Baker, Cook, Writer, Pursuer of Gastronomic Joy

Republic of Pie

I’ve never really been the type to hang in a coffee shop. I make my coffee at home and do my writing and work in a library or outside. That, and I always have a hard time connecting to coffee shop Wi-Fi. But some coffee shops are more than their Yelp descriptor implies. Some bring a little bit more to the table in the form of alcoholic offerings, unique lattes, or in the case of Republic of Pie, a smattering of pie. This North Hollywood coffee shop came on my radar for its availability of a printer and proximity to my classes, but over the course of three weeks it earned a place in my heart as a provider of quality coffee, good pie, and cool music.

While I did not get a slice of pie the first few times I dropped in, mainly going for a caffeine fix to push me into the long day ahead of me, I had examined the selection of sweet piesalways staring at me through the glass case as I wait in line. While there were a couple of outlier options in the form of an oh-so-SoCal matcha cheesecake and a chocolate banana bread pudding along with a couple more classic options like pumpkin and pecan, the main divide seemed to be between the cream pies and the fruit pies. The former group consisting of coconut, banana, chocolate, chocolate banana, espresso chocolate, cookies and cream, and Earl Grey tea. The latter with apple, cherry, marionberry (a type of blackberry), peach blueberry, and strawberry rhubarb. The selection was even greater than places whose entire business is pie!

So when it came time to make a choice one night while out for a sweet treat to pair with some writing homework with Nick, I was struck with indecision. While Nick had already had the coconut cream with glowing reviews and was ready to try the cookies and cream flavor next, I could not even decide between fruit or cream. Fruit seemed like a traditional choice, while the cream options were more unique. But in which vein did they excel? So I resorted to asking one who should know what they do best the most, and sought the cashier’s advice. Unfortunately, the answer was the one pie I had counted out completely – the espresso chocolate. Coffee in dessert is simply not my thing, and it seemed like an unfair time to test the waters. After laughing at my refusal to accept the advice that I had asked for, I took up the second opinion offered in the form of the chocolate cream pie. I very rarely have chocolate cream pie. I honestly couldn’t say the last time I did. Is it a ramification of The Help? Perhaps. But the idea of it aside from that portrayal always sounds good.

The pies were delivered to us on plates far larger than the slice itself decorated with chocolate sauce to take the image up an extra notch. Nick’s was piled high with whipped cream atop a layer of Oreo speckled cream, with a chocolate cookie base separating it all from the pie crust and some chocolate cookie crumbles on top. Mine similarly had the sizeable portion of whipped cream sitting on a solid chocolate filling, with chocolate shavings completing the story on top. It was a chocolate kind of night. It also turned out to be a folky kind of night, for as we began eating and writing an artist began to play and sing in the rear portion of the shop on the small stage. Chocolate pie and folk music? A recipe to Scout Swonger’s heart.

My usual problem with cream pies is the excessive amount of whipped cream that I find is often used. The actual filling can become lost amongst a veritable mountain of usually bland whipped cream. But this was a whipped cream that endeared. It wasn’t like eating air, for it had a little more body to it than a typical whip. But it was still a nice, light foil to the incredibly thick chocolate cream. While the whipped cream was light and sweet with a touch of vanilla, the chocolate was its complete inverse. Full bodied, with every single bit of it screaming pure chocolate. And while I enjoyed this celebration of chocolate and the luscious texture, there was a little something grainy to it. It was as if they tried to incorporate so much cacao into it that it wasn’t able to keep ideally smooth. Which was an unfortunate failing in a filling that was otherwise delicious.

The other disappointing portion was the crust. Now I have produced my fair share of disappointing crusts. Pie crust is no easy thing. But when it’s a pie getting sold to me the technique should be down. And while the crust did the job of containing the filling, it wasn’t much more than that. There was certainly nothing flakey about it, and I am not sure if there was any salt or sugar used at all, for the flavor was pretty flat. This was especially unfortunate because it was so precisely crimped on the edges and the bottom was definitely well cooked. But there was simply nothing enticing to it.

While the crust situation on Nick’s cookies and cream pie was sadly the same, the filling was a knock out. Just a little thicker than the whipped cream, the cookie speckled layer hit the flavor exactly, harkening back memories of cookies and cream milkshakes. The cherry on top of it though was that chocolate cookie base, a stronger flavor to round out the creaminess of it all. It was a pie I had certainly never had before but would love to figure out how to make myself.

And while the pie was not overall worthy of raving reviews, close-by serviceable pie is bound to get my order again soon. And so it did a few days later, but that time paired with one of Republic of Pie’s savory offerings. With many fewer offerings than the sweet side of things, the pot pies had a choice of chicken, veggie, turkey chili, Australian meat, or our choice that day, Thanksgiving. In a small disposable tin, the personal pie was filled with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce like any thanksgiving themed dish worth its salt. I was a little worried that there would be a noticeable gap between the top crust and the filling, but there was hardly a space between the two. My second concern was the moistness of the filling. Especially with a filling such as turkey, it could be very easy to end up with something dry and unappetizing. But just the opposite, everything from the stuffing to the meat was perfectly cooked and well-seasoned. And the cranberry sauce, which was not of the gelatinous variety but consisted of more solid cranberry parts, was well-incorporated adding the perfect little tang to the herbaceous pie. And while the crust was still not seasoned to my liking and a little on the dry side, it was not as noticeable when mixed in with a bite of the exciting filling.

This pie was shared by Nick and I, and since we were sharing a main dish we naturally had to share a dessert. And with the success of part one, I thought I could take a risk on part two, especially already knowing what my feelings related to the crust would be. We went for the espresso chocolate pie. And perhaps it was because the coffee flavor was more of a light undertone to the chocolate, enhancing it as a couple tablespoons of espresso or a cup of brewed coffee enhances brownies or a chocolate cake, or perhaps it was the diffusion of the cream, but I was into it. I may have even been more of a fan than the pure chocolate pie! Shocking, I know! It felt just a notch more refined with the mixing flavors, and because it was a lighter cream rather than the slightly grainy chocolate cream there was nothing to complain about in terms of texture. A perfect afternoon treat to cap off a satisfying savory pie.

But as we neared the end of our time in LA, I had still not tried a fruit pie. So back we went to take in a pleasant folk-rock duo as we chose our final pies of the trip. And while I tend not to get apple pies while eating out, for they are never able to compete with my family’s apple pie (courtesy of Betty Crocker), I saw that the apples were sliced nice and thin. With my common objection being the commonly seen apple wedges that I cannot abide texturally, they seemed to be starting off on a better foot than most and worth a try. And it would be a good opportunity to check on their double crust situation, which had also been yet untried.

We took our pies outside (Nick having stayed with the success of cookies and cream) to enjoy in the only slightly nippy LA evening air. The first difference I noticed off the bat was that the top crust was coated in granulated sugar, a promising addition to the crust that had been consistently bland. The inside was stacked high with sliced apples held together by a viscous sauce speckled with warm spices. It was the visual ideal of apple pie. And when taken in with the taste buds as well I was brought back to the apple pie of my many Thanksgivings. A little bit of a tangy, soft crunch from the fruit amongst a sugary and spicy sauce making for a mouthfeel that is truly one of my favorite things in the world. It does not scream cinnamon, but suggests it amongst a medley of its peers such as nutmeg and allspice, though there was no clove that I could detect in the mix. And while the crust itself was still disappointingly the same, the sugar crusted on the outside made it markedly more enjoyable. The only thing that would have made it better was a zap in the microwave and perhaps a scoop of ice cream, which was offered but foolishly rejected. But even without such additions, the apple pie proved to be, in my opinion, the best yet, and the perfect note on which to go out.

Republic of Pie was truly there for all of us throughout the three weeks of our LA living. Not only did it provide the caffeinated jolt needed to get through the long days, a place for a reliable sweet treat, and printing services (for a price), but it was a cozy little shop to decompress in for a couple minutes amidst the intense intensive. The wooden décor, casual employees, and full freaking tree growing inside came together to create an ambiance of ease, the perfect state in which to enjoy a slice of pie.