When it comes to my favourite things, pie is tops. But when I set out to raid the city’s best-known pie joints, dreaming of a perfect double crust and seasonal, fresh fruit, all I got was indigestion. One pie sang with voluptuous Okanagan peaches, but they were inexplicably tucked into lacklustre, tasteless pastry. Another had decent pastry but was filled with listless fruit suspended in gentian goo. Still others were unremarkable and unmemorable.
Thank goodness for The Pie Shoppe (721 Gore St.), a recent addition to the cluster of new businesses springing up in Chinatown. Sisters Andrea and Stephanie French run the bakery-cafe, which they purport to be Vancouver’s smallest pie shop (300 square feet). In addition to pie, they also serve coffee that they roast in Kitsilano, and which is sold under the name of Panoramic Coffee Roasters.
“We actually started with coffee, and pie complements coffee,” Andrea says. “Steph and I wanted to do our own thing and this is where it led us.”
Each day starts with fresh pie, made from scratch and by hand. “We always have chocolate pecan and classic apple, and then we make whatever we feel like,” she says.
A 10-inch pie costs between $20 and $25 with slices going or $6 to $7.
On a recent visit, I witnessed a parade of picture-perfect pies: burnished pecan puddled with chocolate, and an assortment of fruit pies finished with wide, sugared lattice tops and smudges of colour where the juices had burbled over. The fruit pies included requisite apple, as well as blackberry-blueberry-apple, and bing cherry-tiger plum.
It was hard to choose, but I opted for the bing cherry-tiger plum pie. The crust was tender and flaky, rich and buttery, and with just a touch of sweetness. The fruit filling tasted like a day in the sun, with perfectly ripe whole pitted cherries and chunks of plum in an unexpectedly demure pink syrup. It was remarkable and memorable.
Ask some pie-makers about their crust and they’ll get a bit squirrelly, but Andrea’s keen to share. “We use butter and shortening for a flakier crust. If you do all butter it’s a bit tougher, and we get the best non-hydrogenated shortening we possibly can.” And, she cautions, “Don’t overmix. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Frenches are stocking up on summer fruit while they can, partly to defray costs in the winter but also because this is when fruit is at its optimal, tastiest peak. “We like to support farmers. We want to go to the source,” Andrea says. She recalls a recent day trip to Osoyoos where they loaded up on fruits that were labelled “jammies.” Andrea says, “We got peaches and apricots and plums. They were a little bruised but they’re perfect for pie… They don’t have to be pretty, they need to taste awesome.”
Originally from Ottawa, the duo has settled into its Vancouver digs quite nicely. The shop is on a non-descript strip of Gore Street, half a block off super-hip Union Street — where businesses like Harvest, The Parker and The Union are drawing a new audience to one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
“A lot of Chinese people come in and ask, how is it being in Chinatown? And we say, it’s great.” Andrea estimates that 40 per cent of their clientele are Chinese. “And they love us. They love straight-up flavours, blueberry and apple. They don’t want something too, too sweet.”
During the week The Pie Shoppe makes 15–25 pies daily, and 30–40 on the weekends. Word to the wise: they almost always sell out, so if you’re set on pie, you’d best order in advance. Gluten-free options are available on weekends, or during the week by pre-ordering.
The Pie Shoppe
721 Gore St.
© Copyright 2013