Though it may seem contradictory to consider something as enduring as the all-American pie trendy, statistics prove pies are making a comeback. And they’re being served in ways that would be unrecognizable to our Pilgrim forbears—these days you’ll find them in cups, mugs, shot glasses, on sticks, and on wheels. There’s even an apple-pie-inspired cocktail at Haven South Beach, made with vodka, yuzu juice, cinnamon simple syrup, and pressed apple cider topped with baked apple foam. So what’s the appeal? “It is a comfort food,” says Dr. Eva Ritvo, a psychiatrist at Miami Beach’s Mount Sinai Medical Center and coauthor of The Beauty Prescription. “When things are tough, people will turn to foods that remind you of pleasant memories.”
Indulgences can take all forms. And in Miami, we find pies to match the incredible diversity of our population. When local deal site Living Social put out a call for aspiring pie-makers to get their hands into some dough at an October empanada-making class at the charming Argentine Clos Bistro & Cafe downtown, 590 customers sold out the event in hours.
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Today’s pie resurgence enjoys many shapes and sizes. Empanada shops around town—Go-Go Fresh Food Café, La Moon Restaurant, Half-Moon Empanadas, Pastel Gourmet, and Las Olas Café—are selling the savory handheld pies, like, well, hotcakes. Krista Ali, owner of The Purple Pie Lady, a three-year-old online baking company based in Sunrise, can attest to the trend: In 2010, her sales tripled. Her dessert-on-a-stick pie pops sell for $24 per dozen, come in nine flavors, and are her hottest offerings. Nearly every weekend, she also delivers wedding pies to couples who crave something different. Pies are even turning up in glasses: They’re served as “mini indulgences” (shot glasses of, for example, pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust or pecan pie with vanilla mousse) at Seasons 52, a national grill and wine-bar chain with a branch in Coral Gables (321 Miracle Mile, 305-442-8552). City Hall, Steve Haas’s new hot spot, has recently popularized an even more decadent version of pie-in-a-glass: a sundae-style chocolate-banana-cream pie served with caramel sauce and loads of whipped cream (2004 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-764-3130).
Fillings, too, are exploring new creative frontiers. A hugely popular pie contest, put on this past October by national grassroots nutrition movement Slow Food, saw iterations such as strawberry balsamic, starfruit-cherry, mango-ginger, and even avocado cream. The group, which is a regular presence at various farmers and green markets around town, is planning an event at an as-yet-undetermined location pairing savory pies with local brews for March.
The flaky treats have even taken to the streets. At least four new pie trucks have rolled out all over greater Miami in recent months, including fireman Derek Kaplan’s World Famous Pies. Kaplan, a six-foot-two, tattooed firefighter, has been baking pies professionally since 2008, selling out of Midtown’s Bon Appétit Kids (2600 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-449-2517). Now, he says, is the right time to hit the road. “What happened to pie is what happened to everything else. People were doing it faster and cheaper, and it was crappy,” says Kaplan, whose award-winning creations include Key lime, pecan coconut cream, apple, and in summer, fresh blueberry. “People are now more aware of quality ingredients.” The barrel-chested baker has recently introduced pies on a stick as well, dunked in milk chocolate and sold straight from his truck, which is trackable on Twitter. Other mobile pie-making dessert-mobiles include South Miami’s Sweetness Bake Shop & Café’s truck, dubbed Sugar Rush, which bakes flavors such as lemon meringue and passion fruit. And if you haven’t tried Giselle Pinto’s brown-sugar-crusted, oatmeal-laced, custardy Sticky Lips pie, which she sells from her Sugar Yummy Mama van, you better get moving: As the Venezuelan baker says, “They sell like crack.”