If you want to mark National Pie Day on Jan. 23 with a big slice of the real thing, you probably either need a local, living grandma, or you need to bake a pie yourself.
Old-school pie-making remains a fading art at most Western Pennsylvania eateries and bakeries, but all is not yet lost: A new breed of Pittsburgh baker is shaking some rust off the crust.
Om Nom Bake Studio, which a young couple started up in July at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District, will bake to order six different flavors of 9-inch pies or 4-inch mini pies.
They use actual fruit, organic when possible, and other real ingredients, and wrap them all in a pastry unapologetically made with lard.
"I find when I eat pie, I'm more crust-centric," says 33-year-old Matt Schroeder, who runs the operation with his wife, Karla. Right now they're both working other full-time jobs, also in the Strip -- she at Prestogeorge and he at Mancini's -- so they work this bakery around those, baking in a catering kitchen in Baldwin Township. But the couple, who formerly worked in landscaping and land planning and now live in Lawrencville, are looking for a place of their own to bake and sell more of their noms, mostly very creative cookies, assorted brownies and bars, and scones.
Mr. Schroeder does most of the actual baking, at night, and he is the pie guy. He says he's been baking since he was a kid growing up near Beckley, W.Va., where his mom was such a big baker he longed for the store-bought Oreos other kids got.
Her pies also were made with lard, so he gets that from her, as well as her recipe for Apple Bourbon Raisin Pie, for which the raisins soak in the booze.
Other flavors are Apple Crumble, Triple Berry Crumble, Cherry, Pecan and a Peach Caramel. The prices are $10 for a 9-inch and $3.50 for 4-inch.
They also make in season a pumpkin, for which they roast organic pumpkins. Older customers have told them, "I haven't had pie like this since my grandmother's."
This past Thanksgiving, they ran a Pie4APie promotion: For every pie they sold, they donated one to a local Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner, then went themselves to cut and serve them. The charity was happy to have enough pies left to freeze for future dinners, Mr. Schroeder says. "We found out later that in previous years, they had no dessert."
He knows most people don't bake real pies; most don't even want to commit to buying a whole pie, unless it's at the holidays, so that's why they make them with three-days advance order. It's easier to sell the mini pies, so they sometimes have those at the retail location.
The minis they've also sold to one of the coffeehouses and other eateries they supply.
While part of Om Nom's ethos is to make everything as healthy as possible, and they're adding more vegan baked goods, "with our pies, we're going to stick with lard."
Om Nom Bake Studio is in the Pittsburgh Public Market on Smallman Street in the Strip District and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sun. (omnombakestudio.com and 412-219-2552).
Over on the South Side, another pair are working to establish their own bakery. Jane Crawford and Barbara Reale call theirs Threefiftyº Bakery and Kitchen -- that is, 350 degrees. Best friends since childhood in Breezewood, the 30-year-olds started their business in 2010 making desserts for Piper's Pub on the South Side, where customers can pick up orders from their website. (Ms. Reale works as a server at Piper's, which is where they do their baking; Ms. Crawford's day job is as a nanny.)
They source local, quality ingredients to make cookies, too, and also layer cakes and cheese cakes; their take on pie is a deep-dish, crumb-crusted mousse pie that comes in five flavors: Double Chocolate (the best-seller), Lemon White Chocolate, Guinness Black and White, Seasonal Fruit and Custard, and Banana Caramel.
These sell for $45 for a 9-inch and $25 for a 6-inch pie, but they are hefty.
"But to eat it's light," says Ms. Crawford, who says they plan to eventually sell individual ones and other mini-sized pies. They've made and are happy to make more traditional pies and are talking about adding an apple or other traditional fruit pie to their menu, but it, too, may well be made in a springform pan, deep-dish style.
Having set up on a couple of Saturdays at the former Schwartz Market on Carson Street, the two still are looking for a retail location of their own, which they'd like to open in the second half of this year.
Meanwhile, they supply cupcakes to City Theater and are working on signing up more retailers. As Ms. Crawford puts it, "We're trying to start small and do it without too much borrowing money."
Threefiftyº Bakery and Kitchen's website is threefiftypgh.com; you can place orders by calling 412-390-1940.
Another relatively new source of real pie is The Pittsburgh Pie Guy, who started selling pies last year.
As you can tell from his website and Facebook page, he's actually two guys. The main principals you might have met at their first public event: The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's second "Project Pop Up: Night Market" on Sept. 28, when Louis Butler and Wren McGalliard were among the vendors feeding people in a Liberty Avenue parking lot.
That went so well, they set about taking orders and selling them online and delivering them. Within a month, they plan to have a new website with an order form, and might even have a bricks-and-mortar location later this year; in the meantime, they plan to sell pies at some Citiparks farmers markets.
"People kept telling me when I made one of these, 'You should sell these,'" says Mr. Butler, 23, who's been baking pies for a decade, including during college at Duquesne University. That's where he met Mr. McGalliard, who also was studying philosophy there. Their planned careers didn't pan out, so this is a way to explore their back-up plan of opening some kind of restaurant. In the meantime, Mr. McGalliard works as a clerk at Carnegie Library in Oakland and Mr. Butler as a line cook at Harris Grill.
For their pies, the Greenfield roommates also like to focus on local ingredients, but the menu is less specific -- "Pies are best made seasonally, so if you want some suggestions of what's good for the time of the year: just ask." They also offer to do "any sort of vegetarian, vegan, organic or gluten-free" pies, and offer several savory meat pies. "Challenges are accepted."
Cost for most pies is $18 to $20, and meat pies are $23 to $25, and they're all 10-inch pies. "We like to make 'em big," says Mr. Butler, who has been delighted at the response their homestyle pies have received. They're expecting more of the same when they set up as one of the food vendors for the next Night Market -- an indoor one at 131 Seventh St., Downtown -- starting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 25.
"The great thing about pie is, everybody loves it."
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr. First Published January 17, 2013 5:00 AM