With the holidays just around the corner, a pie tasting to find the best around Houston felt in order. Finding the best type of just one pie (e.g., pumpkin or pecan) felt limiting, so the approach of this tasting was to sample the most popular pie from each included restaurant or bakery. This seemed the fairest — and also most effective in terms of self-selection — way to face off the existing favorite pies in Houston against other favorites.
Once we had the pool of pies, we found they naturally fell into several categories: namely pecan, pumpkin, buttermilk, fruit and cream or novelty pies. Each pie was judged based on the quality of the crust, the quality of the filling, and the overall satisfaction rating of the pie as a whole. Read on to find your pie of the season.
Pies were selected via word of mouth and online research. We asked each restaurant or bakery to suggest its best-selling pie in hopes of achieving a self-selecting pool of the most popular existing pies in Houston.
Pies were rated by 18 tasters in three categories on a scale from 1 to 10: crust quality, filling quality and overall quality. The numbers following each shop name represent the pie's overall quality score out of 10.
The Pie Factory (6.9): This shallower pie had a pale crimped crust that practically sheds crumbs from its utter flakiness. The buttery flavor that pervades the crust indicates a careful, homemade attention to quality. The “goo” layer beneath the pecans has a just barely perceptible lumpiness but a perfect level of maple-laced sweetness that earned high marks in the filling category. At $12.95, this is a bargain considering the high quality you’ll get—but make sure to bring cash to the cash-only establishment.
Three Brothers (6.6): The deeply toasted flavor of the pecans stood out in this pie—with a gooey, extremely sweet lower layer with notes of maple that some tasters dubbed “too sweet,” this had a balanced ratio of almost equal nuts to goo. The perfect crimping on the crust looks machine-made, but was extremely crisp and flaky—by far my favorite crust among the pecan pies. Pies are only available whole for $22.95.
Pappas BBQ (6.5): This pie also stood out for the toasty quality of its nuts and the maple notes in the filling. Tasters gave the thin, flaky crust above average marks. With a thin layer of pecans topping a deep layer of goo that has faint notes of caramel, this is a pie highly recommended for “goo” lovers. Slices are around $3.
Goode Co. (6.3): Although the pecans lining the top of this pie erred on the chewy side compared to some of the crisp, toasted pecans in other pies, this pie shines in the “goo” arena—verging on a deep dish pie, whole pecans make up a superficial layer on top of the pie with a inch of syrupy, gelatinous goo underneath that tastes like crack. The crust is sandy and nearly disintegrates in your mouth, reminiscent of a graham cracker-type crust. This is not a pie for those who need a flaky pie crust, but if you like a high goo to pecan ratio, this is your pie. Whole pies are $19.95.
Toasted Nut Pie from Backstreet Café (6.1): For those who want an off-the-beaten-path pie, this veers from a traditional pecan pie, with a filling studded with multiple varieties of toasted nuts. Though it's billed on the menu as a pie (you can order it as an individual dessert in the restaurant, or get a whole pie to go), the thin, flakey crust is really more tart-like. Though purists should stay away, those looking for a more sophisticated option for their holiday table would find a solid offering here. The individual pie is $9.
Roegels (5.2): A candy-sweet syrup leaked out of this pie filling topped with a mass of chopped pecans. The bland crust, slightly sogged from the weight of the dense, sweet pie filling, was nearly indistinguishable. It’s not a bad option for a barbecue joint, but most tasters wouldn’t choose this as their ideal pie. Slices are a bargain at $3.25.
Ooh La La (6.9): This dainty pumpkin pie is about as picture-perfect as it gets, with a thick, deep-orange filling, a pale, flaky pie crust and plumes of whipped cream. The pumpkin layer is perfectly spiced — winning third-highest overall marks for filling — though the crust lacked a bit in flavor. Overall, a solid choice for pumpkin pie — and Ooh La La has a variety of other pies, including cherry, coconut cream, key lime, Reese’s mousse and more, that are all sure to be delicious. Slices are $4.95; whole pies range from $22.95 to $58.95.
Revival Market (6.8): This pumpkin pie is gently spiced and über-creamy, with a crust that stands out for its thick, imperfectly wavy crimping that screams homemade. The crimped part of the crust has a short, extremely flaky texture that almost melts in your mouth, while the crust lining the pie filling has longer, flakier layers with a tiny bit of chew. At $32 per pie, this one is worth the price (though you can also buy individual slices at the restaurant). One taster called this pie “about as good as it gets.”
Pondicheri (6.1): Pondicheri transforms its famous chai pie into a pumpkin chai pie in the fall — a thick, grainy, cookie-like, deep-dish crust is filled with a sweet, silky chai layer and a barely sweet pumpkin layer. It’s a symphony of spices that is far more exotic than an average pumpkin pie. “I liked this and I don’t even like pumpkin,” commented one taster. A whole pie is $80; individual slices are also available in the Pondi bake lab or restaurant.
Central Market: Although we had high hopes for this grocery superpower, which churns out hundreds of pies for the holidays, the mini chiffon pumpkin pie we sampled tasted extremely average. You’ll get what you pay for ($4.99 for a mini pie).
Revival Market (6.5): Thanks to a mixup, we ended up with two pies from Revival Market. The same flaky crust surrounds a soft, slightly gelatinous buttermilk custard that is bronzed on top and veritably melts in your mouth. Some thought the creamy filling was bland against the mild crust, though others found the slight acidic tang pleasing. Buttermilk pie lovers will love this pie.
Mighty Sweet Mini Pies (6.4): This pie had a generous amount of crisp, sandy crust to its creamy and custardy buttermilk filling. Although the vanilla-scented custard was very sweet, this pie lost points for a slightly bland flavor profile and a very eggy filling. Whole pies are $17.
Vinegar Pie from Underbelly (3.8): With a relatively thick, soft, shortbread-like crust, the famed vinegar pie (essentially, a blinged-out buttermilk pie) resembles a tart more than a pie. Still, this pungent dessert has been the longest-standing one on the menu (since the day Underbelly opened), so we included it out of curiosity. The thick, gelatinous curd of the buttermilk pie, spiked with vinegar, tasted excessively pungent to most tasters even when it was eaten alongside the brittle, which supposedly causes a chemical reaction that makes it taste like lemon. It unfortunately received the second-lowest overall scores in the tasting. However, several tasters liked it — so I just recommend trying a slice yourself before investing in a $45 whole pie.
Lemon Chess Pie from Not Jus Donuts (3.2): This cute bakeshop’s true specialty is sweet potato pie — however, it was sold out the day of the tasting, so we sampled the lemon chess pie with pecans. Unfortunately, this pie received the lowest overall scores owing to a filling that had a fishy aftertaste and an overly gelatinous consistency, as well as a thin, crispy crust. Slices are $4.50; whole pies are $16. Despite the poor scoring of this pie, I hold out hope that the sweet potato pie is outstanding.
Cherry Pie from Moeller’s (7.1): This pie had a standout crust — the gorgeous, thick lattice was perfectly bronzed and tasted like a tender, flaky sugar cookie. It had the highest overall marks for crust, though some tasters were less than enthusiastic about the sweet and very syrupy cherry filling. Overall, this would be a gorgeous, picture-perfect and delicious addition to any gathering. At $13.25 for a whole pie, this is a steal.
Oui Desserts (6.1): Though the apple offering from Oui Desserts was more tart than pie, the individual $5 tartlet demonstrated promising quality. Thinly sliced apples and almonds are glazed, overlaying a layer of almond paste and contained by a tender, buttery crust. Oui Desserts also offers a more conventional pecan pie seasonally for the holidays.
Apple Brown Betty from Whole Foods (6): We also had high hopes for Whole Foods, which was included as the other supermarket control sample. Although the oat- and nut-studded crumble on top held promise, the sliced apple filling was rather bland, with a one-dimensional sweetness. The crust was barely distinguishable from the gooey filling; had the apples been slightly more tart and the crust more structurally sound, this could have been a good pie. Again, you’ll get about what you pay for — or maybe slightly less ($7.99 for a half pie).
Flying Saucer Pie Company (5.9): The strawberry filling was almost completely obscured by the blanket of whipped cream covering this pie. Though this is by far Flying Saucer’s most popular pie, most tasters were not impressed by the extremely sweet, fluorescent-red goo suspending whole strawberries in the filling. The thin, pale crust was pleasantly crumbly, but flavor-wise was unremarkable. At $14.75 per whole pie, this is not a bad option for those who are fans of classic strawberry cream pie — or want to try other flavors, like peach, pineapple, Dutch apple, banana cream or cheesecake pie.
Chocolate & Cream Pies
Whiskey Walnut Pie from Red Dessert Dive (7.8): "Kind of like a cookie pie with Jack Daniel's" — like several other shops, Red Dessert wavered when recommending its most popular pie, but with a description like that, the whiskey pie was a no-brainer of a choice. Studded with a generous amount of chocolate chips and walnuts suspended in a sugary, almost cookie-dough-like filling, this pie is extremely rich — yet the thick, crisp, buttery-tasting crust has just the right amount of salt to counter the sweetness. The super-toasted, shortbread-y-like texture made for an elevated pie crust that completely justifies its number one overall rating score and high crust rating. At $28.50 for a relatively shallow pie, this one is a little pricey but a clear universal winner (especially for chocolate lovers).
Bayou City Mud Pie from The Chocolate Bar (7): The popular Bayou Mud Pie is rich and dense, like a brownie, because, well, it basically is one. Milk chocolate mousse is cradled in a fudge brownie base and topped with whipped cream for a doughy creation marked by undertones of coffee. Chocolate lovers really can’t go wrong with this pie. Slices are $5.45; whole pies are $45.
To Die For Fudge Pecan from Dessert Gallery (6.5): This is characterized under the chocolate pie category because it’s much more of a chocolate pie than a pecan pie. Similarly to the Bayou Mud Pie, the filling is extremely rich and dense; the crust is laminated and very crunchy. Again, this is a winner for chocolate addicts. Whole pies are $26.50.
Chocolate Cream Pie from Fluff Bake Bar (6.4): Characterized by an abundance of fluffy whipped cream peaks dotted with sprinkles and chocolate balls and an unusually thick and large crimp, the chocolate cream pie is Fluff’s most popular pie. If you like cream pies, the milky chocolate filling, mounds of cream and light, flaky crust might be right up your alley, though several tasters found the filling too syrupy and runny for their liking. Whole pies are $28.
Coconut Cream Pie from Petite Sweets (6.1): The thin crust was almost undetectable under a mountain of very sweet coconut custard and an even thicker layer of cream. This is an extremely sweet pie; some tasters wished for more toasted coconut shreds on top. Overall, if you love sweet pies and are a filling person more than a crust person, you will love this pie. Slices are $5.95.
Bayou Goo from House of Pies (5.4): The filling nearly explodes out of the thin, flaky crust in this classic Houston dessert mainstay. Although the crust performed better than I would have expected for the 24-hour establishment against pies from full-service bakeries — it was, in fact, very flaky and had a good level of salt — the creamy filling wasn’t a universal hit among tasters. Some didn’t like the highlights of nuts in the filling, and others found the pie slightly stale-tasting. Slices are $3.95; whole pies range from $13 to $15.
Coconut Cream Pie from Kenny & Ziggy's (5.2): This mammoth slice looks impressive but perhaps sacrifices quality, earning a low overall score in the tasting. The pale, shortbread-like crust is lined with a very thin layer of chocolate that provides a welcome foil to the sweet, slightly grainy custard and billows of thick whipped cream covered in chewy shreds of toasted coconut. One taster commented that it tasted as though it had been sitting in the display case for a while; in any case, the sweet filling has an addictive quality. Slices are $8.95.
While this was by no means a 100 percent sampling of Houston's pie scene, we made a noble attempt to cover a fairly representative cross section of pie options in Houston. There are plenty of places to get average holiday-ready pies in Houston (or there's the always ever-worthy task of making one at home), but this tasting uncovered a handful of really high-quality, off-beat pies that I would highly recommend for your next family gathering. Namely, the Pumpkin Chai Pie from Pondicheri, the Whiskey Walnut Pie from Red Dessert Dive, and the Toasted Nut Pie from Backstreet Cafe.
Aside from the above, among the most standout pies for me are Revival Market's Pumpkin Pie, Moeller's Cherry Pie (for the crust) and the Fudge Pecan Pie from Dessert Gallery. However, my hands-down favorite classic pie, which I think everyone deserves to try, is Three Brother's Pecan Pie, for its incredible toasty pecan flavor and super-flaky, buttery crust.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner; you know what to do.