tl;dr: I recommend two of the three pie places for different things.
A La Mode: big slices, interesting flavors, milk, comfy shirts
High 5 (CLOSED): crust, normal fillings, savory pies, pie shakes, cute shirts
In Seattle, we have the incredible fortune of living in a pie city. A city so stuffed to the brim with pie shops that making your own is deemed an unnecessary hassle.
One of my best friends lives in Arizona, which is decidedly not Seattle. This has always meant that when we get to spend time together, we pack years of friendship into a week. Because we are both fats through and through, this always means more food than either of us can handle. During one of our most recent visits, we decided that one day would be deemed Pie Day (in August, not March 14th), and we would only eat forms of pie during those 24 hours. Pie Day was a resounding success, complete with a theme song, comfy theme shirts (from A La Mode and High 5), and more pie than I ever thought I’d consume in a week, let alone a day. Some pies were transcendent, others disappointing, but all were enlightening.
A LA MODE PIES: Best straight-forward pie experience
Our first stop of the day was A La Mode Pies, which has a space that is exactly what you’d expect a Seattle pie shop to look like. Every last detail was carefully considered, but the feeling still makes you wish you’d end up there on a thunderstorm-y day, nursing a slice. Included in the details considered by A La Mode, they were the only pie shop we visited that offered milk on their menu. Milk is such a necessary menu item for any pie place that we didn’t even consider that it might not be available. It was surprising to find that the other two pie shops we visited did not offer milk, and were confused when we inquired about it.
The flavors at A La Mode were also the most interesting and well-executed that we encountered all day. Instead of just the normal apple and cherry (both of which they still have, and do very, very well), the flavors available at A La Mode display a clever curiosity about flavor combinations, which end up being some fantastic pieces of pie. The best flavor we sampled that day was the bourbon butterscotch, simply because of A La Mode’s ability to make butterscotch that doesn’t taste like straight sugar. The nuances in the butterscotch let you know that whoever is stirring it put some time and love into developing this recipe. The other flavors we were lucky enough to sample that day included Mexican chocolate mousse, which was crowned with whipped cream taller than the pie itself (the exact right amount, as far as I’m concerned), and Blue Hawaiian, a blueberry-coconut-pineapple flavor combination that tasted like it should have been discovered decades ago. All three were truly fantastic pieces of pie that I would definitely order again if they were available in the display case. If I had to choose a single type to recommend, I couldn’t. Your pie preferences should guide you when choosing a pie at A La Mode, because they’re all very obviously crafted with care. Also, it would also be silly to go without mentioning that of the three pie shops, A La Mode had the biggest slices for the money spent, which is something I appreciate no matter what kind of pie I’m digging into.
PIE: Best filling, worst crust
Our next stop was Pie in Fremont, which exists only to make key lime filling. The crust and other fillings at Pie were unremarkable, which is terribly disappointing because their key lime pie filling is likely the best you’ll find outside the Key West. If you’re willing to buy a pie to completely ignore the crust and simply scoop the filling out, their key lime is the benchmark by which all others should be judged. It is tart enough to make you pucker, with enough condensed milk and egg yolks to make you take another bite. It is a damn shame they don’t use the universally recognized standard graham cracker crust on their key lime, because it would absolutely be the best pie in Seattle.
HIGH 5 PIES (CLOSED): Best non-pie ingenuity, crust
The last stop on Pie Day was High 5 Pie on Capitol Hill which has the most impressive crust. Though their fillings are on the boring apple-cherry-mixed berry end of the spectrum, their all-butter crust is the kind you expect to come out of a grandmother’s kitchen. Buttery, flaky, light, not the least bit burnt on the edges. Truly a feat of butter and flour, it made me a little sad that I’ve always been bad at making pie crust. In addition to their crust, High 5 is also the king of “things that should exist everywhere”. Our lunch on Pie Day consisted of a mac and cheese pie and a housemade pizza hot pocket, both of which were greasy in the way that great junk food is. Satisfying, but not overwhelming. They both hit the spot and let us move on to another round of desserts. Neither of us knew how lucky we were that we were able to experience what came next, but those savory pies paved the road to the single best dessert experience of my life.
A pie shake from High 5 made with a slice of their apple pie is, no question, the best dessert I’ve ever experienced. We also got a pie shake made with the mixed berry pie, and it paled in comparison. Something about the heavy spicing of the apples makes the whole thing work in a way that is hard to explain with words instead of guttural sounds. The chunks of pie crust cut the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream, and the apples are tart enough to round the flavor of the shake out, all of parts working together to make each bite a little different than the last. If there is one thing I could recommend about Pie Day, it would be an apple pie shake. You’d think it’s just apple pie a la mode blended together, but the sum is just so much better than its parts.
The pie experiences around Seattle are plentiful, and we didn’t have the chance to even come close to trying them all, but with the three we tried, all of our pie needs were satiated. We went into Pie Day thinking there would be a clear winner, and instead we got a pie place for each of our different pie wants.