I recently made a life-altering discovery. It's awesome. It's dangerous. It's dangerously awesome.
In a mere seven minutes, I can walk from my front door to the front door of House of Pies. In 20 minutes, tops, I can be snuggled up in bed in possession of far more pie than any one person should ingest in a single sitting.
It's amazing. It's horrible. I can't stop.
During the first few months I lived in the neighborhood, I avoided House of Pies. It looked, to me, like a glorified IHOP, a chain I detest. I figured that, as IHOP had done, it would take one of my favorite foods and turn it into mushy, flavorless cardboard with an $8 price tag. And I have no need for that.
But one Saturday evening, after a glass of wine and a Law & Order marathon with my cat, I found myself hungry at 2 a.m. So after debating the pros and cons of Taco Cabana versus House of Pies, I trekked across a couple of parking lots to the well-lit beacon and took a seat at the bar next to a young girl with green hair and her heavily tattooed mother. And I then ordered a lot of pie.
Admittedly, my expectations for the items on offer at House of Pies were low. I tend to prefer pies made by an elderly relative's loving hands to pie produced en masse for a crowd of people who are mostly under the influence of...something. I was not prepared to fall head over heels in love with House of Pies.
The first pie I tried came at the recommendation of my waitress: Bayou Goo. While the name might not sound terribly appealing (I get visions of sticky green swamp moss), the Bayou Goo is a masterful combination of crumbly pecan crust, a thin layer of slightly sweetened cream cheese, a layer of vanilla and chocolate swirled custard with bits of chopped pecan scattered throughout, a generous dollop of whipped cream and, finally, another sprinkling of pecans.
I was certain, certain, that the pie would be overly sweet and possess a crust that was neither flaky enough to break with my fork nor hardy enough to contain the multitude of gooey or juicy toppings within. I was wrong on both counts. Even the Bayou Goo, a custard-filled cream pie, had just the right amount of sweetness, and the crust stood up well under the heft of all those local Texas pecans. One pie in, and I was hooked.
I ordered two more slices that night -- cherry and pecan -- and though they weren't quite as good as the Bayou Goo, they continued to exceed my expectations. After I walked (or, rather, waddled) back to my apartment, I sat down with my computer and did some research.
It seems House of Pies is so similar in design (and name) to IHOP because they were both created by the same man, Al Lapin Jr. He's also the fella behind Orange Julius.
The first House of Pies opened in Los Angeles in 1965 and flourished into the mid '70s, with franchises popping up all over the city. The chain faced stiff competition from other restaurants like Marie Callender's, though, and issues arose in 1971 when a number of the franchisees filed a class-action lawsuit against International Industries, the parent company, claiming that access to supplies was being restricted and prices were being fixed.
Amid huge losses, Lapin stepped down as CEO and president in 1973, and shortly thereafter, the company lost HOP and several other chains it owned and operated. The franchisees were left to their own devices, and many changed the name from House of Pies to something more proprietary. The only House of Pies locations that operate today in the same manner as the originals include a few in Los Angeles and our very own Kirby Drive and Galleria locations.
Inside our House of Pies on Kirby, the original sign with the original logo hangs on the wall leading into the kitchen, and I've noticed diners eating at the counter confused by the alternate signage that differs from the main sign outside that is illuminated around the clock.
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Which brings us back to pie at 2 a.m.
I first heard it called "House of Guys" -- a reference to those who leave the clubs in Montrose in the wee hours of the morning and settle in for a meal over on Kirby, as well as the rumored hiring of a number of transsexuals once upon a time. Today, the late-night/early-morning crowd at House of Pies is an odd mix of doctors ending their shifts, truck drivers who work through the night, punks, goths, drunks, random people who can't sleep, and me. I suppose there are others out there like me -- people who have discovered the draw of better-than-average pie at any time of day or night and find themselves craving it around midnight, when all the fruit and vegetables in their refrigerators just won't cut it.
And that's when we descend upon HOP for a slice of the best pumpkin pie you'll find outside of Grandma's house; or French silk piled high with whipped cream and chocolate shavings; or cherry with a top crust so flaky you have to remind yourself to forget about how much butter or lard went into it to achieve such perfect crispiness.
So, House of Pies, I'm sorry I ever doubted your greatness. I know better now. And I'll take a personal banana cream pie to go, thanks.