The word “pie” can describe a number of different food preparations. Shepherd’s pie, for instance, is a dish of seasoned ground lamb or beef topped with a “crust” of mashed potatoes. Frito pie is a Tex-Mex specialty of beanless chili spooned into a bag of Fritos. Hand pies are (usually) crescent-shaped closed pastries, like Latin American empanadas, with sweet or savory fillings. The apple pie at McDonald’s is a rectangular pastry similar to what the French call a chausson (literally “slipper”) for its shape.
When most of us think of pies, though — and especially around the holidays — what we have in mind is most probably a pastry crust filled with cooked fruit or custard, sometimes with more pastry on top in either a latticework pattern or a solid sheet. That’s the kind of pie most often found in pie shops, and that’s the kind of pie we love so much that it’s even become a symbol of our nation — as in the expression “As American as apple pie.”
Early English settlers brought the idea of pie in that sense across the Atlantic (the Spanish reached what is now the United States first, but if they brought pies, they were likely of the empanada variety), and apple pie became popular because apple trees grew particularly well in the New World and because the fruit was easy to store for the winter.
An English pie made with spiced squash evolved into our familiar pumpkin pie, which first became popular here in the early 1800s. It remains a holiday standard, and the spice mixtures used to flavor it now get added to all kinds of other products — including a number of pumpkin spice things we don’t really need.
Regional pie variations like Florida’s Key lime pie or Maine’s blueberry pie have found their way into the mainstream bakery repertoire, and such other favorites as pecan, peach, Boston cream, and lemon meringue are available far and wide.
There’s room for creativity in the pie world, too, however. One example is New York pastry chef Christina Tosi’s popular Milk Bar Pie, made with a toasted oat crust and a buttery, gooey brown-sugar filling. (It used to be called Crack Pie, a name deemed offensive because of its association with drug use, and was renamed earlier this year.)
Whether you prefer tradition or innovation — or a little of each — America’s best pie shops have got a slice (or a whole pie) for you. To supplement this selection, here is a list of the best pie shop in every state.