Naked Pies and Other Stories from the (Store)Front
You’ve heard them all: As American as apple pie. Pie in the sky. Easy as pie. Sweet as pie. Ask most anyone about their favorite pie, and I guarantee they have an opinion—and a memory that goes along with it. Just ask Melinda M. (not her real name), and she’ll tell you that apple pie means Mom’s apple pie. Or Kris C. (okay, these ARE their real names) who equates strawberry-rhubarb pie with summers in Wisconsin.
No doubt about it—there’s something about pie. Is it because they take such time and effort to make? Or is it because pie sets the mood? Apple pie reminds me of fall, Apple Hill, and Thanksgiving. Pot pies, those savory little packages, bring winter to mind. Fresh strawberry pie lets me know spring is here. And cherry, apricot, peach – and now even nectarine and plum – pies make me think summer: picnics, barbecues, Fourth of July. Don’t even get me started on crème pies—coconut, banana, chocolate!
Now Sacramentans have a unique and delicious way to indulge that sweet or savory tooth. It’s called The Real Pie Company, located at 12th and F streets in downtown Sacramento. Owner (and former FHer) Kira O’Donnell took some time from her busy day to sit down with me and talk all things pies.
MC: Tell me how you learned to make these delicious pies.
KO: It started when I was young. My grandparents owned a farm, and my grandfather and I would go and pick blackberries, and then my grandmother and I made pies. It’s a wonderful memory.
MC: What about your background as a pastry chef. Did that influence you at all?
KO: My education is in winemaking, but I had a friend who was a chef at Auberge du Soleil, and I begged him to let me help out with the pastries. I wiggled my way in there and learned a lot. Then I worked at Piatti in Sonoma as a pastry chef, and, after writing and calling Chez Panisse for two years, I was hired there as a pastry cook.
MC: What prompted you to want to open your own shop, specializing in only pies as opposed to other desserts, too?
KO: I love how I feel when I’m making pies. I love the feel of the dough and working with the fruit. It’s artistic. I also really like making things and having a concrete product. I like looking around at the end of the day and seeing what we’ve made. I love pie! I think it’s very comforting to people.
MC: What sets your pies apart from other pies?
KO: Our pie crusts are made with all butter—they’re all hand-rolled—and I use really fresh, locally produced fruit.
MC: Do you have any funny stories about what it takes to open your own business?
KO: We had a day of disasters last week—we called it burning day because every thing we made, we burned! Our location, too, lends itself to some interesting stories. There’s a story that the other bakers and I call the “bus bench” story, which is too saucy to mention here.
MC: So how is business?
KO: It’s good! We have a lot of repeat customers, and I’m thankful for that. Our customers seem to be up for new things. A few weeks ago, I made basil/Meyer lemon short bread. I didn’t think anyone would try such a unique combination, but it sold out!
MC: So let me ask you about a few of your favorite things. This one’s obvious: What’s your favorite pie?
MC: What’s your favorite restaurant in Sacramento?
KO: The Waterboy
MC: Favorite breakfast joint?
KO: Roxy on Fair Oaks Blvd.
Our interview was interrupted by two women looking for pie. Though the shop was closed (it was a Tuesday, and The Real Pie Company is open Wednesday through Saturday), the front door was unlocked, and they walked in.
Kira greeted them like old friends. She had a few “unfinished” pies in the case, which the ladies were only too happy to purchase. A friendly argument ensued over payment for them. Kira did not have her cash register, but the ladies insisted on paying.
“But they’re naked!” Kira exclaimed, referring, of course, to the unfinished pies.
Then, one of the bakers at The Real Pie Company, began slicing bananas atop the butterscotch-banana crème pie, an attempt to render it less naked, I suppose.
Eventually, the two ladies left, broad smiles on their faces, pies held aloft as if they were trophies. I looked up and saw that they had won, as evidenced by the cash on the counter. At The Real Pie Company, customers take their pies—naked or not!
For more information about The Real Pie Company, check out www.realpiecompany.com.