Few foods elicit as much nostalgia as pie. Practically everyone, whatever their family’s culinary tradition, carries a tender memory of their favorite pie and, more than likely, the person who baked it. In my case, I can still recall the pies that my mother made with perfectly ripe O’Henry peaches from our orchard, crimping the delicate edges of the crust with ease.
Kira O’Donnell Babich of Real Pie Company rightfully calls pies the “warm fuzzies” of the dessert world. The pies from her childhood, baked by her grandmother, propelled her to make a career of making pie. “In my memory, there are always multiple pies crowding the kitchen counter, and her brood ate them—voraciously—throughout the day, for any reason,” she recalls. “They were often made with the wild blackberries that surrounded their farm, and even then, I marveled at the fact you could pick these berries and a few hours later they would be transformed into a delicious pie. This was magical to me.”
N’Gina Guyton, owner of South restaurant, understands the love language that is pie, and so do her customers. They clamber for South’s made-from-scratch pies because they equate them with comfort. “Especially in these times right now when we’re treading new ground for how to live, people want nostalgia. They want to go back to a happier time,” says Guyton. “I grew up feeling secure in my parents’ home, feeling taken care of, knowing everything is going to be all right. Emotionally, pie takes you back to being in that little bubble.”
At a time when comfort is in high demand, we can take heart that Sacramento is home to a number of outstanding bakers who are turning out pies—both sweet and savory—that remind us how consoling and utterly delicious simple ingredients can be in the right hands. Here’s to pie in all its forms—and to the people who make them.
Angela Harris isn’t strictly a pie maker; she also sells delectable cakes and cookies at her small-batch, weekends-only bakery in Sacramento’s midtown. But don’t let the other offerings distract you from sampling her superb pies and tarts. Standout selections include chocolate custard, lemon with Italian meringue and a rich salted chocolate and peanut butter cookie tart. “With everything I make, I want to make you feel good when you’re eating it,” says Harris, who started baking in elementary school under her mother’s guidance. “It didn’t really matter to me what type of dessert it was; I ate everything my mom baked.” 2301 J St.; (916) 345-4025; midtown-bakery.com
V. Miller Meats
The pot pies at this East Sac craft butcher shop came about when their chicken dinners didn’t sell well one week and they wanted to make good use of the leftovers. Spice-rubbed chicken is roasted together with potatoes, then mixed with carrots, celery, onions and green peas in a satisfying gravy concocted from house-made bone broth and tucked between two layers of puff pastry. “It’s familiar and it’s comforting,” says owner Eric Veldman Miller. “We don’t stray far from the old standard Swanson’s pot pies that you can find in the freezer section, but we use way better ingredients.” 4801 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 400-4127; vmillermeats.com
Real Pie Company
Kira O’Donnell Babich takes the art of pie making so seriously that her flaky all-butter crust is made in a temperature-controlled dough room, kept at 64 degrees year-round, so that, as she says, “we can keep that dough happy as we’re working with it.” Her cheerful shop, which she co-owns with husband Fred Babich, turns out an excellent assortment of fruit-forward pies, including peach and nectarine; apple galette; rhubarb-raspberry; Key lime; butterscotch banana cream; and Meyer lemon Shaker pie. The cazuela pie, uniting pumpkin, roasted sweet potatoes and coconut milk, is a holiday hit. “I love working with beautiful fruit and dough, and sharing baked goods,” says Babich, “so this is the perfect career for me.” 2425 24th St.; (916) 838-4007; realpiecompany.com
Self-taught cottage baker Amy Fan specializes in inventive hand pies with rom-com-inspired names like There’s Something About Cherry and When Chocolate Met Marshmallow. Although she didn’t eat pies for dessert in her childhood (“being from an Asian family, we would have Chinese-style desserts or some sort of fruit,” she explains), they nevertheless became an obsession. Some of Fan’s pies celebrate Asian flavors, including her popular matcha hand pie and a special pineapple bao pie filled with Chinese custard. “Pies bring so much joy to people,” says Fan. “That’s why I love making them.” whiskfulkitchen.com; IG: @thewhiskfulkitchen
I Love Pie Bakeshop
A longtime fan of artisan baking, Diana Shockley dreamed of one day owning a bakery, perhaps after retiring from her career in project management. Her dream was fast-tracked when friends went gaga for the pies she served at her annual pie party. The accolades gave Shockley the confidence to sell her goods at a farmers market in Carmichael, where her pies immediately sold out. The salted caramel Dutch apple pie, made with a brown-butter oat streusel and house-made caramel, is a perennial favorite, but creative flavors like blueberry-basil with goat cheese crumbles or the Harry Potter-inspired butterbeer prove there are no limits to what a pie can be.
4949 Marconi Ave., Carmichael; (916) 969-7791; ilovepiebakeshop.com
Dessert is no mere afterthought at this modern Southern restaurant in downtown Sac. It’s helmed by N’Gina Guyton, who grew up eating legendary pies made with love by her mom and aunties. “They were very big about not giving away their recipes until they passed,” she says, “so it’s an honor to continue their tradition.” Standards like pecan pie and sweet potato pie share the menu with seasonal hand pies. South’s terrific pies are the handiwork of pastry chef Karina Funes, whom Guyton describes as “very light with the hand. She understands that you can’t overmanipulate the crust. Our customers who love our pies do not play. If it’s off by a little bit, they will let us know,” says Guyton. “Karina makes sure the pies are consistent and guests are happy.” 2005 11th St.; (916) 382-9722; weheartfriedchicken.com
You could say Mary Jaques got into baking pies for the money. Using apples from her sister’s backyard trees, she baked apple crumb pies to fundraise for her son’s seventh-grade field trip. The response was so overwhelming that she raised enough dough to join him in the Big Apple. In 2015, Jaques launched her pie wagon, bringing her fresh fruit pies to farmers markets and community events around the region. Her pies are also stocked at Market 5-One-5 in downtown Sacramento. “It’s hard for me to call myself a baker because I don’t bake bread or croissants,” says Jaques, but her devoted customers beg to differ. crumbpies.com; IG: @crumbpies
Fair Oaks resident Lindsay Foley traces her love of pie crust back to when she started baking pies for her family at age 12. “Sometimes I would make just the crust by itself with cinnamon sugar,” she says. While working at a bakery in college, Foley fell in love with the people-pleasing part of the food industry. Years later, she transitioned to cottage baking, where she wows customers with her signature salted caramel apple pie. Foley transforms her home kitchen into an efficient assembly line when production ramps up. “I enjoy the whole process of seeing the pies come together,” she says. Over the holidays, she mostly sells frozen pies to folks who prefer to bake their own. saypies.com; IG: @saypies
Camden Spit & Larder
Chef-owner Oliver Ridgeway’s native England is the inspiration behind the impressive meat pies at this swank downtown restaurant. “I wanted to honor where I’m from and embrace what British cuisine has to offer,” says Ridgeway. The beef shank pie sports a towering bone baked into its center—a not-so-subtle hint at the ingredients within. Ridgeway also offers a version made with slow-braised lamb shank from Superior Farms as well as a rotating selection of hearty pasties with fillings such as chicken, Gruyere, mushroom and spinach; curried lamb; and potato and onion with smoked cheddar. 555 Capitol Mall; (916) 619-8897; camdenspitandlarder.com
Pie Flavored Pie
The name behind Estrella Gomez’s business comes from her dessert-loving grandfather. “We’d ask him what kind of pie he wanted and he’d always say, ‘Pie-flavored pie.’” In other words, any kind would do. Gomez specializes in mini pies, which she sells through Burly’s Takeout, an offshoot of Burly Beverages, in uptown Sacramento. Banoffee is her best-seller, but flavors like tangerine cream with Nilla Wafer shortbread crust showcase her experimental side. Gomez also offers savory pies as well as vegan options. “Pies used to intimidate me, but now I prefer them to cakes,” says Gomez. “You can really customize them, they’re more portable than cakes and you don’t have to worry about messing up the frosting.” 2014 Del Paso Blvd.; (916) 333-3879; burlybeverages.com; IG: @pieflavoredpietruck
The Pie Witch
A baker since childhood, Amber Wyatt has been known to enchant people with her unique assortment of pies, which include showstoppers like chocolate Kahlúa cream; eggnog custard; ricotta lemon thyme; Mexican hot chocolate; and rum pumpkin chiffon, which is “light and airy, not dense like a regular pumpkin pie,” says Wyatt. The part-time cottage baker sells through her website and at select pop-up events. Her mini hand pies in flavors like blueberry, cherry, peach and apple (served with a side of homemade caramel for dipping) are perfect party fare. Baking pies is Wyatt’s way of relaxing. “I find when I bake cakes it kind of stresses me out, but pies are much more mellowing.” thepiewitch.com; @the.pie.witch
St. Rey Bakery
Kelly Haarmeyer, who has been baking for five decades and completed stints at various bakeries, including Rick’s Dessert Diner and Real Pie Company, launched this cottage-baking gig in her retirement. Her malted lime pie includes a filling made with malted milk powder and cardamom and topped with a soft pillow of toasted meringue. The crust gets its artisanal foundation from homemade graham crackers. “I don’t like to buy things in a box,” explains Haarmeyer. Come holiday time, she bakes a pear brandy mince pie from a recipe she tweaked for a couple of years. “I’m always looking at bakeries all over the country and experimenting with their recipes,” she explains. IG: @ st_rey_bakery