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Pie Crawl Part Two: Taste Testing Holiday Treats With Bri Warner of Maine Pie Line

Bri Warner's parting gift to customers: She ate a ton of holiday pie from other area bakeries and named favorites. For Part Two she tried Tandem and Little Bigs. Catch up on Part One if you missed it.

When Bri Warner announced she was closing her bakery Maine Pie Line shortly before the holidays, the question had to be asked: Where should her customers turn for holiday pies? Warner named a handful of the great alternatives in town, but confessed she hadn't been tempted by the fruit of another since she started her business and wasn't up to speed on other people's pies.

Out of this, a pie crawl was born. The crawl was organized on short notice due to the impending holiday (yes, it's coming right up, and if you don't feel like cooking, check out eight great places to dine out on Thanksgiving). As such, not every bakery was included, and we've done our best to share additional holiday pie information for shops that didn't get featured.

Tandem Coffee + Bakery, 742 Congress St, Portland. Order for Thanksgiving by Saturday, November 22 in person or at (207) 805-1887.

Tandem Coffee Roasters has been successful enough in its two short years in East Bayside that owners Will and Kathleen Pratt were able to open a West End expansion. The new cafe includes a bakery where Briana Holt (formerly of Pies N Thighs in Brooklyn, among other credentials) and her team are turning out a variety of well regarded sweet and savory goods with a focus on rotating pie selections.

Holt said she won't overdo it with holiday pie orders this first year at Tandem. "We have hardly any storage space, our walk-in is small, so we'll probably cut orders off a few days before Thanksgiving. There will be extra pies for people who want to try to just walk in. I'm also going to stop at 50, I think, and just have extras."

Are you excited or nervous about the holiday rush?
Holt: I'm both? Neither? I don't know. I've done holiday pies before at other places, so I know what I'm in for, I guess. Though I don't know Portland well enough to know what's coming, how many people are going to order, when they're going to order....

You have a Rosemary Shaker Lemon Pie here. Does this have whole lemons?
Holt: Yes, you zest the lemon first, you slice it really thin, you marinate it overnight or two nights.

Is this the first time you've made it?
Holt: I've been making it here for like a month, I think. A lot of people have never heard of it but they seem to like it. It doesn't work for everyone because it's so tart and has a little bit of bitterness to it, but I'm into that. I like a pie that has some intensity of flavors to it.

Then there's this Cranberry Pie with sage, which has somewhat Christmasy flavors to it.
Holt: isn't that how it works? You're supposed to come out with Christmas stuff right after Halloween? (Laughs.)

Do you have a most popular pie?
Holt: I would say Apple Pie and the Maple + Brown Butter Custard are the ones that sell out the fastest. Brown Butter Custard is straight up dessert. When it's cold from the fridge, I can't even...I just eat a piece like a taco.

People are a little afraid of the Cranberry Pie because they're not used to eating whole cranberries, but I think it's so good. Brown sugar, sage, a little bit of lemon.... When I first started making it I was putting a little bit of orange zest in it, but I realized it just tasted like cranberry sauce. As it is, it's kind of warm, fall flavors. It's not super crazy sweet.

What pie would you like someone else to make for you?
Holt: I don't know...Something really chocolatey, salty, creamy. Something decadent, with a cookie crust.

The Taste Test:
Maple + Brown Butter Custard Pie, Cranberry Pie with sage, Rosemary Shaker Lemon Pie.

Bri's Highlight:
The custard was the perfect consistency, and the salt with the browned butter...I thought it was perfectly done, smooth and fantastic. I liked the introduction of sage to the cranberry pie, so it's great for after Thanksgiving when you're riched-out, just feeling done with rich flavors. I thought it was a really deep, nice flavor. I liked how the cranberries were whole, they weren't totally cooked into mush. These non-traditional fillings are perhaps the closest to those in the pies I made.

Little Bigs, 340 Main Street, Route 1 at Cash Corner, South Portland. Order sweet or savory pies for Thanksgiving by Sunday, November 23 online or at (207) 747-4233.

James and Pamela Plunkett opened this small shop with a big presence last year in an underserved section of South Portland (Dairy Queen has long been the major draw to crowded Cash Corner). They're helping Mainers fall in love with hand pies, which are street food-style pies you can eat without utensils. The donuts and other baked goods they're turning out are also worthy of a trip across Veterans Memorial Bridge from Portland.

Pamela is proud of the niche they've carved out, and she's a fan of the overall diversity in the local bakery scene. "The good thing I think about the bakeries here is they all do something a little different. It's nice, not such straight competition."

How did the holiday pie season go for you last year?
Pamela: I'm used to baking a lot of pies. At one previous job I'd make like 800 every Thanksgiving, and almost that many pies plus Yule Logs for Christmas. But I had the staff for it. So last year I was like, "65 pies, no problem!"

Well, we were so in the shits! I thought, "I'll just come in and start putting the crust together on Tuesday, put in a couple extra hours Wednesday and Thursday morning," and, oh my God, we were tearing our hair out, running around here like crazy.

How are you more prepared this year?
Pamela: We're looking at a little deep-freezer so I can start building the shells and putting them in the freezer raw, so then I can throw the stuff together..."throw the stuff together," I say, ha! But still.

Will you be offering the same pies as last year?
Pamela: Mostly. We didn't do raspberry and didn't do chocolate pecan last year, but we've sold the raspberry pie almost since we opened, and it's really popular because it's not real sweet. In fact, none of our things are very sweet. We get that comment a lot, with the donuts as well. People have always said that, wherever I've worked, and I love that. The product tastes like the thing it is. Whether it's lemon that tastes like lemon, or chocolate that's very chocolatey, or berries that have that tartness, and you don't just taste sugar.

We made one additional thing last year, which is interesting because I couldn't give them away in Chicago or LA, but which people here really like: Mince pies. Real mince pies. Several customers asked if we made them from venison, which we did not - we used pork shoulder. But we were thinking this year, if people have venison they want us to use, we would do that. I love mince pies.

Bri: People are obsessed with them here.

A lot of modern "mincemeat" doesn't actually have meat, though, right? It's mostly a mix of raisins and spices now.
Pamela: Yeah, but with the texture of the meat, the fat from the pork, it's so good.

Did you have a most popular pie last year?
Pumpkin's always been most popular, I think all over the country where I've worked. People are traditional at Thanksgiving. It's always been Pumpkin, Apple, Pecan. Christmas is a little more fanciful. But everything you're tasting today is available for Thanksgiving, plus a turkey hand pie.

The Taste Test:
Chocolate Pecan Pie, Bumbleberry (raspberry, blackberry, blueberry) Pie, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Custard Pie, Wild Blueberry Pie, Granny Smith Pie, and Raspberry Pie.

Bri's Highlight:
The crust was phenomenal. The Pumpkin Pie was almost savory, in a really delightful way. Great finish to any meal: Earthy, kind of roasted tasting, with a deep flavor to it. The Chocolate Pecan was gooey and delicious. The nuts were perfectly toasted, and there was obviously brown butter in it.

A gluten-free holiday pie option: Bam Bam Bakery. Today, Thursday, November 20, is the last day to order for Thanksgiving at (207) 899-4100. Pies include Pumpkin, Apple, Chocolate Pecan, and Pear and Raisin Crisp (all dairy-free).

Another holiday option: Friday Pie Club, profiled this week by the Portland Press Herald. Order for Thanksgiving online. Pies include Apple Rum Mince Pie, Apple Crumb Pie, Bourbon Pecan Pie, Old Fashioned Squash Pie, Pear Cranberry Pie, and Sweet Potato Pie.

Another: Foley's Cakes. Order for Thanksgiving by Saturday, November 22 at (207) 773-2253. Pies include Apple, Blueberry, Pumpkin, Pecan, and Chocolate Cream.

And of course: Standard Baking Co. Order for Thanksgiving by Sunday, November 23 at (207) 773-2112. Holiday pie menu available in-store.

Little Bigs

340 Main St - Rt. 1, South Portland, ME 04106 (207) 747-4233

Foley’s Cakes

1 Monument Way, Portland, ME 04101 (207) 773-2253 Visit Website

Tandem Coffee + Bakery

742 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102 (207) 899-0235 Visit Website

Bam Bam Bakery

267 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101 (207) 899-4100

The Standard Baking Co.

75 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101 (207) 773-2112