I am pleased to announce that my Mid Summer Pie Tour was substantially more satisfying than my Early Summer Pie Tour. The Mid Summer Pie Tour included the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Maiden Rock, WI; the Stockholm Pie Company, Stockholm, WI; the Homemade Cafe, Pepin, WI; and Rye Deli, Minneapolis, MN.
It all started when I agreed to go see Pretty Boy race at his favorite track: Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, MN. I was ecstatically surprised to realize that I could alter my route to Millville and take the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road (WI-35) and only add 15 more miles to the trip. Why the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road? Because some of the best pie comes from that area. The first three locations I visited on my pie tour are all within 15 miles of each other along WI-35 on the eastern shore of Lake Pepin. Professor Peaches agreed to accompany me both on my ambitious pie tour and to the motocross track even though she isn’t supposed to eat pie nor is she explicitly a fan of motocross. But she likes Pretty Boy and food adventures, so graciously agreed to be my driving companion and attempt to be the restraining voice of reason.
My plan was to stop at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop and then Stockholm Pie Company on the way to the track. On my previous trip to the Stockholm Pie Company, the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop had been closed and I’ve been anxious to go back and try it since. I was also excited to try someplace new even if they are better know for general baked treats instead of just pie. We arrived a little before 9 am on a beautiful summer day after a lovely drive out of the cities. In front of the bakery, there was a little old lady under an umbrella selling canned pickles and preserves on the sidewalk. Across the street was a cute shop called Culture Cloth, which was cute enough to attract our attention and ambiguous enough in what they actually sold to spark our curiosity. I put aside hunger and excitement for the bakery to cross the street and check out Culture Cloth. Turns out they weren’t open yet, but the shop keeper was inside and kindly let us in early to take a look around. They sold a really cool collection of textiles, jewelry, and housewares made by “indigenous artists” that were mostly out of my price range, but only by a small enough amount to keep them tempting.
At the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Professor Peaches order a single slice of raspberry sour cream pie to bring home. I, on the other hand, was ready to really try out the place and do some damage. I bought a whole 3 berry pie, a slice of blueberry buttermilk pie, a apple cinnamon muffin, a blueberry danish so fresh out of the oven I had to wait for the danishes to cool and be glazed before I could take one, and a loaf of “Bird Seed” bread. I ate half the danish and a few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie in the car before we even left the bakeshop, and my initial assessment was quite favorable. The danish pastry was flake-y and crisp but still tender with a strong buttery flavor that stood up well next to the blueberry filling and apricot glaze. The filling and glaze each were distinct, having an independent flavor, fruity but not too sweet. I saved the second half for Pretty Boy who didn’t end up eating it until much later that night when the crispiness had started to lean towards toughness and the blueberry filling had thickened substantially, but it was still a solid pastry. I really liked my initial few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie and resolved to also put it aside until later when I could really do it justice.
Next stop was the Stockholm Pie Company, bustling with people and an overwhelming number of pie options. After an embarrassing amount of indecision and deliberation, I settled on a piece of mushroom spinach quiche with sliced apples, as well as a slice of blackberry apple pie and a slice of triple chocolate pecan pie. The pecan pie was mostly for Pretty Boy and to have a least one custard pie in the tour. The quiche was heated in the microwave (same as the savory pies I tried there last year and which I continue to disapprove of) and I ate half of it in the car before we pulled out. The egg custard, mushrooms, and spinach were all perfectly cooked and balanced. The custard was creamy but firm and not runny, dotted liberally with chew chunks of mushrooms and ribbons of spinach. The crust was undercooked for my preference which was exasperated by the reheating making it a little insubstantial, but the flavor was still top notch.
Back on the road, I was ready to continue on to the track when we came upon the next cute little town of Pepin, WI and the Homemade Cafe. The Homemade Cafe has received a lot of press for their good food as well as their pie, a fair amount of which I’ve read. And I exclaimed as much as we drove by. All it took was Professor Peaches asking, “Do you want to stop?” and I was turning around and pulling into the Homemade Cafe parking lot. They were busy and it took a bit of waiting at the counter to get pie and then pay but I was so happy we stopped. I got a slice of peach black cap pie and a slice of rhubarb custard.
After that, I was satisfied I had bought enough pie and we made it to the track. It was a super fun day of being with Pretty Boy, teaching Professor Peaches about the world of motocross, and watching Pretty Boy get his first “hole shots” at Spring Creek in both the 250A class motos. I returned home long before Pretty Boy and unloaded my car-full of baked goods and proceeded to hover over the kitchen table rather impatiently, waiting for Pretty Boy to get home so we could try the rest of the pies together.
When he got home, we started with the Smiling Pelican offerings. The blueberry buttermilk lemon pie had a bottom crust, lemon buttermilk custard baked on top, a layer of blueberry jam then a layer of fresh blueberries on top. The buttermilk lemon filling was delicious, smooth and creamy with a lusciously rich, tangy and lemon-y flavor. The fresh fruit and jam on top went with the custard well but the custard was really the dominant taste in the pie. The crust was hard to judge, mostly nondescript on the bottom, edge had good crunch but not enough flavor to stand up next to the rest of the flavorful pie.
The 3 berry pie had a streusel top, which I generally think of as the easy way out when it comes to pie crust, but the streusel was quite crunchy which I really liked and is about the only way to redeem streusel topping in the eyes of this crusty-edge lover. The berry filling was amazing, strong berry flavor, good adhesive but not gloopy texture; the bottom crust was again rather nondescript but the edge was nicely crunchy with a crisp flaky texture though it could have used a stronger pastry flavor. This was our favorite pie.
Then on to the Stockholm Pie Company pies. The blackberry apple pie filling was one of the best (and only one of two pies I purchased with both a full top and bottom pastry crust) – good flavor, the fruit was really well showcased, well spiced with a perfect amount of sweetness and nice texture. I had high crust hopes since Stockholm Pie Company has provided me with the best pie I’ve ever bought, but the crust seemed undercooked this time, though that still didn’t stop it from being super flaky. The flakes were super soft so the crust almost melted in the mouth, and the amount of crust to filling ratio was good resulting in the crust’s pastry flavor actually contributing to the flavor of each bite.
Triple chocolate pecan, also from the Stockholm Pie Company was not my usual choice, but the tour needed a little variety. Triple chocolate pecan sounded like it was going to be just too complicated a mix of flavors for me but perfect for Pretty Boy. The complicated sounding flavor mix was even further convoluted by what looked like a layer of slivered almonds on top, but after trying it, I was pleasantly surprised. The filling was super rich, super satisfying level of dessert sweetness, super chocolate-ly, but did not have any unpleasant tooth stickiness. The nuts in the filling lead to a nice texture contrast and were well dispersed, top layer of filling even had a little caramelized crunch to it which helped make up for the also slightly underdone crust. The two pies from Stockholm Pie Company came in a close second for our favorites.
And the Homemade Cafe offerings. Of the three pies in the case, I decided on the peach black cap pie right away, then had to debate between the rhubarb custard and the cherry rhubarb. The custard won out because it added to the day’s variety even though I probably would have preferred the cherry rhubarb filling. The peach black cap (the other double crust pie) had a top crust heavily sprinkled with large granule sugar, which I don’t consider full cheating, but starting down the cheater crust road because it creates artificial crunch and flavor on the top crust which I believe should come from the crust itself. The filling had a lot of fruit flavor and the texture was a little on the thick side but still good. For being encrusted with sugar, the crust was probably the second best of the day. It was dark in color, nicely cooked on the edge, and, I must admit, the sugar was fairly well balanced. The rhubarb custard pie filling was a little strange, almost like the custard didn’t set right and separated a little, and the rhubarb in it was subtle, maybe even a little lacking, but that edge crust was worth it: flake-y, crunchy, and butter-y, that was the best crust of the day!
We tried the non-pie offerings that night as well: the bird seed bread was lighter in texture than I anticipated, almost like a white bread with seeds, very airy with interesting crunch from “bird seed” additions. I heard later from Pretty Boy and the Mojo Monster that it made great sandwich bread. The apple cinnamon muffin was really good. I loved the texture – enough gluten/stick to make it hold together but still tender, falling apart in nice, big, moist crumbles. The apple and cinnamon together were on about the same flavor level as the raisins and sugar topping, all balanced together great.
The bird seed bread and the 3 berry pie were the only things to make it to the next day but not much longer. I probably could have eaten the whole 3 berry pie that first night, it was that good. And I was pretty satisfied with my Mid Summer Pie Tour. I concluded that of the offerings: I like the Stockholm Pie Company filling the best; I liked the Homemade Cafe crust the best; and I like the overall selected offerings from the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop the best. I know that’s kind of a cop-out assessment, but it’s what I thought.
I probably should have called it done after amount of high quality pie, but I just can’t resist! Bettie Beware and Bearface were drawn to Rye Deli, a frequent haunt of ours, by the debut of their collaboration with Sebastian Joe’s: Rye’s Double Rye Ice Cream. The ice cream was phenomenal. Rye whiskey, toasted caraway seeds, orange zest, Sebastian Joe’s vanilla ice cream. Yum! I’m also a huge fan of most of the food on Rye’s menu, and a huge fan of all of the bartender, Richard, who never fails to elevate an evening at Rye to a great time. Especially when he sings. Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the blueberry pie on the menu that night. We at least ate all the filling, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
It was a good tour with appropriate ups and downs. And after writing this book about it, I’m already working on the list of places to include in my Late Summer Pie Tour.