As a child, I vacationed each summer at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. We played mini-golf. We rode the wooden roller coaster at Arnolds Park. We swam, a lot. Inevitably one day Mom would tell us to dry off and put on clothes. We were headed to O’Farrell Sisters, a still-operating restaurant known for pies, and none of us complained. Such was the power of its chocolate meringue.
Pie and summer vacation have gone together in my mind ever since.
In recent years, I have popped into Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors, Minn., after hikes, to revive with that magical combination of flour, butter and fruit. So imagine my surprise when I saw the reader comments on last week’s Travel story about top spots along Hwy. 61. Betty’s Pies wasn’t among our highlights, but that didn’t stop a few readers from calling it a has-been. I began to wonder just where to find Minnesota’s best pie. So, I crowdsourced.
I also asked Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson. The New Scenic Cafe on North Shore Drive is his pick.
Which raises the question, has Rick been to Pipestone? That’s where Lange’s Cafe turns out a creation that Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the “Roadfood” books, call the best raisin cream pie ever made. Several people (including me) recommend this diner.
Many other places inspire sweet devotion, too. I’ve listed them here from south to north, since I’ve had pie at Lange’s (coconut cream; it was fantastic) and think everyone’s pie-inspired road trip should start there.
For fruit pies with the “flakiest, most buttery crust,” get yourself to the Aroma Pie Shoppe in Whalan.
“Hands down best pie anywhere is the Amboy Cottage Cafe, in Amboy,” one reader wrote. A more cautious type, who was reluctant to declare any pie “the best,” suggested that a contender is found at the Dam Store in Rapidan, just south of Mankato. In Braham, Minnesota’s homemade pie capital, Park Cafe is ground zero. There are also the Farm Market Cafe in Onamia and the Rustic Inn Cafe, up the road from Betty’s in Castle Danger.
I hear their pies — like so many — are worth the drive.
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.