Pie baking is a big deal in our house.
Just weeks after we started dating in 2007, my now-wife Anne-Marie took on the task of scratch-baking the Thanksgiving pies for her family dinner that year in a shoebox-size kitchen in her Carroll Park apartment.
I wasn’t invited to Thanksgiving that year—it had only been a few weeks—but I was invited to sit in Annie’s kitchen and watch as she hauled home bootlegged bison kidneys from someone she called simply the “Lard Lady” and proceeded to render the mass down on the stovetop and ultimately transform it into the best pie crust I had ever had.
Even now, more than 15 years later, I’m still not allowed to touch the ice-cold bottle of vodka in our freezer.
“THAT’S the pie crust vodka,” Annie swarms in saying as she reminds me again something about ethanol and gluten binding for a flaky crust.
She is a doctor, after all, so I listen.
When I read that Feb. 20 is National Cherry Pie Day, I knew that, like the heavy-handed pie-baking undertakings in my house, the Long Beach Post journalists needed to swoop in for some serious pie assessment of our own. After all, Long Beach is a fortunate town, where one can find multiple locally made pies in short order.
First, some history.
Cherries are most definitely not in season in mid-February. Not in Southern California. Not anywhere. So why is Feb. 20 National Cherry Pie Day?
Owe it to the calendar proximity to Presidents Day and George Washington’s Birthday, more specifically, the well-known legend and completely untrue tale of Washington and that cherry tree.
We put these locals through a blind taste test, using a scoring of 1-5 (with five being the best), in the following categories: crust, filling, appearance and finally, overall impressions. That led to a total final score for each pie.
Pies were purchased Friday morning and promptly devoured in the Post’s newsroom kitchen. Judging was blind and no names were added to scoring sheets.
- In first place overall, Pie Bar’s vegan cherry pie, which, at $38.95 for a whole pie, is the priciest before the judges, still earning 127 points overall, with judges praising the appearance, calling it the prettiest, with a good crust and great taste.
- Second place went to Polly’s Pies, with 103.5 points (OK – which of you did half points? That wasn’t an option). Judges also placed this #1 in the best filling category, with 30 points overall. At $16.49, this was the bargain entry before the judges.
- Our third place pie, at $19.95, was Bake N Broil, a family-owned institution on Atlantic Avenue since 1965, coming in at 99 points, with judges praising a strong start and a tart finish. Another commenter said, “numbers aside, I like this one the most as a classic cherry pie.”
Competition aside, no one is really losing when Long Beach benefits from a plethora of pie places with a rich local connection.
Laurie Gray, the founder and CEO of Pie Bar in Downtown Long Beach, started out as a cottage business in 2015 before opening her first shop on Pine Avenue in 2016.
Some of the pie recipes used at Jongewaard’s Bake-N-Broil are almost as old as the restaurant itself. Overall it’s the largest pie selection in Long Beach, with more than 100 different flavors now being made at the family-owned restaurant and bakery throughout the year.
West Long Beach is home to the fantastic social enterprise 5000 Pies, providing culinary employment and life skills coaching to young adults, although they are not serving pies at the moment.
And East Long Beach, Hof’s Hut has been serving Long Beach from different locations around the city since 1951, including the current location in Los Altos, where freshly baked pies are available daily.
Our next Food Fight?
My beloved colleague Tim Grobaty tells me Feb. 22 is National Margarita Day.