In pursuit of pie in Clark County

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“As American as apple pie.”

There’s a reason why that’s such a well-loved phrase. Our affection for our country isn’t represented by cake, or cobbler, or pudding, or cookies (though we do love our cookies).

The dessert that crosses all party lines and political affiliations is pie.

It’s right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — something we hope we can help you find through the pursuit of the best pie in Clark County.

Many slices of pie were consumed in order to bring you this information; but really, it was simply our patriotic duty.

Prepare to dig in.

Smitty’s Original Coney Island Hot Dogs

The first place on our pie-eating agenda was Smitty’s Original Coney Island Hot Dogs (formerly Smokehouse Provisions) at 8058 E. Mill Plain Blvd., in a Vancouver retail development known as The Mill. I visited on a weekday afternoon with food blogger and photographer Sue “Birgerbird” O’Bryan and Rachel Pinsky, The Columbian’s Food & Drink columnist, who had recommended the caramel apple pie to me via text message — “This pie is ON FIYAH,” she wrote, with a tiny fire emoji.

She was right: As far as caramel apple pies go, this one was tops, with tender slices of cinnamon-laced apple enveloped in a blanket of shiny caramel topping. It came adorned with a fluffy poof of whipped cream and a sprinkle of crunchy peanut tidbits.

“This pie tastes like my favorite soft caramel apple,” noted Sue, “but off its stick. Should we order another slice?”

The underlying crust was soft and almost cakey but robust enough to support the filling. The portion size was exactly what you’d need after eating a couple of sauce-slathered coney dogs and cheesy fries — modest, but enough to gratify the desire to end a savory meal on a sweet note.

Ice Cream Renaissance

Next, I ventured into Vancouver’s Uptown Village to visit Ice Cream Renaissance, 1925 Main St., accompanied by newsroom colleagues Lyndsey Hewitt and Amelia Fisher. This popular hangout is known primarily for its small-batch ice cream in flavors such as Marian Mascarpone, Coffee Addict’s Choice and Peanut Butter Blitz — but diners, who pack the tables and chairs right up until closing time, should not overlook the house-made pies.

We each tried a different flavor: Marion Crunch, Apple and Forest Berry. All three were on the sweet side, which is not necessarily a drawback for many palates. The apple, served warm with honey vanilla ice cream, was Lyndsey’s favorite. I most enjoyed the Forest Berry: Clothed in two layers of flaky, buttery crust, it halfheartedly flirted with tartness before easing into an agreeable jamminess, crammed full of Northwest blackberries, Marion berries and boysenberries.

“The problem with eating sweets,” quipped Amelia, who preferred the Marion Crunch’s sliced almond and streusel topping, “is that it just makes me want more sweets.”

Marcell’s Pie House

After we had pie at Renaissance, we went back for more pie at Marcell’s Pie House, recently opened in Vancouver’s Carter Park neighborhood at 3100 Columbia St. The establishment lives up to its name, in that it is, indeed, a house full of pie; this welcoming cafe, serving primarily breakfast and lunch, is located in a refurbished home on a residential street.

The pies on offer that day filled the display case from top to bottom: key lime, apple, wild blackberry, banana cream and chocolate cream, to name a few, plus several varieties of cheesecake and cobbler. I made a beeline for the Key Lime; Lyndsey and Amelia had Classic Apple and Banana Cream, respectively. After the chilly shock of the price per slice, we warmed ourselves by sitting in the sunshine; Marcell’s offers sidewalk seating, as well as a broad back patio and plenty of comfortable indoor chairs and tables.

Diners who order pie here should be prepared not only for the price (over $8 per piece), but also for the whopping size of the slices, which are generous as all America. Eating a piece of pie this large would normally call for real inner strength, but resolve is not needed when eating Marcell’s masterful pies; every bite is an invitation for more.

The pale green Key Lime was silky smooth, luscious and mouthwateringly limey, with an up-front citrusy kiss followed by an embrace of creamy sweetness. It was topped with dollops of whipped cream, lime zest and tiny slices of fresh lime. The Classic Apple and Banana Cream were also paragons of their kind. The banana cream, full of powerfully fresh banana flavor, was like my Southern grandma’s banana cream pudding: You could taste the love. The apple pie, a solid wedge of just-tender, tart-sweet apple slices surrounded by an airy, sugar-dusted crust, delighted Lyndsey with its sheer heft.

“It’s the thickest apple pie I’ve ever eaten,” she noted, “and totally worth the eight dollars a slice.”

The Diner Vancouver

After experiencing this pie nirvana, it was hard to know where to turn next. I recalled the tempting individual pies behind the glass counter at The Diner Vancouver, 5303 E. Mill Plain Blvd., a cheery, retro-style breakfast-and-lunch place operated by Meals on Wheels People. My husband, daughter and I arrived on a Sunday morning and decided to order Lemon Meringue and Chocolate Cream pie for breakfast (as one does).

Each mini-pie could comfortably feed two people, though when my husband tasted the Lemon Meringue, he decided that maybe he wanted it all for himself. It had more of a rich custard base than traditional, gelatinous lemon pies, and reminded him of English lemon curd. The flavor was intensely lemony, with a dollop of marshmallowy toasted meringue on top, and a soft, light crust. The Chocolate Cream was my daughter’s favorite, with a densely creamy, dark chocolate base covered in a cloud of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Breakfast of champions, indeed.

Hockinson Cafe

It was amazing how, even when we were full of good pie, we still found it within ourselves to want more pie — and so we drove straight out to the homey Hockinson Cafe, 219 N.W. 20th Ave., Battle Ground, where the resident pie baker cranks out 10 or 12 made-from-scratch pies per weekend.

By the time we arrived, about 20 minutes to closing, there were only two slices left: Caramel Apple Crumb and Chocolate Peanut Butter. We opted for Caramel Apple Crumb, which arrived at our table almost instantly, delivered by the very friendly wait staff. This attractive pie was stacked with firm, tart apples, and each bite gave off a pronounced cinnamon-y heat. The crumb top was a sweet counterpoint to the tangy filling, which had oozy caramel running throughout. The crust was just right — mild shortcrust pastry with enough substance to carry the delicious weight of the apples. Between the three of us, we ate every last crumb and scraped the plate clean.

DuckTales Kitchen

After taking a break from pie for a couple of days, I started to feel anxious and pie-deprived, so I dove back into the sweet, sweet fray and once again joined forces with Rachel Pinsky to sample pie at DuckTales Kitchen, 612 N. Devine Road, Vancouver — run by the same family that owned Waddles, the iconic midcentury diner in Jantzen Beach that closed in 2004.

It was a drizzly May afternoon, and pie with a mug of steaming tea seemed like the perfect pick-me-up. The pie at this cozy neighborhood eatery is made from scratch every day, so we had high expectations. Rachel and I each ordered a slice of the two pies on offer: Berry and Lemon Meringue. The Lemon Meringue was eminently satisfying, sporting a firm, lemony base with frothy meringue, a yin-yang of tart and sweet. The Berry pie, however, stole the show, even if the juiciness of the raspberry-strawberry-blueberry filling caused it to spill wildly out of its crustly confines.

“It’s a gorgeous mess,” observed Rachel. “It looks like a summertime U-pick outing gone awry in the best way.”

What it may have lacked in prettiness it more than made up for in flavor, with such a rich berry taste and pert raspberry tanginess that I expected to find a pale-blue berry box underneath the last bite. The crust was golden and flaky and delivered that necessary carbohydrate complement to the fruity filling.

Stardust Diner

For a truly all-American pie experience, I traveled back in time to the 1950s-themed Stardust Diner in East Vancouver, 1110 S.E. 164th Ave., Vancouver. The occasion was a casual date night with my husband, and while he chose a cheeseburger and fries for dinner, I decided to eat dessert first and ordered a slice of Banana Cream pie — though it was hard to pick just one from the menu options, which included Cherry, Coconut Cream, Boysenberry, Chocolate Cream, Apple and Peach.

I loved this Banana Cream for its classic look and uncomplicated, sweet approachability as much as for the atmosphere in which it was served; there is something about diner food that speaks directly to the American soul, and nothing more is needed to achieve perfect contentment than the holy trifecta of pie, a cuppa joe and Sam Cook crooning “Cupid” on the jukebox.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as too much pie — and there’s more out there. Show your patriotism by leaving a comment or sending a brief message about your favorite Clark County pie spot to features@columbian.com or to Rachel at couveeats@gmail.com.



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