The triple coconut cream is the signature sweet at Tom Douglas’s shop (and an off-menu special at his other restaurants in town). (2001 Fourth Ave.; tomdouglas.com) —Carey Jones
Pumpkin pie. Few dishes can cement a new memory—while also calling up cherished family moments—quite like this one. And few bakers make this famed holiday dessert quite like Maury Rubin, at New York’s City Bakery. This is no postmodern interpretation, just traditional pumpkin pie done especially right: a buttery graham-cracker crust with a well-calibrated punch of spice in the filling.
The appeal of pie is hard to describe. It’s more than just a delicious dessert. There’s comfort, tradition, and a strong sense of place in every bite. Whether it’s a classic standard or a fresh take with unique ingredients, a standout slice of pie will be forevermore associated with the when, where, and why of its serving.
As a new generation of eaters embraces those American staples on which their great-grandparents were reared, the iconic pie has developed something of an “it” factor. From coast to coast, contemporary pie shops are serving nostalgia with a sincere if slightly self-aware wink. At Random Order Coffee in Portland, OR, for example, you’ll find a proper apple pie—made from scratch, of course—that would earn your granny’s seal of approval. But it also serves a decidedly untraditional Tahitian vanilla salted-caramel apple number that, besides the apples, has little in common with Grandma’s mainstay.
By no means is the pie revival a city phenomenon. Ten years ago, Maggie Gergen bought an old pie shop in southeastern Minnesota, where she continues to add to her repertoire of seasonal pies. She’s stopped counting but thinks there are somewhere between 30 and 40 varieties. Although no one’s complaining about her pumpkin crumble or chocolate chunk, she’s most proud of her rhubarb offerings. “We go through an awful lot,” she says. “All the rhubarb is handpicked.”
At Gergen’s shop, you can sample her classic rhubarb custard and strawberry rhubarb pies, or break from tradition and try the raspberry rhubarb. Better yet, dig into the Bluebarb. Yes, that’s blueberries and rhubarb together in one pie. The combination yields a gorgeous magenta color and jammy, tangy sweetness in every slice.
If you’re looking for slices of nostalgia or bold new baked goodness, there’s a perfect slice of pie somewhere in America waiting for you. Whether or not to add whipped cream is entirely up to you. —Charlotte Druckman