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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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