Slice of Heaven
Real pie company returns and delivers the goods
By Greg Sabin
Pie is one of my favorite things. I will take pie over cake any day. I will take pie over doughnuts and pie over ice cream (or even better, ice cream over pie, if you know what I mean).
When I learned Real Pie Company was to open a few blocks from my home, I was thrilled. After several appetizing visits over the last six months, the joy continues.
Several years ago, owner and professional baker Kira O’Donnell opened a small pie shop on 12th Street in Alkali Flat.
For various reasons, none of which involved the quality and deliciousness of the pies, the business closed. It was, as many food-obsessed friends noted, a flash of flavor, a singular opportunity to delight in sweet sensation, and a too-common flameout on the culinary landscape.
The demise of O’Donnell’s pies downtown belonged in the same category as the closures of Doughbot, the experimental doughnut shop on 10th Street, and David Berkley, the specialty grocer, sandwich and wine store at Pavilions. Their exits were major losses.
But Real Pie Company is back.
This time around, O’Donnell and her husband, Fred Babich, have built a larger space to meet their needs. On 24th Street, between Broadway and X Street, the new RPC combines a spacious kitchen with a good-sized and well-lighted dining room. The vibe is small town, with photos of local farms, fresh and dried flowers, and adorable signs offering a free slice on your birthday or if you get a good report card. My wife said the scene reminded her of the small Pacific Northwest towns of her childhood.
Instead of writing about Real Pie Company after it opened in late spring, I wanted to wait until prime pie season. November is the month when Americans are gripped by pie-fever. O’Donnell’s new enterprise has the cure. So here we go.
Let’s start with the key lime pie. It’s a keeper. The subtle green and yellow hue of the filling, the beautifully granular graham crust and the lip-coating whipped cream topping all come together to make a perfect version of this Floridian classic.
And the butterscotch-banana cream pie might have the key lime beat. With the rich, smoky tang of butterscotch and the full-tilt flavor of fresh banana, it’s right in my wheelhouse.
Old-school favorites such as chocolate cream, coconut cream and lemon meringue are also available and provide prime examples of each style.
Naturally, fresh fruit selections change with the seasons. But the jumble-berry, a mix of Marion blackberries, cherries, wild blueberries and raspberries will always be on the menu. The crust on these beauties is wonderfully heavy with butter, yet still flaky and decadent.
Depending on the season, customers will find plums, apricots, apples, figs and any number of locally farmed (and sometimes backyard harvested) treats filling these crusty marvels. Occasionally, a crumble top does the job. Real Pie Company makes one of the best.
For the holiday season, O’Donnell is bringing out a special treat, cazuela pie, which is a mixture of pumpkin, sweet potato and coconut. Similar in texture to a traditional pumpkin pie, the cazuela is slightly less sweet than Thanksgiving pumpkin, but with a dash of coconut for that heady, day-at-the-beach flavor. This is one to bring to a big family dinner. It will not only impress, it will delight.
Savory pies round out the menu with heavy comfort and dead-on execution. The obligatory chicken potpie puts together that killer crust with a stout mixture of chicken and chunky veggies. With the expertly executed shepherd’s pie, you could feed three to four people, topping the feast with slices of dessert pie. It’s easily the best served in any Sacramento restaurant.
Take heed, however. Daily inventory is limited. Don’t count on your favorite pie to be available on a weeknight and especially on a weekend evening. Most days, a handful of items are sold out by mid-afternoon. On some days, the majority of the menu is gone by dinnertime. So plan ahead. Call ahead. And don’t wait until the last minute if you’re buying a pie for a special holiday gathering. Consider yourself warned.