Food and Drink

A Slice of Heaven: The Best Pie in Kansas City

Sure, cake is fine. The best bakery item for any celebration? Pie. We pick Kansas City’s best.

Story by Lara Hale  |  Photos by David Allison

Sure, cake is fine. It’s the go-to bakery item for birthdays, weddings and other major celebrations. Pie, however, is in a different class entirely. You don’t often make or buy pie for a special occasion—rather, pie turns any regular old day into a special occasion. When it comes to feel-good desserts, there’s simply no topping pies. (Except, perhaps, with a scoop of ice cream.)

Top row, right to left: Key Lime pie from Town Topic and MoKan nut pie from Rye. Middle: Chocolate cream pie from Town Topic, “Bumbleberry” and rhubarb slices from The Upper Crust Pie Bakery.

Pie’s delicious history stretches all the way back to ancient times, when they were usually filled with meats. The first references to our beloved apple pie actually came from England, centuries before this country was even a twinkle in the motherland’s eye. But while Americans may not have invented pie, there’s no doubt we perfected it. Although the preferred fillings often vary by region, we are united by an appreciation of the traditional treat that cannot be rivaled in any other country. So, let them eat cake—we’re having pie!

Rye

With a full menu of award-winning cuisine to order from, diners at this upscale Mission Farms restaurant may have a difficult time restraining themselves enough to save room for dessert. But missing out on a slice of Chef Megan Garrelts’ scrumptious pies would be a crime. More difficult still is deciding which to indulge in—will it be the refreshingly tart lemon meringue? Or the sugar cream pie with rhubarb jam? We can’t resist the unique “MoKan” pie, which is filled with Missouri pecans and Kansas black walnuts. It’s probably the best reason in town to flout the rules and eat dessert first.

Town Topic’s butterscotch pie and Rye’s lemon meringue pie.

The Upper Crust Pie Bakery

Elaine Van Buskirk and Jan Knobel, the sister act that owns this downtown Overland Park pie shop, learned their craft from everyone’s undisputed pie expert: mom. The two achieved their pie pro status a decade ago when they started selling their goods at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. Around a year later they opened up shop two days a week in the basement of Pryde’s Kitchen and Home in Westport. After a few years of watching their pies sell like, er… hotcakes, the sisters returned to Overland Park to open their second shop.

No place in KC can beat Upper Crust when it comes to the sheer variety of pies offered—there are cream pies, fruit pies, nutty pies and even savory pies on the menu, available by the slice, as whole full-size pies (packaged in a box stamped “Cake is for sissies”) and as petite “cutie pies.”

With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to pin down which is the most popular, but Van Buskirk ventures a guess that the bumbleberry pie, which is filled with a mix of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and apples, is probably the most requested. Discover your own favorite on the third Friday of every month, when Upper Crust offers a pie flight featuring three varieties for $6.50.

The Upper Crust offers a wide variety of amazing pies in downtown Overland Park.

The Courthouse Exchange

Some of us search high and low for a place that serves pie “just like mom used to make”—for Cindy McClain, that’s as simple as popping into The Courthouse Exchange, one of several Independence eateries she co-owns with her husband, Ken. The “Sally’s Pies” you see on the menu there are homemade by McClain’s mother, Sally Carpenter. The selection changes daily as well as seasonally. Strawberry-rhubarb is our slice of choice in the summer, and the only thing that makes its annual departure from the menu bearable is the appearance of the apple pie, rich with classic fall flavors.

Tina Marie’s Bakery

Even if you haven’t been to this 3-year-old Shawnee bakery, you may still have enjoyed some of owner Tina Myers’ pies. For many years, Myers was the pie baker at the popular Leona Yarbrough’s Family Restaurant in Fairway, where her chocolate cream pie achieved almost legendary status. “We baked all the pies from scratch there, so it was just like being at home for me,” says Myers, who learned her skill as a child in her grandmother’s kitchen. Tina Marie’s offers a wide range of baked goods, including ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls (which are also sold at area Price Chopper and Hen House stores), but her pies—especially her chocolate cream—will always be our favorite indulgence.

YJ’s Snackbar

This Crossroads favorite, which bills itself as a “Third World snack bar,” offers a rotating menu of delicious daily specials from all over the globe, from a Mideast lunch plate on Mondays to the African

chicken dinner on Fridays. However, the best dessert at YJ’s is good old American pie.

Any local pie aficionado worth his or her crust knows about YJ’s, but even devotees of the tiny 18th Street café may not know the story behind the pies: They are made in-house, not by a professional baker, but by Roy Williams, a professor of philosophy at Park University. And according to YJ’s owner, David Ford, the professor often gets philosophical about pie. “There’s no way he’s making any money baking pies for us,” Ford says. “He comes in here twice a week to bake because he just loves pie.”

Every Tuesday and Friday, Williams heads to YJ’s to make the desserts he’s passionate about. Though the lunch and dinner dishes follow a regular schedule, Williams has free rein to bake pies filled with whatever he finds fresh at the market or just according to his fancy. “He does a lot of pies from original Southern recipes,” Ford says, adding that one of those Dixie delights, the chess pie, is the probably the café’s most popular. The classic chess pie, a simple custard-filled concoction, makes frequent appearances in YJ’s pie safe—but if you’re really lucky, you might just happen in on a day when Williams has made one of his dressed-up chess pies, such as the Kentucky bourbon pecan chess pie.

You Say Tomato

Don’t be fooled by the unassuming appearance; this Hospital Hill neighborhood restaurant serves top-notch grub. Step inside and it’s impossible to resist being charmed by the quirky, eclectic décor, not to mention the aromas of the house-made dishes, which showcase seasonal ingredients from local and organic farmers. YST’s pies are no exception: They are scrumptious and made in-house daily with fillings that change along with the seasons and market availability. Some of our favorites to look out for include the triple berry pie and the coconut buttermilk lemon pie.

Town Topic

The pies served up at the two downtown KC locations of this iconic 75-year-old diner aren’t made in house. However, they are produced locally by Overland Park-based wholesale bakery Golden Boy Pies and they’re as essential to the diner’s menu as its own burgers, fries and malts.

Town Topic’s cherry pie served warmed and a la mode.

The fillings, which vary from day to day (our favorite, the butterscotch cream pie, only appears on weekends), don’t usually stray from the classics, such as apple, cherry, pecan, chocolate and banana cream. Though tasty, the pie you’ll find at Town Topic probably wouldn’t win any awards for creativity, but there’s something to be said for the fact that they’re available 24 hours a day at the Broadway location. After all, you never know when a pie craving might strike. On one of our recent visits—for research purposes, of course—a Town Topic regular shared a tip when he heard us order a slice of pecan pie: “Have them heat it up,” he said, “They do it on the cooktop, and if you’re lucky maybe the crust will pick up a bit of bacon flavor.”