Math nerds and pastry lovers rejoice! March 14 is the annual celebration of Pi Day, and that’s “Pi” as in the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, best known as 3.14, thus March 14! To celebrate, some people run in circles, but folks in the know use Pi Day as an excuse to chow down on PIE.
Pie comes in many forms, sweet and savory. They may be single or double crusted, personal or car-wheel sized. Think all-American apple pie, redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg, fruity chunks peeking beneath a crisp lattice crust; free-form Italian crostatas; earthy Shepherd’s Pie, spicy lamb or beef filling bubbling away under a fluffy mashed potato topper; or pizza pie, oozing with creamy mozzarella cheese and ruby red tomato sauce, polka-dotted with crisp coins of pepperoni — all are valid representations, and there are myriad more.
I posit that Pi Day is a state of mind. Sure, March 14 is a day to celebrate that perfect ratio of crust to filling, but why stop there? Every day should be Pie Day. Let it be so.
Sweet & Savory Pie Bakers
2051 N. California Ave., Chicago, 773-276-8888
Sure, the biscuits are outstanding, but today is the day to talk about pie. So clearly we must discuss the Lemon Bar, essentially in pie form on a shortbread crust and sprinkled with lavender sea salt, and the Samoa (inspired by the Girl Scout Cookie, be still my heart), a chocolate cookie crust filled with coconut pastry cream, and topped with salted caramel, whipped cream, and candied coconut flakes. If you’re a Buffalo wing fan, you must try the Buffalo-Style Pot Pie, their standard chicken pie enriched with blue cheese and house-made hot sauce and encased in a leaf-lard pastry crust. That’s good eating.
324 E. 75th St., 773-224-6262; Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
Chef/Owner Stephanie Hart opened the original bakery in 2004 on the South Side; the Navy Pier shop (located right next to DMK Burger & Fish) opened two years ago. The cases here are stocked with her unbelievably seductive Caramel, Strawberry, and German Chocolate Cakes, but I want to focus on her seminal Sweet Potato Pie and its dressed-up cousin, The Laser Pie, where it’s gilded with chocolate, caramel, and nuts. Rich, yes, but oh, my my.
2770 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-360-7541
Individual, freshly-baked, hot-from-the-oven savory pies are the name of the game here, including Masala Chicken (made with local free-range chicken, yogurt, spices, peas, carrots, and Chiya Chai’s signature creamy masala curry), Spicy Minced Pork (minced Iowa pork with hot chili, red and green bell peppers, garlic, spices) and Curried Kale and Potato seasoned with cumin seeds and other Indian spices. On Pi Day, they will also be offering sweet little individual apple and pumpkin pies made with warming chai spices for only — you guessed it — $3.14 each. Blueberry and raspberry will also be available.
455 E. Illinois St., Chicago, 312-414-1400; 812 Grove St., Evanston, 847-868-8078
Every day is Pie Day at the comfortable Cupitol restaurants, where the significant pastry offerings are all handmade in house. The pies in question here are envelope-shaped Greek handpies made with crispy filo dough, and available in both sweet and savory versions. Try the Spinach and Fennel, Meat, or Cheese Pies with a cup of soup or Greek salad at lunch, but for a very special coffee break, I recommend the Bougatsa Cream Pie, a worthy indulgence. As an FYI, the hand pies, regularly priced at $5-$5.50 each, will be $3.14 on Pi Day!
5357 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago; 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago; 4664 N. Manor, Chicago; 1823 Church St., Evanston
Eat pie AND give back to the community? Sign us up! Through their Outreach Program, First Slice serves nearly 4,000 meals each month to Chicago’s neediest citizens. Founder Mary Ellen Diaz has been providing sustenance and hope to those who require it most. In the cafes, the menu has expanded to include soups, sandwiches, and salads, but pies are still the star of the show, especially the deeply chocolate French Silk Pie, the mile high Traditional Apple Pie, and the physics-defying Polka-Dot Pie. When you spend your money here, you become part of that equation. Solve for pi, indeed!
1220 W. Webster Ave., Chicago, 773-883-1313
Appropriately enough for a French bakery (and what a bakery it is! Truly, everything in the case is a winner), the seasonal Fruit Galette is our focus (although you’ll find more traditional American-style pies, including pumpkin and apple, around the holidays. Executive Chef/Owner Sandra Holl’s sgalette, similar to a crostata, wrap seriously flaky dough around whatever fruits look and taste best in the moment.
1618 1/2 Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-243-4846; 749 N. Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-868-8863
Paula Haney is truly the pie whisperer. What she can do with a crust shouldn’t be legal, as her pies are highly addictive, be it the sweetly spicy Ginger Custard, the ridiculously caloric Fat Elvis (nothing to see here, just chocolate, bananas, peanut butter, and pretzels, move along!), perfect custardy Mushroom Gruyère Quiche, or herby Chicken Pot Pie. The original store in Chicago has just expanded, annexing the place next door, so there’s MORE ROOM FOR PIE. The Evanston location is a sunny spot perfect for working, drinking lattés, and eating a plated pie flight (selection changes daily).
2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago, 773-523-PIES
It’s all about the Royal Pies here, Pleasant House’s signature British-inspired savory stunners. Feast your eyes on the Steak & Ale, a rich beef and brew stew chock-full of carrots, shallots, and herbs, or the Chicken Balti, a fragrant curry with tomatoes. Not a meat eater? The Mushroom & Kale will be more your speed, the veggies bathed in a creamy Parmesan and white wine sauce. Best of all: you can “crown your pie” by topping it with mashed potatoes and gravy.
1000 N. California Ave., Chicago, 872-829-2793
This charming Humboldt Park diner is a full-service restaurant as well as bakery. Chef-owners (and husband and wife) Parker Whiteway and Dinah Grossman started out in the pie business, but opened Spinning J in 2015 to bring their pies (and much more) to a wider audience, although they’re still making tiered wedding pies by special order. In the restaurant, you’ll find a rotating selection of dessert pies by the slice, as well as Classic Chicken and Saag Paneer Pot Pies (the latter a masterpiece of flavor and spice).
8042 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847-213-0900
You might already know this family-owned business from local farmers markets — you’ll find them at Evanston’s every Saturday — but if not, you should. The Kruger family bakes from the heart, from scratch, using only premium ingredients. They’re particularly known for their Crocodile (loaded with pecans, chocolate, and rum) and Chocolate Cashmere Pies, but the Double Crust Apple is also scrumptious.
301 S. Happ Road, Northfield, 847-446-5444
This is an all-butter bakery, and proudly so (it’s written on their T-shirts!). Pie Day Friday is a thing here, which I respect. Baker/Owners Ann Heinz and Kate Rooney are flexible pie bakers, meaning they’ll bake ‘em to order with your choice of lattice, full-crust, or crumb top. The Triple Berry (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries) is an explosion of fruity goodness in your mouth, and the Pear Apple Crumb is delectable.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.