No, seriously. I'm asking: What's better than pie?
I learned from an early age that pie can cure almost any ailment, particularly a shitty day. I can recall fond memories as a little girl spending nights with my mom at Banning's Restaurant and Pie House in Tigard, peering into the lit case of rotating pies wondering which delight might soon be presented on our table, accompanied by a generous scoop of ice cream. While we both agreed Grandma's was "the best," we often found ourselves short of driving the extra 20 miles to get to her house in Dayton, and opting instead to stop in at Banning's to get our sugar fix. I can't recall anything in particular in terms of favorite pies, but I will never shake the grand experience of sitting in an overstuffed booth and sharing a slice of pie with my mom.
How serendipitous it was this past Sunday when I had an opportunity to be a judge at this year's Portland Pie Off, especially given that my mom was able to tag along with me. While she was unable to partake in all of the festivities (doctor's orders), she graciously accompanied me from table to table, the two of us often in heated discussion regarding all of the various entries.
So how does one get to become a judge at the prestigious (we like to think-psst...pass it on) Portland Pie Off? That is, how does one earn enough clout to sport a kick-ass judge's badge while going around and sampling upwards of thirty delicious homemade pies on an incredibly perfect August afternoon in the park? Well, it's hard to say how I in particular managed to nail this gig, but I will say that it sure doesn't hurt to have solidly good neighbors doing solidly interesting, interactive, and inspiring things on a daily basis. Evan and I were fortunate to meet LeAnn on the blogosphere over two years ago. Even better was when we discovered we're practically neighbors. Within a day (if even) of "meeting" on the web, Evan and I arrived on her doorstep with a freshly churned batch of what would be Little Red Bike Cafe's first public sampling of our ice cream. We made her a spicy chocolate ice cream if I remember correctly, using chocolate and chilies brought back from Mexico. You can read all about this silly encounter here.
Flash forward two years to the present and we're still making ice cream (albeit less frequently), and LeAnn is still a treasured supporter and neighbor of our little cafe. Not to mention the fact that she makes up 1/4 of The Portland Pie Commission. Therefore, when I received an email from her asking if we'd not only act as judges of this year's competition, but also be willing to serve the winning pie at our cafe, I could hardly say no. Okay, come on-let's be real, I nearly jumped out of my seat at the computer and then shamelessly (or shamefully, depends on how you see it) flaunted the news to my husband who would unfortunately be too tied up with other things (like running a cafe) to attend.
Needless to say I was delighted when my mom was able to stand in Evan's place. Another sign that this event was simply "meant to be" was that this past Sunday was also my mom's triumphant return to the LRBC kitchen, something we *all* had been eagerly anticipating (doggies outside waiting for treats included). But after just a few hours of flipping French toast and smothering biscuits with gravy, Mom and I were excused from Sunday's Brunch Service so that we could attend the pie off.
An hour into the competition I became convinced that I was an official expert of pie in the stone fruit and nut variety (my two categories). After sampling approximately nine from each category (read: 18 pies), our team collectively picked the winners. Curious to know which pies grabbed the gold, or in this case, the blue ribbon? After the battle of the peach pies, Jenny Cook's delightful Brown Butter Bourbon Peach Pie deservedly took the stone fruit category. What can I say? The judges all had a thing for bourbon (guilty as charged. Amen!), and Miranda Layton's simple but classic pecan pie edged out all the others in the nut category, nailing the perfect balance between toasted nutty goodness and sticky corn-syrupy sweetness. Once the best from each category was determined, the judges reconvened and sampled the winners from the other categories in a fierce and grueling attempt to determine Best in Show. Yes, that's right. After sampling eighteen pies I proceeded to diligently fulfill the rest of my duty and went on to devour uh, I mean "taste" the winning pies from the remaining seven categories: berry, c.p.r., savory, custard, mash-up, fruit, and cream. After all, this was a job, people.
After an afternoon of 72 pies, 300 people, and several outposts of local news, we found our winner. The competition was stiff but there was one pie that was able to distinguish itself from all of the rest:
Friends, please meet Alison Greco, grand prize winner of the Portland Pie Off.
So what in the hell did Ms. Greco (who happens to also have an adorably supportive husband and family) do to impress this esteemed group so much? What pie has a future in the Little Red Bike Cafe repertoire? Try this on for size, folks:
Cucumber Honeydew White Chocolate Icebox Pie.
All I can say is that it's like summer and indulgence in your mouth all at once, and it's unlike anything I've ever tried. It's sort of like sorbet with a creamy custard put in a crust. Yeah, that's right, just try to wrap your head around it. But you can't. And you won't. Until you're able to taste it in the flesh. At this point it's necessary to add that Ms. Greco has completely transformed the way I think about pie by taking the most classic of combinations (ice cream and pie) and making it one. So thanks Ali, for not only sharing a terrific name (sorry-couldn't resist) but also for sharing your terrific recipe with me. We cannot wait to introduce your goods to our friends at the cafe.
So I guess the answer to the question is this: if there is anything better than pie, it might just be ice cream (or sorbet) and pie.
Please stay tuned for more details on when you can get your hands on Ali Greco's award winning pie. In the meantime, much thanks to The Portland Pie Off, specifically LeAnn and all of the lovely people who make up the Portland Pie Commission, all of the wonderful volunteers, enthusiastic contestants, generous sponsors, hungry "pietrons", and compatriot judges for making this year's event such a success. We were beyond flattered to be a part of this fun event and we're already rifling through the recipes in our brains for possible contenders for next year's event!!!
Feeling left out of the festivities? Haven't yet had your fill of pie? Not to fret. Summer is NOT over and your opportunity to enjoy pie is just around the corner. All ye need do is head on over to the Eastbank Farmer's Market at SE 20th and Salmon this Thursday from 3:30-6:30 for your chance to immerse yourself in true Pietopia. Need more info? Go here.