A somewhat infamous holiday is tomorrow. Mar. 14 is the beloved and oft-celebrated Pi Day. People all around the world indulge in the holiday, but rather than having a party to thank the man William Jones — a mathematician from Wales in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — for introducing the term pi to the world, society chooses to celebrate with its sweeter, more edible homophone: pie.
Yes, tomorrow is Pi Day, and yes, a lot of people will be eating pies. To be quite frank, there is a very good chance that I will be too, and with that thought has been in my mind for a while now, I decided to take a look at the city of Philadelphia and find out where the best places to get a pie.
After having almost near exhausted the Philadelphia pizza scene with an earlier food column, this week’s focus is on the sweeter slice. However, I won’t discredit anyone who celebrates Pi Day with a savory pie such as pizza, because they are equally-loved foods of the Pi Day celebrations!
The first place that any rationally-thinking Philadelphian should turn to for any food list is, without hesitation, the Reading Terminal Market. And while most of these food columns don’t often start at the Terminal Market, they almost always make a stop there to highlight one of the countless stalls making amazing foods.
When it comes to pies in Philly, the Reading Terminal Market holds three of the best pie spots in town: Beiler’s Bakery (the sister to Beiler’s Donuts!), Flying Monkey Bakery and Metropolitan Bakery.
Beiler’s Bakery does just about any and every baked good under the sun — sans donuts — and they have been doing it since 1891, when Lancaster, PA natives Alvin Beiler and his son Keith began. According to the Beiler’s website, “many of their recipes were simply gathered from neighbors when starting their business.” So when you go and get a slice of their apple, peach or cherry pie, just know that the recipe could’ve very well been from a friendly neighbor, and could have origins back to the mid-1800s. Eating pie from Beiler’s is like eating a slice of history.
Compared to Beiler’s, Flying Monkey Bakery has barely just started their business. Elizabeth Halen’s bakery will turn 10 years old in Oct. 2020. They are a small-batch, seven days a week spot in the Terminal Market that is using high-quality ingredients to turn out high-quality baked goods, and their pies are no exception.
The two staple pies at Flying Monkey are seen on their website or in their display case at the Terminal Market, and those are their chocolate creme and key lime pies. However, if you’re up for a colossal, over-the-top dessert extravaganza, then Halen and her team also have you covered with their nefariously good Pumpple Cake.
As best described in an Atlas Obscura article written about this wonder of a dessert, the Pumpple Cake is alluded to being the sweet version of a turducken.
“For the unenlightened, a turducken is the potentially foolhardy feat of cooking a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey to make a layered meat mountain of nesting poultry. The Pumpple cake, however, involves cooking a pumpkin pie inside of a chocolate cake, an apple pie inside of a vanilla cake, then stacking the two with a layer of buttercream frosting between. As a final flourish, the tiers receive a buttercream coating and a dusting of confetti-like rainbow jimmies (i.e., sprinkles).”
If this sounds like something you — and hopefully a small army of people — want to try, then at least you know there is one source for this delicious combination dessert nearby.
The third and final place for pie is presumably the most convenient place for pie in the entire Philadelphia area. Metropolitan Bakery has five locations around the city and its surrounding neighborhoods, but there, of course, is one in the Terminal Market.
At just about every location you can get a Metropolitan Bakery pie, but they are a bakery dedicated to seasonal flavors and fresh options, so the flavors tend to rotate. However, if you call in advance you generally have the chance of getting the desired flavor for your occasion/pie enjoyment.
After the hub that is the Terminal Market, the pies of Philadelphia are scattered throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
The first spots that come to mind should be obvious, because who doesn’t love a good diner slice of pie. As a self-acclaimed diner lover extraordinaire, you really have to search for a good diner here in Philly. Besides the Terminal Market’s Down Home Diner, there aren’t many that are within city limits to give you your diner fix.
Thankfully Silk City Diner and Melrose Diner have got you covered, and each in their own ways. Melrose Diner is the tribute to the old school as Silk City is the take on a new school style.
On 15th and Snyder Streets in South Philly, the Melrose Diner in all of its old tin glamour sits pretty in the sunlight. The locals go, the regulars go, the tourists go and just about anyone looking for a good diner experience goes. Not to be confused with the nearby Broad Street Diner — which is another lovely diner, but over on Broad Street — the Melrose Diner is a local landmark. When it comes to pies, they have the usual suspects, but their hot apple pie with a vanilla sauce over top is what seals the deal as a pie destination.
Far on the other side of the Market Street line, the Silk City Diner has been open since 1954 — that’s 66 years for folks who are counting out there — after being installed in a diner car that was next to a cocktail lounge. Silk City now owns both the lounge and the diner, so both your dancing and eating needs can be filled in one building.
But the real key here is that Silk City’s original owners actually shut it down in ‘06, only for it to be re-opened a year later after construction, with a whole new space and a 3000 square foot beer garden. The menu is rocking real deal brunch, dinner and lunch. Silk City holds nothing back.
Their pies are up there in terms of new spins on diner classics, considering the solitary — albeit outstanding — pie they have on their menu: the old fashioned apple pie topped with butterscotch swirl ice cream.
Continuing with the trend of ice cream on top of pie, look no further than Philly ice cream icon Franklin Fountain. In addition to their wildly-famous ice cream — to be featured in a later article — Franklin Fountain also has an apple pie a la mode! Their suggested pairing? Topping their delectable pie with a scoop of their maple walnut ice cream. Try it for yourself, or go crazy and put any kind of flavor on there.
Or, you can be crazy like the people of Vermont, and pair cheddar cheese with your local apple pie. If you don’t feel like making a trek to the northeast, then just head on over to Bud & Marilyn’s on 12th and Locust Streets for their apple slab pie with Wisconsin white cheddar, vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
Is that over-the-top pie not doing it for you? What about a banana cream pie with an oatmeal cookie crust, bruleed banana and a mascarpone cream? Or a sweet potato pie with candied pecans, bourbon butterscotch and toasted meringue? If you want your pie to go the extra mile, leave it to Bud & Marilyn’s to get the job done right.
And now, for the hidden gem(s) of the week, I found myself with the first-ever tie: A savory and a sweet winner! These two spots are equally doing good things in their respective neighborhoods and spaces, and not sacrificing anything in the process.
The sweet winner is Tartes Fine Cakes & Pastries. This petite bakeshop in Old City can be passed by in a second if you don’t have a keen eye for pastry shops. I’ve always marveled at the small stature of the building and how it is contrasted with such a strong aroma wafting out of the small space.
There are no indoor seats, with two chairs for two lucky people to sit down and enjoy Tartes right away, but odds are you’ll have to take this home with you or be willing to devour it standing up. While it may seem unconventional, Tartes just only has so much room to bake their goods.
Tartes is known for their heirloom apple, bourbon pecan and pumpkin pies that they make for orders around Thanksgiving, but it would be sacrilegious to not mention their tarts, considering the name. They make seriously, seriously good tarts, with their namesakes being lemon meringue and the flavor combo of pear, pecan and maple.
The savory winner, on the other hand is Stargazy, “A Traditional Pie & Mash Shop” which is bringing London traditions to East Passyunk Avenue. Funnily enough, Stargazy is just down the block from Sate Kampar, which was highlighted in the BYO article. Two amazing spots nestled into the heart of East Passyunk, serving cuisines entirely different from each other.
According to their website, the folks at Stargazy make pies, mash and eels — when available — along with “other British regional speciality baked goods, puddings, & house-made breads. The kicker? You never know just what they’ll be serving until they post on their Instagram — or until you stop in. Stargazy’s offerings and old school menu board get updated almost every day.
Get down there to try any of their pies — all of which come with the option of adding mash & liquor — one of their sausage rolls, or on Saturday, getting a load of their full English breakfast.
And, if you do want to opt for the sweet option, odds are high they will have at least one pie on the board, along with other British baked goods. If Stargazy only is one thing, it is most definitely British.
That’s the run-down for the impending Pi Day festivities and your future pie enjoyment! Hopefully the sweets keep you satisfied while you wait for this food column to return next term.