The Great 2011 Upper Midwestern Pie Tasting

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

So, where do you go to get a good pie around here?

We ate 14 pies from as far away as the North Shore and Osseo, WI, in order to figure who’s slinging a decent home-style pie in our part of the world.

The results: A few real gems, some fixer-uppers, and a healthy handful of horrifying pie wrecks. (Read on to see whose pie is “positively criminal,” and whose is “fantastic — I would eat it for breakfast after eating it for dessert.”)


We anonymously purchased pies from 14 local bakeries (including spots on the North Shore, in Stillwater, and in two towns in Wisconsin).

Because styles and availability of pies vary wildly, a 14-way apples-to-apples (or raspberry-to-raspberry) comparison was hard to do. But we looked for pies that wrestled with the balance of sweet and tart, and generally found berry and / or rhubarb pies that fit the bill.


We all tasted blind; only the organizer (who did not judge) knew which pie was which.

Our eight judges rated each pie on crust (0-15), filling (0-15), and overall balance / tastiness (0-20). Total scores varied from 0-50 per pie.

We threw out the lowest and highest score for each pie, building an average from the middle six scores.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Editor’s Note: A big thank you to Peace Coffee for underwriting our pie budget and providing coffee. At the recommendation of Head Roaster Derek De La Paz, we tried Sumatran Full City and Colombian Heavy Pedal, both of which paired nicely with berry pies. For his roaster’s notes on these coffees, see the appendix of this story.

And now, without further ado, the pie.


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Stockholm Pie Company | cherry berry pie
N2030 Spring St, Stockholm, WI
$18 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 12 of 15 (all scores averaged and rounded)
FILLING: 14 of 15
BALANCE: 16 of 20

TOTAL: 42 (of 50)

At the end of a brutal 14-pie marathon, the Stockholm Pie Company’s cherry berry pie is the dish that restored hope to the team. Tasters found its crust “tender and delicious,” “light and flaky,” and “substantial yet yielding.” Of the filling, one wrote it was “fruit forward, very flavorful and tart,” while another found it “not too sweet, not too tart.”

“Fantastic,” raved another taster. “I would eat it for breakfast after eating it for dessert.” This pie was found to be “pleasantly balanced in terms of both flavor and texture.” “Nicely balanced,” agreed another taster.

In conclusion: “Cherry berry is my new favorite pie — sweet, tart, and complex.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Keys Cafe & Bakery | strawberry rhubarb pie
Locations throughout Minnesota and in Hudson, WI (we went to the Spring Lake Park location)
$13.50 for a 9-inch pie


Tasters generally quite liked this pie, praising its “toothsome” crust which “holds the pie well” and the “nice sweet-tart balance” of its “not gooey” and “fruity” filling. “Reminds me of Grammie’s,” said one taster; “would eat again,” affirmed another. The naysayers noted a “funky, earthy” note and disliked the “glaze-y” top to the crust.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Turtle Bread | raspberry pie
Four locations (we went to the Chicago and 48th location)
$19.99 for a 10-inch pie + $3 tin deposit
CRUST: 11 of 15
FILLING: 11 of 15
BALANCE: 13 of 20


Turtle Bread charges a lot for its pies: $19.99 + a $3 tin deposit. But you get a lot of pie for your money, as it turns out — this big 10-inch tin contained a “buttery, flaky,” “croissant-like” crust with “nice chew and flavor” that “tastes good” and filling that was “very tasty” with “nice chunks of whole fruit” that were “very tart” and “a touch too sweet, [but with] good consistency.”

“I’d eat this one again,” said a taster, while another notes (sardonically?) that it’s “a good compromise if you can’t decide between a croissant and a slice of pie.” Other tasters wanted a toned-down filling, but overall scores were strong.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Rustic Inn Cafe | rhubarb pie
2773 Minnesota 61, Two Harbors, MN
$10.99 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 10 of 15
FILLING: 10 of 15
BALANCE: 13 of 20

TOTAL:  33

The Rustic Inn makes a well-liked pie, at least around these parts. The crust was praised for its “great texture, with a bit of crunch in a positive way,” and for its “light, flaky, airy, good mellow dough flavor.” The filling had “strong rhubarb taste” that was a “nice balance of sweet and tart” with “nice tartness without the weird earthiness,” although one detractor found it “too tart, [with] not enough sweetness in the rhubarb.”

Overall, “pretty good”; “I’d eat a lot of this, especially warmed — I like the pink and green color,” wrote one taster, while others offered faint but sincere praise (“pretty good” and “good but not wow worthy.”)


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

New Scenic Cafe | raspberry rhubarb pie
5461 N Shore Scenic Dr, Duluth, MN
$18 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 6 of 15
FILLING: 10 of 15
BALANCE: 11 of 20


New Scenic’s pie sharply divided our tasters. The crust was disliked by almost all (“too soft,” “no bite,” “artificial like Sara Lee,”) but the filling won plaudits from some who praised it as “tasty and fresh” with “big raspberry taste.” A naysayer found it “thick and cloying,” and said “I wouldn’t go back again”; others agreed, calling the whole pie “pretty meh,” and noting that while “fruit flavor dominates,” “the crust falls behind.” A fan noted: “I love raspberries so I like this; makes me feel like I’m in the middle of raspberry season.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A Baker’s Wife | cherry pie
4200 28th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN
$12.99 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 10 of 15
FILLING: 7 of 15
BALANCE: 10 of 20


A Baker’s Wife bakes a respectable cherry pie, boasting “crisp,” “tasty,” “flaky” crust that “doesn’t need the powdered sugar” on top. One doubter thought the crust was “too healthy tasting.” The filling split tasters down the middle, with some liking the “good chunks of fruit” that were “nice and rich” and “very fresh,” while others attacked the filling for being “syrupy, way too sticky-sweet.” “Syrupy mess” and “slightly syrupy” also surfaced as comments.

Those who liked it called it “classic” and “a real keeper” — the no votes can be summed up by the doubter who said it was “cough-syrup-tastic!”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Jerabek’s New Bohemian Bakery | triple berry pie
63 West Winifred St, St. Paul, MN
$12.95 for an 8-inch pie
CRUST: 7 of 15
FILLING: 9 of 15
BALANCE: 10 of 20

“Perfect crust at first,” notes one taster of Jerabek’s triple berry pie, going on to complain that it turns out to be “a bit salty and thick.” “Soggy in places,” says another, who then praises its “nice flakiness.” While something of a split decision, Jerabek’s pie was reasonably priced and well liked by some — “best of the blueberries,” said one taster, while another wrote that the filling is “a great balance of blueberries and blackberries.” A wishy-washy doubter added that the filling is “too sugary but tastes like real fruit.”

“I like this one,” concluded another taster, while a cynic compared the experience of eating the “gummy” pie to “dissecting an alien baby.” Suffice it to say that Jerabek’s won over some, but not all of the group.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bakers Square | triple berry pie (blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry)
Locations throughout the Midwest (we went to the Highland Park, St. Paul location)
$10.99 for an 8-inch pie
CRUST: 8 of 15
FILLING: 8 of 15
BALANCE: 10 of 20


We had low hopes for national chain Bakers Square, and these were exceeded by the store’s competent triple berry pie. The crust was “dry” and a “little too crunchy,” but others found it “tasty” and “buttery.” Its filling was praised for a “nice stewed berry profile,” and a taste that was “sweet but slightly tart,” while others wrote it off as simply “OK,” or “medicinal.” “Not a standout pie, but certainly a good one,” wrote one taster, neatly summing up the group consensus. Another added: “This pie gets the job done, but will never be president.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Sarah Jane’s Bakery | strawberry rhubarb pie
2853 Johnson St NE, Minneapolis, MN
10.99 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 8 of 15
FILLING: 5 of 15
BALANCE: 7 of 20


The Sarah Jane’s pie got some decent marks for its “flaky, light, very nice” crust with “good buttery flavor,” and some bad ones because it tasted “overworked” and had “too much sugar.” Tasters were unanimous in knocking the filling, however, for being a “sugar bomb” that was “too sweet,” “too mushy,” “and too sweet in a one-note kind of way.” The toughest tasters thought it tasted like “Martians trying to make Earth food” and that it “tasted too much like candy,” although one dissenter gamely noted that the “crust is the star, filling is passable.”


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Rainbow Foods | strawberry rhubarb pie
Locations throughout the Twin Cities (we went to the Longfellow location)
$3.99 for an 8-inch pie
CRUST: 6 of 15
FILLING: 5 of 15
BALANCE: 6 of 20


Here’s the good news about Rainbow grocery’s strawberry rhubarb pie: It costs $4. Things go downhill from there, however. The crust “seemed either non-existent or too much,” and it was “too heavy tasting, too Crisco-ish,” “dusty,” and “tender but too damp.”

The “gelatinous, gooey, canned, protoplasm-like” filling drew hard knocks. “More syrup than fruit!” exclaimed one taster, while another described herself as “not a fan — too syrupy, and gummy, and the ingredients seem questionable.” A couple tasters liked the strawberry taste but added that “the rhubarb doesn’t come through at all.”

Shockingly, however, this wasn’t even close to being the weakest pie in our survey.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Norske Nook | blueberry pie
Four locations in Wisconsin (we went to the Osseo location)
$10.49 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 3 of 15
FILLING: 5 of 15
BALANCE: 6 of 20


An important caveat for this pie: Due to travel constraints, it was purchased almost a week before our tasting. We tasted it the day it was bought and compared those scores to the official tasting and found that while crust quality dropped, filling quality actually rose with the passage of time.

That said, we were astounded at how poorly the (famed and beloved!) Norske Nook performed on a basic blueberry pie. Scores from both tastings were low, low, low.

Not surprisingly, the crust suffered from extended storage. While we initially found it to be “brittle and sugar-cookie like” with “no chew” and “not much presence,” the post-storage pie had “flavorless, stale, metallic crust” that was deemed “too thin and soggy.”

We thought this pie had “grape juice”-flavored filling when we first tasted it. On the second tasting, tasters noted a “bland,” “grape-y” filling that “tastes like fermented Juicy Juice (not a good thing)” and tastes “too much like blueberry syrup.”

“I love blueberries but this is inedible,” said one taster; “forgettable,” added another, while another, struggling to be charitable, noted, “I didn’t like it much, but I don’t like blueberries.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Joseph’s Family Restaurant | blueberry pie
14608 60th St N, Stillwater, MN
$12.99 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 6 of 15
FILLING: 1 of 15
BALANCE: 3 of 20


We hadn’t really heard of Joseph’s of Stillwater before this tasting, and that may be a good thing for all parties involved. The filling’s the thing, in this blueberry pie — some said it tasted like “crappy pancake syrup,” but others were tougher on it, saying it was “like Manischewitz in a pie! (not a good thing)” and calling it “awful, strong, sweet, viscous.”

Tasters could “barely taste” the crust for the filling, and one concluded “I’m not sure anyone would be able to finish this pie.” “I ate as little of this as I could get away with,” said another; as a final comment, another taster added, “this pie upsets me.” Sorry, Stillwater — we gave it a shot.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Serlin’s Cafe | apple pie
124 Payne Ave, St. Paul, MN
$8 for an 8-inch pie (we paid $4 for half an 8-inch pie)
CRUST: 1 of 15
FILLING: 4 of 15
BALANCE: 4 of 20


How hard can it be to make a decent apple pie? Serlin’s Cafe of St. Paul makes it look as difficult as cleaning the Augean stables, and only slightly more appetizing. The “bland and overworked” “soggy” crust had “dull flavor” — “horrible,” noted one taster, while another wrote that it had “no texture and no taste.” The “acrid,” “not worthy” filling was little better. The “cinnamon flavor is WRONG,” wrote one taster, while another granted that it was “not offensive, but nothing special.” “I bet it has a long shelf life” wrote another taster of this “boring,” “lifeless” apple pie.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Betty’s Pies | bumbleberry pie (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry)
Two locations in Minnesota (we went to the Mahtomedi location)
$16 for a 9-inch pie
CRUST: 1 of 15
FILLING: 1 of 15
BALANCE: 2 of 20


Oh, Betty’s. Oh, Betty’s Pies. You are known for pies, and pies only. You have built multiple locations trading on generations of childhood memories and North Shore goodwill toward your brand. How did it come to this? How did you create a pie so thoroughly foul that our final scoresheets looked as though they’d been attacked by a flock of disapproving geese, laying eggs willy-nilly in all possible locations? The “soggy,” “strange,” “spongy,” “yucko” crust led one taster to write, simply, “what the f?”

And things went from bad to worse with the “tasteless” filling. The “whole pie tastes like a chemical,” wrote one taster, who was backed up by others who wrote “chemical-like,” “artificial,” “oily,” and “tastes like blueberry-scented dish soap.”

The final verdict: “absolutely detestable.” “Positively criminal.” “Rotten — literally had to spit it out.” “This pie tastes like someone made it who has only had pie explained to them,” wrote another taster. The best that could be found among the comments was this note: “Perplexing — bad, in a ‘I’ll eat more to try to figure out why it’s so weird’ way.”

Betty’s, when you finally pull a Domino’s Pizza and rehabilitate the brand by making a decent product again, please give us a call. We’ve seen you at your low point.


For the value section, we did two things. First, we calculated the square inches in each pie. Then we divided the price by the inches to yield a price per square inch to account for bigger pies having justifiably bigger price tags.

This yielded a list of pies priced out per square inch.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pie maker — Cost per square inch of pie

Betty’s Pies — 7.9 cents
Stockholm Pie Company — 7.1 cents
New Scenic Cafe — 7.1 cents
Jerabek’s New Bohemian — 6.4 cents
Turtle Bread — 6.3 cents
Rustic Inn — 6.2 cents
Bakers Square — 5.4 cents
Keys Cafe — 5.3 cents
A Baker’s Wife — 5.1 cents
Joseph’s Family Restaurant — 5.1 cents
Sarah Jane’s — 4.3 cents
Norske Nook — 4.1 cents
Serlin’s — 4 cents
Rainbow — 2 cents

Then, we divided the price per square inch of each pie by the number of points it scored. The goal: Figuring out which pie got the best bang per buck.

Not surprisingly, the super strong performers include the cheap-as-dirt Rainbow Foods pie, and the amazingly tasty (but expensive) Stockholm Pie Company pie.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Worst performer…? Betty’s Pies, with a value ratio so bad that it looks like a calculation error. That’s what happens when you score 4 points out of 50 and have the most expensive pie per square inch. Betty’s Pies is floating in a parallel dimension of bad value here.

BEST VALUE: Rainbow — .11 per point
Keys Cafe — .15 per point
Stockholm Pie Company — .17 per point
Turtle Bread — .18 per point
Rustic Inn — .19 per point
A Baker’s Wife — .19 per point
Bakers Square — .20 per point
Sarah Jane’s — .22 per point
Jerabek’s New Bohemian —  .24 per point
New Scenic Cafe — .26 per point
Norske Nook — .29 per point
Serlin’s — .44 per point
Joseph’s Family Restaurant — .54 per point
WORST VALUE: Betty’s Pies — 1.975 per point


1. There’s no pleasing people on the crust front. Flaky versus tender was the debate; and while it’s possible to do both, it’s tough. Regardless, crust should impart some flavor of its own, and have enough substance to contain its contents.

2. If you’re going to do a blueberry pie, you need some acid — tarter berries, rhubarb, lemon juice, something — to lend contrast and definition. Otherwise you get a sweet, washed-out mess.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3. “Gummy” and “chemical” are the kisses of death. If your pie goes either of those directions, you’re sunk.

4. Better to err on the side of too tart and flavorful than too sweet — over-sugaring is the coward’s way out.

5. A cheap pie won’t be good, but an expensive price tag is no guarantee of quality.


Roaster’s Notes from Derek De La Paz of Peace Coffee, who tasted these coffees with a blueberry pie from Seward Co-op:

Colombian Heavy Pedal – This pairing was my favorite, it was also the best aroma pairing of the coffee’s. The pie filling brings out the sweet berry flavors in the coffee and the coffee mirrors and balances the flavors of the pie nicely. They are both very good in this pairing with balance and a clean finish thanks to the coffees acidity.

Sumatran Full City – This is the best pairing of all the pairings I attempted. The SFC makes the berries in the pie “POP” with berry flavor. The lower acidity allows for a gentle transition from flavor to flavor and a much more lingering fruity finish. The sweetness of the pie brings out the savory qualities of this coffee, strengthening the rich caramelized flavors of this Sumatran.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table


This story was compiled and written by James Norton. All math errors are his alone.

Thanks to Soleil Ho, Susan Pagani, Becca Dilley, Hannah Rogal, Maja Ingeman, Jill Lewis, John Garland, and Elizabeth Mead Cavert Scheibel for completing the arduous task of tasting and grading 14 pies.

Special thanks to Elizabeth Mead Cavert Scheibel, John Garland, and Maja Ingeman for acting as pie couriers.

Extra special thanks to Eric Faust, Susan Pagani, and Becca Dilley for acting as long-distance pie couriers (North Shore, Stockholm, and Osseo, respectively).

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table


  1. Anna

    You guys should have tried Lucia’s pies! I know they don’t always have them, but they’re unbelievable! One of the two best pies I’ve ever had was their Peach Raspberry Pie last summer. Go check them out!

  2. Eno

    Why would a local food blog do a pie tasting with pies featuring out of season fruit? I thought the whole point of pie was to take what was fresh/local/ripe and elevate its deliciousness?

  3. Shelby

    Couldn’t agree more about Betty’s Pies. I’ve never understood how a place that specializes in pies could serve stuff that’s so awful. (Their pasties aren’t anything to get excited about either.)

  4. Amy P.

    Wow! Two places totally built on their pie reputations – Betty’s Pies + Norske Nook -completely dinged…There doesn’t seem to be a single good place to eat in the stretch between MSP and Madison.

    Super-tasters, thanks for slogging through this challenge. How do I get invited to the next taste test? ;-)

  5. Mo Dub

    The Norske Nook pie shouldn’t have been included if you had to store it for a week. That seems like an unfair disadvantage, and I’m no Norske Nook apologist.

  6. Kassie

    Love it, but now I want more. Who has the best chocolate pie? The best pie with meringue? Pecan pies? God I love pie.

  7. James Norton

    Patrick, of course it could have been an individual pie, but we generally find that the larger an operation, the more consistent the product is from item to item… you’d be in a better position than us to say how consistent your product tends to be, and what specific ingredients go into your berry pies. We’re talking about an autumn pumpkin/pecan pie taste-off, so we’ll be happy to give Betty’s another shot.

  8. Deborah

    Please try the Pie Place Cafe in downtown Grand Marais the next time you do a pie tasting. They always get missed and they make some good pies – they certainly beat all The Bad & the Ugly on the above list.

  9. Stan Robins

    Interesting and well-done review, but I can’t understand why you would choose an apple pie from Serlin’s, and not an apple pie from Peter’s Grill, the gold standard.

  10. David Foureyes

    This article is AWESOME! I’ll take the evals with a grain of salt, but that you even endeavored to undertake such a task wins my bons mots. This was fun to read.

  11. Bobannon

    This was a great article. I agree with some other posters, I’d love to see a fall pie edition as well as a cream pie edition.

    50’s Grill in Brooklyn Center has on onsite scratch bakery and makes some awesome pies, check it out next time.

    P.S. I would like to be a taste tester for your cake edition as I am a cake-cake-cake person.

  12. Rebecca

    Wow! Love the pies — although I was surprised that you didn’t pick the same type from each place. I feel like I could find a good one in the Twin Cities now.

    A suggestion for an excellent pie stop in Wisconsin – the Bloomer Main Street Cafe in Bloomer. Their pies are far superior to those found at the Norske Nook. It’s a little harder to get to, but the quality is worth it!

  13. Amy Hunn

    Thanks you for including Keys Cafe & Baker in this pie challenge. We are awarded for many things, one being Best Value, by St Paul Minneapolis Magazine. Our bakery doesn’t seem to be challenged enough to recieve the award we would win in it were, so thank you again. Putting our Chocolate Cake in a cake challenge would surely give any other cakes a challenge!

  14. Kate Sommers

    Is it silly for me to suggest we include pie from places like Baker’s Square and/or Perkin’s for the next test? Baker’s square was started in Des Moines and then purchased by Pillsbury… though I’m not sure how they operate these days. Also, Currans in South Minneapolis is supposedly “known” for their pie, which they give a way during certain hours of the day.

  15. James Norton

    Kate, re: Baker’s Square, may I direct your attention to pie #8…? :) As for Perkins, I figured Rainbow Grocery would be a good stand in for industrial pie, but we could certainly try them next time.

    Curran’s (and lots of other smaller / local places people have mentioned in these comments) will definitely be up for consideration next time.

  16. DJ/MN

    Betty’s Pies went downhill rapidly after Betty sold it. It’s been many years since it had good pies. It survives only on the memories of non-locals.

  17. Jackie Marvel

    I completely concur about the underrated, unknown 50’s grill – they deserve a Heavy Table post in their own right. Such a bleak part of town on the culinary front, but 50’s grill has amazing pie crusts, all homemade fillings, great milkshakes, homemade buns for their burgers, neat as a pin….their coconut cream pie is off. the. hook.

    you could do a brooklyn center food piece – great india. 50s grill. you know, the north forty north of victory 44….

  18. Jennifer

    I agree with Deborah…the Pie Place in Grand Marais has some of the most amazing pie I’ve ever had. I hope you include them in future pie-tasting events. Perhaps even a feature on the restaurant as a whole? Everything they make there is homemade and just delicious. Not to be missed if you’re visiting the North Shore.

  19. Bobannon

    Jackie, I totally agree on the coconut cream at 50’s grill and I was going to mention it in my original post. They also have the best cherry pie I’ve ever had and I’m not even a huge pie person. All their desserts are really amazing. I think I might have to stop for a piece after work tonight.

  20. Tucker

    To DJ/MN: Betty’s Pies did go downhill when Betty sold it in “1984”! However, since new owners bought it in 1998 it has returned to its former glory – busier then ever – with great food and pie. The Pie Place in Grand Marais is very good also.

  21. Whatface

    I call B.S. on the Norske Nook review. I’ve never had anything less than amazing there.

  22. James Norton

    Nobody wanted to like the Norske Nook more than me – I’ve been stopping there on and off for years, and I made sure we included them in this taste-off because I thought they’d do great. But the pie was underwhelming the day we bought it, and similarly underwhelming in the blind taste test later.

    Historical background on the Norske Nook: It’s gone through a number of ups and downs. They got their reputation for great pie honestly, by making a quality product. But they were making bad pie about 7-8 years ago, and the buzz on them was terrible. But (again!) they came back and have been making pretty good to very good pie since — I’ve had some great pie there over the past few years. I was surprised at this particular pie’s poor qualities — it may just be that blueberry’s not their thing, or it may be that they’re slipping into another Dark Age.

  23. annmartina

    I’m relieved to find out that it’s not just me that think Betty’s Pies and Norske Nook make pretty terrible pie. I run into a lot of disbelief when I offer that opinion.

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