A slice of pie

It’s getting late on a gray Friday afternoon at the end of a long, gray week. And I suddenly find myself craving a slice of pie — not that cardboard stuff you might find in Sam’s Club and in far too many Little Rock restaurants but real pie.

I’m talking pie with the syrup oozing up through the meringue.

Arkansas just might be the best pie state in the South. We boast regular pies and fried pies. And we have people in all parts of the state who know how to turn out memorable pies.

I grew up on good pie. My dad always called pecan pie Karo nut pie (a term I still prefer since it gives it more of an Arkansas feel), and he always wanted a mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Is it just me or is mincemeat pie getting hard to find? Growing up in Arkadelphia, we got our fried pies from Mrs. Frost (her husband was indeed named Jack Frost) at the Pig Pit in Caddo Valley.

These days, when I think of pie in Arkansas, I tend to think of road trips to DeValls Bluff. That historic Prairie County town on the banks of the White River boasts both Mary Thomas’ Pie Shop and Ms. Lena’s Pie Shop. Pie connoisseurs pick sides on which one has the best pies, kind of like deciding whether you like the cheesesteaks best in Philadelphia at Pat’s or Geno’s.

Mary Thomas has been selling pies along U.S. Highway 70 — just across the street from Craig’s Barbecue — for more than 30 years. Writer Michael Stern of Roadfood fame describes it this way: “The Pie Shop is an annex of Mary Thomas’ home, built out of a former bicycle shed, now filled with tools of the baker’s art. Mrs. Thomas starts making pies in the morning, and by lunchtime there might be half a dozen varieties available, the favorites including pineapple, apple, lemon, cream, coconut and sweet potato, all laid out in gorgeous golden brown crusts that rise up like fragile pastry halos around their fillings.”

Ms. Lena’s has not been serving pies for as long, having opened in the early 1990s. But it’s also worth the trip. To find Ms. Lena’s, continue east on U.S. 70 and then take a right onto Arkansas Highway 33. You will see Ms. Lena’s on your left after¬†getting onto 33.

Ms. Lena passed away in January 2005, but her family has kept the place going. Saturday, by the way, is the day for fried pies — peach, apple, apricot, chocolate, coconut and more. If you call (870) 998-1204 in advance of your trip, they can tell you what they have. The last time I checked, the fried pies were only $1.50 each.

Whole pies often are available on some other days of the week. As I said, call in advance for a whole pie and the hours.

Where else are great pies in Arkansas, both fried and the conventional variety? I need your pie tips.

Where are the best pies in Central Arkanas? In Southwest Arkansas? In Southeast Arkansas? In Northwest Arkansas? In Northeast Arkansas? In the heart of the Ozarks in the north-central part of the state? In the Ouachitas out around Mena and Waldron?

Do they call it Karo nut or pecan? And, finally, where should I get my mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving? In Little Rock, I’m thinking Franke’s.

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13 Responses to “A slice of pie”

  1. Dean Elliott says:

    My favorite fried pies could be found at Pickett’s just off the main drag in Stuttgart. Mrs. Pickett cooked them fresh daily for the lunch crowd. In Maumelle, Kierre’s Kountry Kitchen has the best chocolate pies around. The have different flavors daily.

  2. Cory Allen Cox says:

    Rex,
    I have this quest for the perfect chocolate fried pie. Not just any fried pie, but one like my grandma made, with cocoa, sugar, butter and vanilla flavoring. Most fried pies have a pudding type filling but grandma’s filling wasn’t like that. In grandma’s there was just enough moistness to clump the sugar and cocoa togther.
    Just last week Jill and I headed down to DeVall’s Bluff for BBQ and pie. Jill’s friend from OBU lives at Bisco and she pulled herself from her duties with the Prairie County fair to join us.
    After burgers, ribs and pulled pork, we drove down to Ms. Lena’s. We all got diffrent fried pies. My chocolate was not like grandma’s but was incredible none-the-less. As we sat talking and wiping the flakey crust from our jabbering mouths, the lady at the counter told us about a Red Wasp nest they found in a flower pot that sat in front of the door all summer. They solved the problem in good old rural Arkansas fashion: they burned the flowers, pot and all. As we stood on the porch, the pot and flowers still smoldered in the center of a ten foot circle of ash. Rest assurred, anyone wanting a fried pie from Ms. Lena will not have to worry about wasps.
    We then went on a drive around DuVall’s Bluff to check out the old homes and even went down to \S@!t Hill\ where the local kids drive too fast in order to send their cars airborn (we did not attempt that stunt ourselves). According to our friend, the ideal car for such a death defying stunt is a 1993 Cadillac Deville. I would have thought a 1969 Dodge Charger would be better, but not being a native, I did not argue. And it didn’t matter as the road near the hill was filled with dogs and the few cars around stopped in deference to them.
    We then returned to Craig’s and walked across the street and got a first rate chocolate pie for our church group on Sunday night. Our church group has never been treated so well. It was one of the best pies around and a bargain at $8.64.
    DuVall’s Bluff is a charming little town full of good people and good food. If your reader’s have not been there, they owe themselves the favor of a trip over. It is a great way to spend an afternoon.

  3. bubba lloyd says:

    rex,

    by not answering your phone when i called you this morning, you missed out on a true southern treat. my momma had made a delicious banana pudding and brought it down to the office this morning. not the crap they serve at local restaurants where they slice a few bananas and mix them with some vanilla wafers and throw them in some pudding from a box. i mean the banana pudding momma learned to make growing up in the cotton fields of wilson and keiser in mississippi county. a cooked banana pudding with meringue that has beads of vanilla extract sweating out of it. i prefer to chill my rather than eating it right out of the oven. you should have answered your phone.

  4. AllenK says:

    My wife and I have been to Craig’s,but we haven’t been to either pie shop. We plan to rectify that in the very near future.

    Pig Pit had the best fried pies,and my wife absolutely loved them! I sure do miss the Pit! I think they cleaned the place up way too much,but that’s just me. It’s just not the same in many ways.

    Both of my grandmothers made/make the best pies. My Dad’s mom made incredible fried pies, and I remember her drying tons of apples for them. My mother-in-law’s mom wasn’t any slouch either!

    My mom’s Mom is thankfully still with us at 90 years old ,and she can still cook with the best of them. Her coconut cream pie is pure heaven,and it looks as good as it tastes. The meringue,or “calf slobber”, stands high and and the top is lightly toasted. It’s just pure heaven! She makes great chcolate,apple,and pecan pies too. Her cobblers are awesome also.
    She’s made homemade biscuits every day for probably close to 80 years also,and her yeast rolls rock too! Sorry to ramble,but the woman is just an inspiration to all of us. She may very well outlive all of us.

    In short,I vote for Clark County. I’ve heard great things about the pie at Ed&Kay’s in Benton also.

  5. AllenK says:

    Bubba’s post reminded me that my grandma can make a mean ‘nanner puddin’ too! She makes a pineapple pudding too,and it the meringue has the beads on it too!

  6. Paul Johnson says:

    I saw the food critic on one of the LR channels the other day do a pie review that featured a place in Benton that has drawn unwarranted attention for producing pies with the meringue piled two feet high on top of the actual pie. People were oohing and ahhing about this tall-meringue atrocity.

    Them ain’t pies! They are tall piles of whipped egg whites with some sort of gooey mess about an inch deep at the bottom of the plate.

    If I want a meringue wad I’ll order a meringue wad.

    If I want a pie I’ll order a pie with lots of filling and just enough meringue to cover up the filling.

    Nix on meringue heaps disguised and marketed as pies.

  7. Melissa G. Nelson says:

    To Allen K: Sounds like your grandmother is a gem. Make sure that someone in the family is learning how to make all the great pies, etc… from her. Although I know it’s hard to duplicate the greatness of the original. May she continue to live and cook for years to come.

  8. Kay Brockwell says:

    The best fried pie I ever had was any fried peach pie made by my best friend’s mother in W. Tenn. when I was a kid. My grandmother made fried apple pies, and they were not to be sneezed at. Mary made fried peach pies and they were To Die For. She’s 80-something now, still making pies, and has promised to teach me.

    The best fried pie I ever paid money for was at a little gas station/grocery/restaurant en route to Shiloh, TN, in Grand Junction. You take Poplar Avenue until it dead ends, jog to the left and back right, and it’s the first such establishment on your left. They had peach, apple, cherry and chocolate, and they were perfect to buy two or three to stick in your camera bag when you were wandering around Shiloh on a Saturday trip.

  9. AllenK says:

    She is definitely that Melissa! I don’t know if my aunt learned how to do fried pies,but I do know nobody on my Mom’s side has learned top make pies like Mammaw. My wife and my Mom need do need to learn.

    It will be time for another awesome Sunday lunch in about 3 hours,and hopefully a pie or cobbler will be on the menu.

  10. GaryF says:

    Rex, I’m sure you are familiar with the pies and cakes at Charlotte’s in Keo.Best caramel pie I’ve ever eaten. There’s a new place in Humnoke-Papa Joe’s that has great pies and cakes.

  11. Rocky says:

    Rex: Try the strawberry pie at BJ’s. Huge portion that is simply outstanding. They also make a wide variety and sell whole pies. If my parents would rather buy one there than make it, it has to be pretty good.

  12. rexnelson says:

    Kay: Thanks for the mention of Grand Junction. I love that town. I grew up a quail hunter, and Grand Junction is Mecca for quail hunters. The national field trials are there as is the Hall of Fame for bird dogs. If you’ve had at least one good bird dog, you understand that they indeed deserve their own Hall of Fame.

  13. Kirkley Thomas says:

    Rex: For great pies in LR, check out Chip’s Barbecue on west Markham.

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