a dent in it.  Fabulous dessert!  Bozzie Jane says it is the best dessert she has ever eaten anywhere anytime.  She would have ranked it #1, but we didn’t since it wasn’t actually a pie.  Day 8.  Rating: 95.

  1. Caramel Apple Raisin Pie — Plaza Restaurant — Santa Fe, New Mexico

We saw two police cars in front of the Plaza Restaurant in Santa Fe, and the officers confirmed that it was an excellent place to eat.  It is always a good idea to eat where you see multiple police cars.  The Plaza Restaurant has been serving since 1918.  Delicious blend of fresh apples with cinnamon, caramel, and raisins in a great crust — served hot with homemade vanilla ice cream.  The combination was wonderful.  Quite a treat!  Day 35.  Rating: 94.

  1. Apple Dumpling — Blues City Cafe — Memphis, Tennessee

The Blues City Cafe is a cafe on Beale Street in Memphis.  I went in for dinner as I wanted to eat a Barbequed Bologna Sandwich.  The bologna was only offered for lunch, so I ordered the full slab of ribs that I saw most folks eating.  Chef Myron Johnson told me he had a killer dessert, so despite the huge order of ribs and fries, I had the Apple Dumpling Dessert.  It was tremendous.  Fresh apples cooked in a dumpling crust, smothered with a wonderful secret sauce.  Served hot in a skillet with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Day 43.  Rating: 93.

  1. Butterscotch Pie — Rogers Restaurant — Lexington, Kentucky

Rogers Restaurant was one of the many pie stops that we made because of a recommendation from the folks at our hotel.  Chuck Ellinger, owner of Rogers Restaurant, just smiled when I asked about their pie.  The restaurant was packed with locals, and those who overheard our conversation were singing the praises of the pie.  Margaret then brought me a big piece of Butterscotch Pie – hot…right out of the oven.  It was really, REALLY good.  The butterscotch filling had a consistency a little lighter than key lime pie, great crust, and wonderful meringue topping.  I’d never eaten Butterscotch Pie before, and now I will eat it every chance I get.  Day 59.  Rating: 92.

  1. Mango Snow Cone — Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand — Escobares, Texas

The story of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand is one of my favorite stories from the entire trip.  I began seeing one snow cone stand after another in the small towns that I passed through in the south.  It seems that small towns often cannot support a DQ or a drive-in snack bar, so many of these little towns have snow cone stands.  I took photos of a few that I saw in the first two weeks of the trip.  On Day 16, I saw an especially colorful one with an American flag straw coming out of the top, and I put the car into U-turn mode (something that usually happened 30 or 40 times a day on the trip).  I pulled up to Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand in the little town of Escobares, Texas for a quick photo.  A man came running up to me wanting to know what I wanted.  I explained that I just wanted to take a photo of his stand.  He proudly announced that they had done all the work on it themselves.  He also showed me his very colorful and attractive umbrellas, and explained how they were made, but I couldn’t understand his heavy Spanish accent or the words he used.  At this point, we shook hands and exchanged names; he was Freddy Escobar of Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stand.  Freddy asked if I wanted anything, and I said I’d love a Coke.  He replied: “Snow Cone?” And I said, “Sure, give me a snow cone!”  He asked: “Flavor?”  I replied: “Grape.”  He said “Mango!”  I said, “Sure, mango it is.”  Freddy had to explain my order in Spanish to the young girl in the dark recesses of the snow cone stand who didn’t speak a word of English, and she began preparing my drink.  Her power appeared to be provided by an extension cord running from the Fast Lube shop just behind.  I can’t recall having had a snow cone since I was a child.  It took quite a while.  The window finally slid open, and out came a big Styrofoam cup filled with a mango-colored mixture with a straw and a spoon.  When I tell you my “snow cone” was AMAZING, please accept that I’m not exaggerating.  It was 94-degrees and I was thirsty, but this stuff was special.  The flavor was wonderful, but the consistency was what I couldn’t believe.  It was much better than smoothies we get that tend to be glorified Slushees.  I don’t know what was hiding in that hut, but the end result was like an ice drink with the consistency of frozen yogurt.  I think Freddy should franchise; I can see Freddy’s Fast Lube & Snow Cone Stands all across the US.  Seriously, it was really, really good, and it never melted.  While my Mango Snow Cone is not a traditional pie, this “treat” was so special that I have to rank it as one of the best “pies” on the Round America trip.  Day 16.  Rating: 91.

  1. Rhubarb Pie — Dot’s Diner — Bisbee, Arizona

Dot’s Diner is part of the Shady Dell RV Park.  Shady Dell has rare antique travel trailers available for rent.  (See www.theshadydell.com.)  The fabulous fully-restored 1957 Dot’s Diner is there, and I had Rhubarb Pie.  Waitresses Mary and Kirsten recommended it.  I’d never had rhubarb, but I now know why my Dad loves it so much.  Big hunks of fresh rhubarb in a wonderful crust.  Served really hot.  Very tangy, and absolutely delicious.  Day 21.  Rating: 91.

  1. Olallieberry Pie — Linn’s Bakery & Eatery — San Luis Obispo, California

We had lunch and pie at Linn’s Bakery and Eatery.  We had a rare pie — Olallieberry Pie — a berry created from a cross between a certain type of raspberry and a blackberry.  We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Patty Carpenter and her husband, Bill, owners of Linn’s in San Luis Obispo.  For days, folks told us to go to Linn’s for pie.  It was everything we hoped for and more.  Day 74.  Rating: 91.

  1. Marionberry Pie — Otis Cafe — Otis, Oregon

The Otis Cafe is a tiny cafe in the even tinier town of Otis, Oregon — but the Otis Cafe has received national publicity as a great place to eat.  I had a wonderful breakfast there, followed by Marionberry Pie.  Marionberries are only grown in a limited area in Oregon, so I wanted to be sure and grab a slice of Marionberry Pie the first chance I got.  It was a delicious sweet berry pie.  Great crust.  Great pie.  Day 91.  Rating: 91.

  1. Bumbleberry Pie — Dutch Mother’s Restaurant — Lynden, Washington

Dutch Mother’s is the only restaurant to have two of the A-rated pies.  (See Pie #1 above — the Best Pie in America.)  The Bumbleberry Pie was a mixture of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  Delicious locally-grown fruit in a wonderful crust.  We couldn’t eat all of this pie at the restaurant, so I polished it off later that night, and it was even better when I wasn’t trying to compare it to the Raspberry Pie.  If we had eaten this pie at another time and in another place, I suspect we would have ranked it even higher.  Dutch Mother’s can just flat do pie!  Day 97.  Rating: 90.

Special Pie Places

Blue Springs Cafe — Highland, Illinois:  I discovered the Blue Springs Cafe when I saw a small sign that advertised “Mile High Pie.”  I had to go.  I walked in and saw a dozen pies that appeared to be 12-inches high or higher!  Absolutely the most impressive pie display that we saw on the trip.  And the staff was great.  I met them all, and we had a grand time.  They cut thin slices of six different pies for me to taste.  They were all good.

Betty’s Pies — Two Harbors, Minnesota:  We heard about Betty’s Pies from as far away as the Grand Canyon and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Betty’s probably sells more pies each day that there are residents in Two Harbors.  It’s an amazing success story.

Pie-O-Neer Cafe — Pie-Town, New Mexico:  I drove 600 miles to eat pie in the town named Pie-Town.  (See the story below.)

Twede’s Restaurant — North Bend, Washington:  Twede’s is the restaurant that was the Double R Cafe in the TV series “Twin Peaks.”  The Cherry Pie is the best-known pie in the country as it was mentioned virtually every week during the run of the program.

Mystic Pizza — Mystic, Connecticut:  Pizza pie rather than dessert pie, but it was a treat to eat pizza in the restaurant “that made the movie famous.”

North Dakota State Fair — Minot, North Dakota:  The Lutheran Women make great pie.  We were disappointed there wasn’t a Pie Contest of some type.  Bozzie Jane and I figure we would make excellent judges at state fairs across America.

Harry and the Natives — Hobe Sound, Florida:  Wacky atmosphere.  We were just driving down the A1A (the highway that runs north/south along the Atlantic Ocean for much of the way through the state) near Jensen Beach, Florida the morning of Day 5.  We weren’t expecting to see much for a while as our list of attractions was rather short until we got further south, so we were just scanning the roadway (mainly looking for speed limit signs, I’m afraid — after the speeding ticket on Day 3) when I saw a giant robot – probably 40-feet tall.  I made one of my now-patented U-turns, and we found ourselves in the wacky parking lot of “Harry and the Natives” in Hobe Sound, Florida.  We weren’t sure what it was at first, but we saw a lot of people coming in and out, and we soon realized it was a bar/restaurant.  The “yard” was filled with an assortment of wacky things, and the front of the restaurant had funny signs and odd décor.  The interior was even better – hats stapled to the ceiling, lots of funny signs, and an incredible assortment of eclectic stuff.  The rest rooms really are outside in “out” houses.  Boz ordered eggs and orange juice, but I felt Key Lime Pie and a Coke was the appropriate breakfast for Harry’s.  What a great place!

Ben & Jerry’s Factory — Waterbury, Vermont:  While not exactly “pie,” we expanded the pie category to include just about any dessert.  We love Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and it was a treat to see the factory, take the tour, and enjoy some really fresh Cherry Garcia Ice Cream.  And there really is a Flavor Graveyard.

Dot’s Diner — Bisbee, Arizona:  Beautifully-restored 1957 Valentine diner in a trailer park where you can rent wonderful old travel trailers.  Like stepping back in time.

In addition to the above, we had pie at several orchards, at a cider mill, in several pie factories, from several street vendors, at a lube stop, in diners – cafes- and restaurants, at a theatre, in a winery, and brought to us by friends along the way.

The Great Pie Adventure

Day 20 was to be a big day.  I planned to detour several hundred miles out of the original path for the trip in order to see one and only one thing: Pie-Town, New Mexico.  The place got its name from a lady who baked pies for the ranchers in those parts.  It has grown over the years from one lady to where it now has a population of 60.  I learned of it several years ago when someone gave me an article about great pie, and the Pie-O-Neer Café in Pie-Town, New Mexico was featured.  A “Pie Trip” could not possibly be valid without a visit to Pie-Town, so I carefully charted the course.  It’s literally as remote a location as is Big Bend – nothing of any consequence for 100 miles or more.  So, another adventure began as I left the UFO’s of Roswell behind in anticipation of great pie – multiple pieces of delicious pie!

I saw some surprisingly interesting towns en route.  Lincoln, New Mexico is a neat little mountain town.  Lots of history.  Buildings are restored or are being restored.  Just after noon, I got my first glimpse of snowcapped El Capitan Mountain.  10 minutes later, I was in the cute little town of Capitan.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Capitan is the home of Smokey the Bear, and he is buried there.  I stopped at the Smokey the Bear Museum.

Since I left Del Rio way down in South Texas, I had essentially been without cell phone service.  New Mexico was no better, except in Roswell.

Most states had sent me a map, but New Mexico did not get one to me before I left, so the map I got from Cody and Erica (at a gas station the night before) was very much needed.  According to the map, I was to be passing near part of the White Sands Missile Range.  That’s neat.  So when the sign said it was just five miles off the highway, the car just headed there automatically.  I had to see it.  All of a sudden I realized where I was!  The Trinity Site – the site where the first Atomic Bomb was tested on July 16, 1945.  This was a serious deal.  I couldn’t get in to take photos, but I had fun trying.

On the road again, my next stop was Magdalena.  Never heard of it, but it is a nice little spot that is undoubtedly a small artist’s community.  Probably just a few hundred people there.  I met two nice boys, Daniel and Chris.  They were excited to have their picture taken, and then they got into the spirit of the trip and kept coming up with ideas of spots in Magdalena that I should photograph.  They followed me on bike.  I saw an Easter Egg Hunt in a park area with some great sculptures apparently done by a local artist.  I liked Magdalena.

I kept checking the map as Pie-Town didn’t appear to be getting much closer.  Then I realized there was a huge error on my Excel spreadsheet itinerary.  The number 100 was in the mileage column, but it was more like 300.  I just kept driving and driving and driving.

Pretty scenery, but you know how it is when you are mentally programmed for one thing and your system gets thrown off.  The next thing on my handy Cody and Erica map was the “National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”  I stopped to take a quick photo from a distance.  As I looked back at it in the rearview mirror, I realized what I had just passed.  THAT was The Array!  The site of the Jodie Foster movie, “Contact.”  Excellent movie!  Had I realized and known they have a video presentation, I would have driven over.

UFO’s, White Sands, and The Array.  This is adventure at its best!

A few miles down the road, I realized I had been in a big adventure for some time.  I had been looking for gas, but the little towns either had no gas stations, or they were closed.  When I hit Datil, a town printed in slightly larger, bolder letters on the map, I began to panic when the only gas station there was closed.  The last open gas station I recalled seeing was the Shell I visited 172 miles back in Capitan.  I figured I was good for about 70 miles max.  I pulled out the Cody and Erica map again to see if there was any town that had larger, bolder type anywhere near Datil.  There were no options.  The best bet looked like it was in ARIZONA – a ways past Pie-Town!  I knew I couldn’t make it that far.  I began to panic.  All I had wanted to do was eat some pie.

There were very few cars on the road.  No wonder.  There ain’t no gas.

I decided the only thing to do was keep going toward Pie-Town.  I passed the Continental Divide the first time at 5:05 pm and pulled into Pie-Town two minutes later.  That annoying “you are out of gas, buddy” light was shining for the last I don’t know how many miles.

Pie-Town is really tiny, so I had no trouble finding the Pie-O-Neer Café.  Despite the gas situation, I was so excited to see it.  I took a few photos.  Then I went up the steps, and I saw it.  “CLOSED.”  No way I have driven 300 miles or so to eat pie and have Pie-Town’s pie café closed.  Devastated was not the right word.

I knocked on the door.  A nice lady came.  They had just closed at 5.  I told her I had driven 5,500 miles to eat pie there, and I gave her my card and pulled the photocopy of the article out of my notebook to show her I was telling the truth.  She let me in.  They had just a few pieces of pie left.  I had Apple Walnut Raisin and Peach.  Very good!  I met the owner, Kim Bruck.  She and three brothers moved there from Chicago, so Pie-Town had grown to population 65.  She told me that Coconut Cream, Oatmeal Raisin, and Apple Crumb are her best sellers.  I told her if it were not for the fact that I was almost out of gas, I would be in pie heaven.  She gave me a free slice of pie and a little pie-shaped magnet as a gift for Bozzie.  I enjoyed talking with her, but they wanted to close up and go home, and I wanted to see if I could find a land line to call AAA to put their service to a real test – delivering gas a million miles from nowhere.  Kim and her brother told me there might be a gas station open 22 miles west – usually open until 6, but not sure about Easter Sunday.  It was 5:45, so I said a quick goodbye and I drove very fast to Quemado where I could have kissed Robert, the attendant at J&Y Auto Service, when he was still open.  If it hadn’t been for two ladies and a flat tire in a huge RV, he would have been long gone.

Life was good again.  It is a shame that gasoline detracted from the visit to Pie-Town, but thank heaven the Pie-O-Neer was even open on Easter Sunday as well as J&Y Auto Service.  I never thought I would be happy paying $2.89 per gallon, but I was.  Best gas by far.  Ain’t supply and demand grand.

Unusual Pies

Alien Pancakes — Crash Down Diner — Roswell, New Mexico:

Key Lime Pie-On-A-Stick — Key West Candy Company — Key West, Florida:

Elvis Pie — Pine Tree Restaurant — Williams, Arizona:

Grape Pie — Rosati’s Winery — Rosati, Missouri:

Caramel Concrete — Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard — St. Louis, Missouri:

Apple Fritters — Applewood Grill — Pigeon Forge, Tennessee:

Olallieberry Pie — Linn’s Bakery & Eatery — San Luis Obispo, California

Marionberry Pie — Otis Cafe — Otis, Oregon

S’More Pie — Buckeye Roadhouse — Mill Valley, California:

Cheddar Cheese Fudge — CranBerry Sweets — Bandon, Oregon:

Lemon Pie — Dining Room at Shaker Village — Pleasant Hill, Kentucky —

5-Layer Raspberry Chocolate Pie — Betty’s Pies — Two Harbor, Minnesota:

5-Layer Chocolate Mint Pie — Betty’s Pies — Two Harbor, Minnesota:

Peach Pie — Zehnder’s — Frankenmuth, Michigan:

Worst Pies in America

We hate to list some pies as the worst, but a few weren’t good, and the flipside of the Best is the Worst.

  1. Blueberry Pie — Northside Cafe — Winterset, Iowa

Blueberryless pie.  Not a very good crust with some blue jelly slapped inside.  The hamburger was good, but the pie was the worst.

  1. Creme Brulee Pie — Pie in the Sky Cafe Booth — North Dakota State Fair — Minot, North Dakota

We’d never had a creme brulee pie, so I was anxious to give it a try.  I guess there’s a reason why we’d never seen one before — just can’t be done with a pie.  And a fair, where the pies have to be made as inexpensively as possible to sell at a low price, was the last place to try an “exotic” pie.  Becky was really nice, so we hate to rate her pie as one of the worst…but we gotta call ’em as we see ’em.

  1. Apple Dumpling — Gwennie’s Restaurant — Anchorage, Alaska

Everything was poor at Gwennie’s.

  1. Pecan Pie — Fairmont Hotel — New Orleans, Louisiana

I thought it was downright criminal for one of the nicest hotels in the deep south city of New Orleans to serve a manufactured pecan pie.  It was like a packaged pie that you buy in a grocery store.  Very disappointing.

  1. Peach Cobbler — Marriott Suites — Las Vegas, Nevada

I think one should never order pie in a nice hotel in a big city.  It’s never very good.  Virtually all major chains and fancy restaurants buy their desserts frozen from a group of national dessert manufacturers.  Good pie is almost always found in local cafes and diners.

Our Methodology

We did use a system in rating the best and worst pies.   Each pie was given a numerical rating between 1 and 100.  We discussed each pie after eating.  Then each night, we gave each pie a numerical rating by looking at previous ratings for the same type of pie as well as at the ratings for other pies that we felt the pie was comparable to in terms of overall “goodness.”  We then assigned a numerical rating based upon how we felt the pie compared to others.  We left space in the early rankings so we had plenty of room for great new pies to be ranked above the first pies we ate.  Interestingly, the spread between the #1 pie and the #2 pie was just one point, but 95 days apart.

Rating food of any type is very subjective.  All of our tastebuds and likes and dislikes are different.  For example, I don’t like strawberries, so you won’t find any Strawberry Pie in our rankings, and we know there are some spectacular Strawberry Pies out there.  To compensate for our prejudices, we tried many, many pies that we would not normally choose.  We feel the system was good, though we would love to be able to taste the Top 12 side-by-side.

We recognize that we missed some great pie places and some great pies.  That’s inevitable.  We did ask many places what THEY felt was their best pie, and we usually tried that one.

We will do this again.  We’ll use the same system.  We will be awarding plaques and issuing news releases nationally as well as in the towns where we ate pie.  We hope the publicity from this initial Best Pie in America effort will cause many folks to email us to tell us great places and great pies that should be included next time.

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