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Local pie scene is prolific

All About Food | April 18th, 2024

By Rick Gion

rickgion@gmail.com

Ever since Pi Day on March 14 of this year, I’ve been on a pie-eating program. And although the shape of Fargo-Moorhead is not round, pie is definitely an easy to find and an enjoyable dessert option here.

As you know by now, when I get chewing on a particular food topic, it turns into an obsession and a food tour ensues. You’ve probably come to expect that with these columns. This subject of pie proved to be no different. The adage “pie makes all things better” isn’t arguable. I cannot lie; I do like pie.

Enough with the cheesy pie talk. Let’s dig into the sweet version.

I first talked about this topic in early March during my weekly Wednesday radio segment on Prairie Public’s “Main Street.” The segment is called “Prairie Plates” if you feel like tuning in. The discussion with show host Ashley Thornberg then sparked a full-fledged pie tour. The media motivation turned into a mission.

This pie quest commenced on Pi Day 2024 at the Sons of Norway in downtown Fargo. I taste-tested 10 varieties of pie there, including apple streusel, banana cream, blueberry, chocolate silk, coconut cream, peach-raspberry, rhubarb, rømmegrøt, sour cream raisin, and strawberry-rhubarb. It was a panoply of pie flavors.

And, yes, for all you Norwegians out there, the listing of rømmegrøt pie is no superfluous mistake. And it’s actually quite good, too. The ladies at the Sons of Norway used to brûléethe top of the rømmegrøt pie, but that has now been replaced by traditional cinnamon and sugar. I prefer the brûlée topping, but it may be too hifalutin for some. This sweet selection still made it to the top of the Pi Day sampling, though. Other favorites at the Sons were banana cream, chocolate silk and strawberry rhubarb.

You don’t have to go to the Sons of Norway on Pi Day to enjoy their wide selection. Just stop by on a Thursday for lunch. Thursday is the weekly pie day there, and it’s a pie-lovers paradise. The door to the Sons is a gateway to Valhalla.

One of my other favorite pie stops is BernBaum’s in downtown Fargo. Although this restaurant usually serves just one variety at a time, it’s top-tier. The banana cream pie there is incredibly delicious. When it’s on the menu in the spring, it doesn’t last long. The bakers at this sweet establishment know how to make one of the flakiest pie crusts in the world. That’s no exaggeration either, folks. This pie crust is a serious affair. And as a whole, this pie is so good that patrons often purchase the whole banana cream pie to take home.

Other great pies at BernBaum’s include the chocolate silk and coconut cream. The humble pie is souped-up to higher standards in this restaurant — probably due to a two-time James Beard semifinalist as an owner.

Over in Moorhead, the new Black Cat Bakery, just east of the 12th Avenue bridge, offers a great selection of sweet treats at good prices. I sampled three varieties of pie there recently, including blueberry with an oat crisp topping, pecan and strawberry-rhubarb. All of these flavors were quite good.

The blueberry had a good amount of crumble topping and the pecan had a large amount of whole pecan halves. I appreciate when pecan pie has whole nuts. It’s the only way it should be made. Small pieces of nuts just don’t cut it.

The undercarriage of these pies had a thinner crust. It’s a different take than the previous two establishments mentioned. These pieces of pie were just $3 apiece. That kind of affordable pricing is hard to find these days.

It’s been a little while since I’ve been to Deaner’s Diner. It’s a West Fargo favorite, and a pie-lover’s destination. During my recent visit, I only had one piece of pie at Deaner’s though. Here’s why: My lunch order was a monstrous hot turkey sandwich. It was huge.

Nine varieties of pie were offered the day I was there, though. My pie selection was pecan. I appreciate that Deaner’s also uses whole pecan halves and not pulverized pieces.The everyday selection of pie at Deaner’s Diner is always impressive. Deaner’s also serves great hot beef sandwiches, so I will be back for more pie very soon. Rumor has it that some of the pie recipes carried over to Deaner’s from when the location was TNT and Jigg’s.

Another recent stop on my pie tour was K’s off of south University in Fargo. There, I tried apple, custard and pecan. These pies are old fashioned and simple, and K’s boasts usage of a real pie tin. I’d love to see the patina on those things. It’s definitely not a bad method.

The bakers use a thinner crust for the undercarriage. I wasn’t thrilled about the smaller nut pieces for the pecan pie. The flavor was great though. Apple may be their strength. You can tell the apples are cut by hand at K’s. They offer one of the better apple pies in the area.

Other personal favorite venues for pie include Nichole’s Fine Pastry in downtown Fargo, The Shack on north Broadway in Fargo and the Moorhead Village Inn. The Village Inn actually offers a piece of free pie on Wednesdays with the purchase of an entree. That’s a heckuva deal.

I’m not going to end this column without giving some free and unsolicited pie advice for baking at home.

Let’s start from the bottom up. Here are some basics for a good crust: use a lower-gluten flour, cut in cold butter and use ice-cold water.

This additional secret method is up for debate. Some people use a small shot of vinegar or vodka to hydrate the flour gluten for a more tender crust. The alcohol also is said to evaporate during baking which helps maximize flakiness. Another good tip is to pre-bake your homemade pie shells for custard-like pies such as pumpkin. Go to kingarthurbaking.com for further baking tips.

This is very important; please make your own fruit pie fillings. Canned won’t do. Some canned filling actually picks up the flavor of the metal. You can buy a lot of fruit frozen in the off-season at the grocery store. It’s a much better option than using canned varieties that are cloyingly sweet.

Additionally, please use real whipped cream as a pie topping. Cool Whip won’t do. But ice cream is probably the ultimate topping when it’s appropriate to eat a warmed-up piece of pie such as apple, blueberry or rhubarb.

If home baking is not your thing, there are plenty of local bakeries and restaurants that serve pie in Fargo-Moorhead — much more than mentioned in this column to explore.

Pie eating is not just for the annual Pi Day on March 14. It's a delicious and popular treat that’s good on any day, especially if you live in the upper Midwest.

Rick Gion administers a Facebook food group called “Fargo-Moorhead Eats” that’s dedicated to the area’s great cooks and cuisine. The page now has nearly 36,000 followers. Check it out, join, and feel free to post items about your local culinary adventures and home cooking. And, while you’re at it, also join the Instagram and TikTok pages. Rick is also a featured guest on Prairie Public Radio’s “Main Street.” His weekly segment about food called “Prairie Plates” airs between 3 and 4 p.m. every Wednesday.

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