Topped with whipped cream and a generous sprinkling of chocolate shavings, the chocolate cream pie at Kyle's Texas Pie Company takes dessert to new heights. (Photo by Alberto Martinez)

Topped with whipped cream and a generous sprinkling of chocolate shavings, the chocolate cream pie at Kyle’s Texas Pie Company takes dessert to new heights.  (Photo by Alberto Martinez)

The American Pie Council—Dutiful guardian of all things pie—has graciously given us an official occasion to indulge by designating Jan. 23 as National Pie Day.

I’ve been pondering pie lately and why it, perhaps more than any other food, is so endearing. Pie somehow takes us back, like old songs do, to some fine moment worth recalling. And why, I wonder, does it seem as if pie has become the cool kid on the dessert block … again? Trendy or not, pie satisfies our sweet tooth and carries us on an evocative journey for those “remember when” moments. It deserves its own day.

You can join the celebration by baking your own pie, since it’s easy as, well, pie. Or consider your options: Plenty of pie purveyors have perfected the art of creating sweet comfort by the slice.  A good pie, after all, is like a hug. The better the pie, the bigger the embrace. I recently went looking for full-on-tackle hugs—the ultimate pies—and found them.

Walking into Texas Pie Company in Kyle, a seductive pie-crust aroma greets me. With my eyes closed, I inhale deeply and can almost taste the flaky layers. I open my eyes to temptation—an all-star cast of crusted wonders, including strawberry-peach, chocolate cream, Key lime, and Almond Joy pies.

Texas Pie Company owner Julie Albertson, who has used her grandmother’s recipes since opening the shop in 1986, confirms that pie is cool again. “Pies taste like home, and people seek that comfort when times are rough,” she says. “Baking is like performance art, and it still amazes me on a daily basis. If you’re happy in the kitchen, it comes across in the food.” Customers’ euphoric reactions to her creations are the equivalent of applause. I offer a well-deserved standing ovation for the ample, not-too-sweet fillings in the pies I sample, including a superb strawberry-rhubarb version. The crust is golden, buttery, and flaky, with a hint of cinnamon— the perfect foundation for a spectacular pie—and among the best I’ve tasted.

While tradition is key when it comes to pie, there’s room for exploring new flavors, tinkering with portions (mini/personal pies are all the rage), and introducing sugar-free alternatives.

Roger Arias, owner of Earl Abel’s restaurant, an institution in San Antonio since 1933, says the recipes for his establishment’s made-from-scratch pies haven’t changed over the decades. And I can attest to the timeless appeal of his renditions of silky Key lime pie—topped with slices of fresh lime—and maple-pecan pies. For customers who can’t eat sugar, Arias’ team has formulated sugar-free versions—like their popular coconut meringue pies—that do not compromise flavor. “You cannot taste the difference,” he assures me.

Further proof that pie is cool, the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls and the Texan Cafe in Hutto celebrate “pie happy hours”—goodness at a discounted price. At the Texan Cafe, I treat myself to a delicious slice of cherry cordial pie with layers of chocolate, cream cheese, and cherry filling blanketed by a chocolate topping. I also recommend the chocolate-toffee pie, with buttery toffee chunks in a rich, chocolate-fudge filling. Amazing. Next time, I’ll indulge in a slice of towering “high” apple pie, stacked with layers upon layers of succulent apples.

For some people, pie time occurs in the wee hours. Houston’s House of Pies (two locations) is a longtime Mecca for pie-seekers, and the restaurant’s 24-hour status satisfies those late-night cravings. Always on hand are best-selling coconut cream, chocolate, and Bayou Goo pies, the latter a pecan-studded crust filled with sweet cream cheese and vanilla custard with chocolate chunks and whipped cream. The lush and fluffy coconut cream pie abounds in flavor, trumping most other versions I’ve enjoyed. It’s true that pie warms the heart, no matter what time it is—just like a hug.

From the December 2010 issue

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