If you throw a dinner that includes “pie flights,” we’ll be there. You can bet the house, farm, and bank on it. We’ll dig out our pie-themed shirts, fast for days in advance, and blurt out “Pie flight!” when asked about… well… anything at all. Pie is to us as Wapner is to Rain Man.
So when we heard about the National Pie Day (Jan. 23) celebration at Grand Cafe , we immediately scooped up tickets. For the next week, it was “pie flight” this and “pie flight” that. Though we’d never used the term before, it flowed out as smoothly (and as regularly) as “Damn, it’s cold out!” and “The Timberwolves lost again!” We counted down the days like a kid waiting for Santa Claus.
Upon entering the restaurant on the appointed night, it became clear we weren’t the only pie fanatics in town. The event was sold out for two seatings. A slow procession of hungry souls circled an artfully arranged display of pies among tall candles (a veritable pie shrine) and excited chatter filled the room — the anticipation was palpable. If there was a National Pie Day anthem, this crowd would have sung it loudly and proudly.
As the first course hit the table, the din became a murmur. Pie dinner was on! A canape of salty pie crust, duck, and cranberry compote was a tasty play on the pie theme, and a heaping salad of greens with capers, radish, and vibrant fennel vinaigrette provided a refreshing reminder that winter won’t last forever. The main course of pork tenderloin and pork belly, however, sounded promising but ended up being the low point of an otherwise great meal. Lacking any sear whatsoever, the cuts (especially the belly) looked unappetizing and tasted only somewhat better.
We quickly forgot about the pale pork when the servers brought out the pie flights. The wait was over, and it was well worth it. All six creations, served in sets of three, were stunningly beautiful. After a couple bites, it was clear that Christine Hoffman is a master of the pie crust. Expertly cooked until golden brown, her shells were savory, flaky, and plain ol’ delicious.
In the informal pie-ranking survey at our table, several took top honors. A take on classic chess pie, the Salty Honey was out of this world. The flavors were exquisitely balanced and the soft yet grainy texture provided by cornmeal hit the mark. The Chocolate Chess, with a fudgy brownie-like filling, also dazzled. We enjoyed the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan’s layers of texture and flavor; it was like a gourmet, adult candy bar in a crust. The Shaker Lemon Lime pie was a delicious sweet and sour slap to the face.
The two remaining pies were good, but not on par with the others. The Cranberry Maple Walnut just wasn’t very interesting: Although flavorful, it was too much like trail mix for our liking. The lone traditional fruit pie, Honey Bourbon Apple, was a bit timid, and the fruit felt lost. While the rosemary whipped cream that covered the apple pie added pizzazz, it was overpowering and borderline medicinal.
As the meal came to an end, we loosened our belts and soaked up the sheer joy in the room. The atmosphere was incredible. Hoffman and the Grand Cafe made us feel like we’d come home for the holidays. We were stuffed, happy, comfy, and among our people — fellow pie enthusiasts. So for that we say thank you and… pie flight!