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.
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.
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.
Details: 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.
314 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas
Slice of life: The emphasis is on quality over quantity at this buzz-generating Oak Cliff pie palace. The menu consists only of 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 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. "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.
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." 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. 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.
Details: 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 house in Old Town Keller. Muffins, cobblers, quiches and sandwiches are also available, but this place has pie in its name, and the pies 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 a good idea.
Favorite among her pies: "I really like a lot of pies, and I kind of switch my favorites," Bray-Salinas says. "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."
Details: 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.
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).
Details: 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: 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 was a 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 few blocks away on Olive Street.
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.
Details: 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: 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).
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. It's a 6- pound pie that has been featured in Southern Living magazine. If you want to try it, there are Tootie Pie Co. Gourmet Cafe locations at the Shops at Starwood in Frisco and at the Village at 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 overwhelming. But give Werner props for chutzpah with this one.
Details: 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.
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.
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, and it would be the chocolate meringue. It's served warm, which is virtually unheard of," says Grimes.
Details: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays (closed for the holidays until Jan. 11), 8 a.m.-noon Saturday at Cowtown Farmers Market, by appointment Monday-Friday. Whole pies $20. 817-821-3124; www.artisan-baking-company.com.