Sunday morning at the neighborhood pie place: There are hash browns on the flat top, a couple of teenage boys waiting for enormous plates of eggs, a woman at the counter with a question about the Chicken Sammy (“Can you make it a half?” “Not usually. But, sure. I can make you a half.”), coffees that could use a warm-up, and a platoon of French silk pies waiting for a crown of whipped cream.
And there’s just one guy, Dave Hulett, the eponymous Pie Guy, making it all happen. He’s not just the name on the door, he’s the chief pie-maker and short-order cook.
While the home-style breakfast and lunch are filling the hole in the neighborhood’s heart left when Butter decamped for Nicollet, we were there for pies. Because, really, “neighborhood pie place” isn’t actually a thing. And it should be.
When we first heard about Dave the Pie Guy, a guy with a crazy dream to build a business on pies, we wondered how the economics of that would work. Pies can’t hide behind mediocre ingredients or shortcuts. You have to taste butter, fruit, cream, eggs — and lots of them. And those things aren’t cheap. Top-quality ingredients for a homemade apple pie top $10 (in round numbers, I’m thinking $2 worth of butter, $8 worth of apples) at retail prices.
So here’s how Dave makes the economics work: He actually charges what his pies are worth.
We tried a whole brownie ganache Pie ($35, above) and mincemeat pie ($29), as well as generous slices of strawberry cheesecake and key lime pie ($4.75 each). Prices like those blow right past the $14 winner of our last autumn pie bracket. And, with one crushing exception, so does the quality.
The brownie ganache pie is an easy slam dunk: a crumb crust, a thick layer of ganache, a layer of dense brownie, a crunchy-sweet topping of nuts and caramel. If you can’t enjoy that — maybe dessert is just not your thing.
The cheesecake is thin, rich and dense, not too sweet and not as tangy as some cheesecakes. The key lime pie has the unmistakable flavor of freshly squeezed, real key limes. And the mincemeat filling — where else can you find a mincemeat pie? — is a deep, dark, barely sweet, lightly set, and spiced with an absolutely unabashed hand: cinnamon, clove, allspice, and lots of it, all bursting out of puffed up and slightly drunken raisins and sultanas. (Why, again, do we make fun of English food?)
Any pie baker’s calling card is his crust. And Dave’s short crust has an intriguing claim to fame: He makes it with feta cheese — for his quiches, his fruit pies, his sweet potato pie. All of them get a savory, tangy jolt of cheese. Well. Hypothetically. I just couldn’t taste it. No tang. No extra salt. No cheese. No feta. I asked four other people, “What do you taste?” Just a decent crust. “What if I told you there’s feta in there?” “No way.”
The feta isn’t there for flavor. Like vodka, ice water and precise mixes of butter and lard, it’s Dave the Pie Guy’s secret weapon in the battle for a flaky crust that’s sturdy and workable enough to roll out thinly and evenly. And it definitely works for him. The top crust on our mincemeat pie was crisp and golden and had that lovely savory toasted flavor of a good short crust. But, here’s the thing: The bottom crust was beyond under-baked. It was raw. A sad, soft landing spot for your knife as you cut through the gorgeous filling.
The other pies we tried all had a decadently thick, buttery, toasty crumb crust, so we’re going to chalk that miss up to what can occasionally happen when you’re the one guy making everything by hand.
Dave the Pie Guy, 3544 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408, 612.871.9544.