Late one afternoon in mid-march, as winter stubbornly continued to dictate the weather patterns in North America, I had a sudden and unforeseen yearning for apple pie. This was unusual as I was in the midst of a highly successful low-carb diet and had steadfastly committed to my austere regimen. Also, I have always had some fondness for that particular dessert, but it was never my favorite, nor was it ever really in my top ten, should I have decided to build such a list. Nonetheless Malus sieversii flan thoughts and neuroimagery began to feature more conspicuously in my consciousness.
This undeclared craving was ultimately revealed a few weeks later, when driving home late at night from a rock concert, without warning, I turned and said to my amazingly supportive wife, “Fancy some apple pie and coffee at the Silver Diner in Tysons Corner?” “Sure,” she fired back enthusiastically, never being one to miss out on any form of culinary excursion, regardless of time or place. And so my journey began. Over the next three months I would eat thirty-three apple pies.
I loved the apple cobbler they used to serve at J. Gilberts Restaurant in McLean, VA. For some reason an apple croustade has replaced it, which I suppose is a little more upscale in presentation when compared to a big splotchy dollop of cobbler, which looks as though it fell on your plate from a great height. It comes with cinnamon ice cream and bourbon-maple syrup and the croustade (pie crust) is tres formidable. Very tasty and great consistency, with an excellent crust to apple ratio, although I lament the replacement of the cobbler (8/10).
My thirty-three pies were consumed at western-style eateries throughout North America, Central America, and Asia in a variety of establishments ranging from diners to high-end restaurants. I did not set out to make a Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) Apple Pies Me type of documentary but I found myself increasingly taking mental notes and making comparisons nonetheless. Oh, and there is a handy little camera built into my phone which now has a purpose. I did end up using a few Spurlockian ground rules, for example, I would ask the server for apple pie and ice cream or the closest dessert item fitting that general description. If an item was not suggested as a close alternative I would forgo the feasting experience.
Tosca is an upscale restaurant in Washington DC where you generally need reservations for lunch and the waistcoated servers scowl if you come in with a cup of Starbucks. Of course, asking for an apple pie is akin to expecting fish and chips to be on their menu, but the waiter offered a lavender tart as a pretty good substitute. And a fine tart it was—very tasty, very dense, but in a good way and could have been improved in my opinion if it were served heated. I generally tend to assume that all apple pie equivalents are served warm with the ice cream melting on top or on the side. I did ask and I still don’t get the lavender part, which I usually associate with talcum or air freshener (8/10).
The best pie I had in this adventure was from the Little Apple Pastry shop in Aldie VA. This is a bakery in a tiny little drive-through, one-street kinda town run by delightful old ladies who look as though they have been working there since the civil war. The pie was sooo good, measured by the fact that the naked apple slices rivaled the pastry for my attention (10/10).
Vermilion in Old Town, Alexandria, VA is a chic upscale restaurant that served up apple pie with bacon on top. Yes really. I have to say I do like it when folks try to do something different, and their apple pie tasted really good. Nice crisp pastry and not dominated by way too much apple. I thought the bacon was an interesting touch but I didn’t eat it. The server said, with apparent seriousness and firsthand experience, that it was a great experience to eat the salted bacon alongside spoonfuls of pie and ice cream. I was left thinking he doesn’t get out much to other restaurants (8/10).
The worst experience was at the Cheesecake Factory in Tysons Corner, VA, where they served me the biggest portion of stuff that looked as though a fire extinguisher had gone off in the kitchen next to the pie. It was just a big caloric soupy mix of ice cream and other whitish-brownish creams with some sunken apple creation underneath. This was a real shame, and a surprise to me, as the Cheesecake Factory is excellent for most other items including their signature desserts (1/10).
Two pies served up at the Hard Rock Café in Washington DC and Singapore. The crumble on the Singapore version was a bit powdery and indeed could have been more crisp on each pie.
The apple was too densely packed in the Singapore version (5/10) compared to Washington (6/10). I can always rate the apple experience by how much I leave on the plate, and I left a fair amount at the Hard Rocks.
Other notables include the Silver Diner in Tysons (7/10), the Metro Diner in Arlington VA (7/10), Old Angler’s Inn in MD (8/10), Cooper’s Hawk Winery in Tampa, FL (8/10), and Barrel and Bushel’s in the Hyatt hotel in Tysons (7/10).
The Clyde’s restaurant chain is pretty good at most items and their offer of a rhubarb pie was no exception. There was just enough tartness in the cooked rhubarb that worked well with the overall balance of the crumble and ice cream. (8/10).
In any event, my culinary experiment is over for now, as I must, for the sake of my skinny jeans, return to the rigor of my low-carb diet. But what a journey! I will most certainly seek out and enjoy apple pies in the future but for the time being I need to earn that luxury.