Where to find great pies on Long Island
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That's right, fruit pies. Chocolate cream pies, sweet-potato pies -- these are all worthy confections, but they are expressions of the custard-maker's art, not the pastry chef's. We also give the edge to double-crust pies over crumbs. Crumb pies are delicious, indeed, but require of the chef only the ability to strew flour, sugar and butter on top of a filling.
A great fruit pie needs only two things: great fruit and great pastry. Fruit should, optimally, be fresh, but summer fruits such as berries and peaches freeze well; plenty of Long Island farms freeze local fruit, using it to excellent effect in the fall. Once you've got the fruit, you've got to let it shine. A common failing of commercial (as opposed to homemade) pies is that too much starch is used in the filling. As it cooks, fruit exudes juice; the starch is there to absorb and bind the juice so the pie doesn't soak through its bottom crust and bleed out when you cut it. That said, I'd rather have a bleeding pie than one with a filling of fruit suspended in a gelatinous substrate.
Finally, there's the pastry. Butter and vegetable shortening both have their adherents; you can make a great pie with either. The key to a good pastry dough is that the fat and the flour are not combined so thoroughly that they make a tough crust. This is not hard to do when you're making enough pastry for two pies. Much more difficult when you're making pastry for hundreds.
These, then, are the challenges. Here are 10 places that meet them:
4414 Sound Ave., Riverhead
With its cultlike following, Briermere Farms is Long Island's pie colossus. On a fall weekend, hundreds of people (some of whom have parked a quarter mile away) converge on the old farmhouse to choose from among the more than two dozen pies. According to Clark McCombe, whose family has owned Briermere since 1960, almost all the fruit used is grown right there on the farm -- out-of-season fruit is frozen -- and pies are baked on the premises every day by a staff, this time of year, of 10 to 12 people.
Apple pie is classically humpbacked, with a tender filling perhaps too redolent of cinnamon. I love the raspberry-plum pie, appealingly runny from all the sweet and tart juices. The 9-inch pies range in price from $15 (for plain apple) to $20 (for the fruit cream pies).
23 Bryant Ave., Roslyn
Most bakery pies can't compare to homemade, but Diane Margaritis strives to get hers as close as possible to the ones she makes at home. This means using fresh New York State apples and as little starch as she can get away with. She also eschews cinnamon (last refuge of the scoundrel baker) in favor of nutmeg and lemon juice, which heighten the appleness rather than masking it.
No matter the time of year, customers clamor for Diane's three-berry pie, a delectable combination of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries under a lattice top.
These are pies I would have been proud to have made myself. The 8-inch pies are $24; 5-inch pies are $10.
JERICHO CIDER MILL
213 Rte. 106, Jericho
Jericho Cider Mill is Nassau County's go-to location for all things apple-related. There's an unsurpassed selection of varieties, all from New York State, and that bounty is used to make a number of fine pies: apple, apple-cherry, apple-peach and an excellent apple-cranberry (a Newsday tasting-panel favorite), as well as apple-and-friends crumb pies and even some outliers such as blueberry and cherry. The 10-inch pies are $20.50, 6-inch are $8.95.
Olish sells too many pies to use exclusively local fruit, owner Donny Olish said, so when he has exhausted local produce, he heads to Pennsylvania's farm country to attend farmers' auctions. Some of the fruit is frozen so it can be used out of season. The kitchen puts out more than 30 varieties of pies, including peach and the bestselling "fruit of the forest," with a mixture of berries and rhubarb. This was my favorite of the Olish pie as well. The 10-inch pies are $12.99.
28700 Main Rd., Cutchogue
Many of Wickham's 300 acres have been cultivated for more than 300 years, and it's one of Long Island's premier fruit farms. Only Wickham's fruit winds up in Wickham's pies. During the summer, Wickham's freezes surplus fruit so there are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots, plums and nectarines to work with as the weather cools down. (There are hardly ever surplus peaches, so peach pies are available only during peach season; they are worth the trip to Cutchogue.) This time of year, apples and pears come to the fore. Great apple pie. A fantastic blueberry pie brings back happy memories of summer. The 9-inch pies are $14, 8-inch pies are $12.
Hegemans Lane, Old Brookville
Located on a bucolic lane in Old Brookville, Youngs is a picture-perfect farm stand. Everything in Youngs' barn is from either locally grown or from the farm's own produce. The pastry is made in an unorthodox fashion: Shortening and flour are blended with a handheld mixer, a method that results in large batches of pie dough that taste like small batches. Seasonal apple pies rule this time of year, along with raspberry-peach and pear crumb. The dark-cherry pie, made from Washington State Bing cherries and topped with lattice, is a revelation. The 9-inch pies are $17.50 to $21, 8-inch are $14 to $16.50. (Youngs' pies also are sold at Sweetie Pies on Main in Cold Spring Harbor.)
309 W. Pulaski Rd., Huntington
Kerber’s Farm was a Huntington landmark from its establishment by Peter Kerber in 1941 until the death of its previous owner, Kay Makinajian, in 2008. In August 2013, the farm stand reopened, restored with respect and flair by Nick Voulgaris III. And pastry chef Danna Abrams has quickly catapulted into the top tier of local bakers with homey fruit pies made with all-butter crusts. Flavors include apple, apple crumb, blueberry, blueberry crumb, cherry, cherry crumb as well as pumpkin and pecan. The 9-inch pies are $24, minis (about 3½ inches) are $5.95.
1611 Smithtown Ave., Bohemia
If you’ve bought a fruit pie from the farm stand at Rottkamp’s in Calverton, W & K in Manorville, Serene Green in Sag Harbor or Crossroads Farm at Grossmann’s in Malverne, you’ve already tasted one of Paul Mendola’s confections. After three years of “farming out,” he and his family established their own bakery, Papa’s Country Porch, in Bohemia. Flavors include apple, apple crumb, blueberry, blueberry crumb, apple pear, apple blueberry, apple cherry, apple raspberry and apple with cranberries and walnuts. “We started making that one a few years ago,” Mendola said, “and it quickly became a holiday hit.”
The deep-dish 10-inch pies are $15.50 to $16.50.
448 Wheeler Rd., Hauppauge
Just north of the LIE on Route 111, Hauppauge Farms is a lone reminder that this used to be farmland. "The best pies on LI are made by Su at the farm stand on the west side of Route 111," wrote reader Dick Marchant of Smithtown. Su's family, the Hoeffners, started the farm stand 48 year ago, according to Ed Ruckdeschel, her husband. Su herself makes about 15 pies, various combinations of apple, berries, peach and pumpkin. We enjoyed a very fresh-tasting peach pie. Most 10-inch pies cost $16, the berry pies, $18.
175 Birch Hill Rd., Locust Valley
Locust Valley's caterer-takeout-bakery has a devoted following. "The best strawberry-rhubarb pie," wrote Dominick Drab of Patchogue. Donna Renga of Farmingdale cited her favorite, blueberry crumb. This time of year, best bets are the bestselling apple pies and a specialty, harvest pie, made from apples, cranberries, raisins, apricots, currants, walnuts and brandy. The 10-inch harvest pies (also pecan and chocolate walnut) are $25.95; 8-inch are $18.95. All other 10-inch pies are $20.95, 8-inch are $14.95
FINK'S COUNTRY FARM
6242 Middle Country Rd., Wading River
Kathi Fink Gentile has been making pies for Fink's since the 1970s. All of the fruit is local, with much of it coming from nearby Lewin and Davis farms, according to Michelle Fink, who owns the farm with her husband, David (Kathi's son). Reader Gina Roberto of Mastic wrote in to rave about Fink's "incredible apple-crumb pies" and the occasionally sighted apple-caramel crumb pies. "Mama Fink is always coming up with something new," Roberto reports. Double-crust apple pie is also a big seller, Michelle Fink said, along with the mixed berry. The 10-inch pies cost $15.99; 6-inch are $5.99; personal pies, $2.49.