For a state whose very culinary DNA is studded with majestically delicious pies (witness the State Fair pie competition, for example, or try one Marjorie Johnson’s legendary pies), Minnesota has generally fallen short when it comes to delicious commercially available pie.
But recent years have seen something of a renaissance in the field. We recently interviewed Rachel Anderson of Vikings and Goddesses and raved up a pumpkin pie from the newly opened Hot Hands on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.
The wife-and-wife duo of Rachel Swan and Karen “Ratchet” Mattison are bringing another flavor to the table later this year when they open Pie & Mighty in South Minneapolis on Chicago Avenue and 36th Street, next to Jakeeno’s.
They don’t describe the space as a pie shop, per se (there’ll be no seating), but in addition to picking up online pre-orders fueled by Pie & Mighty’s popular Pie Loop newsletter, visitors can buy whole pies on the fly or walk out with a slice of this or a slice of that.
Two suggestions for pies to try out of their new space: the marvelously tart-yet-balanced Lemon Angel pie, which uses a whipped cream-lined meringue crust in lieu of a traditional pastry crust, and sports one of the biggest lemon kicks of anything we’ve tried in years. And Swan’s remarkable blueberry pie, which revolves around a lovely crust that combines a crispy sturdiness with a sweet-savory push-pull to make for something that’s almost a treat unto itself, even before the big earthy sweetness of the blueberries are factored in.
The shop will carry whole pies in a 9-inch diameter size with prices ranging from $24–32, with 7-inch pies selling for $8–10 less than the same flavor in the larger size. Pie by the slice “will probably be in the $5 range,” says Swan.
Pie & Mighty is scheduled to open in early spring 2020, next door to Jakeeno’s Pizza and Pasta at 3553 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis.
THE GROWLER: How and when did this journey start for you?
RACHEL SWAN: I baked my first pie on February 27, 2016. First pie ever. I had been working at Pizzeria Lola for a long time, and left there and bounced around to a couple of different things. I’d hit a real depressive spell. It was rough.
My friend Stacy Sowinski, she was pastry chef most recently at Spoonriver, she and I would get together and have beers and talk about what kind of restaurant we’d eventually open up. We brainstormed a lot of ideas.
There wasn’t really a good place in the Twin Cities to get pie. There were grocery stores and restaurants that were doing it well, but it wasn’t always on the menu. So you guys came together on the pie thing. And something came up in Stacy’s life where she was like, “I can’t start a business right now.”
And in combination with a really rough winter and you being really sad about that [business] not coming together, you said: “I guess I’m gonna have to bake a pie!”
GROWLER: Tell us about that first pie, specifically.
SWAN: Working at Pizzeria Lola, I used to go to thrift stores and shop for the little round plates that they use. And for plates up at Joni. The thrift store is a happy place for me. I went to the thrift store and came across this Watkins pie plate that had an old-timey sort of look, deep-dish apple pie [recipe] in the bottom… well, two dollars and 49 cents, recipe right there, what’s there to lose?
Bought the pie plate and made the pie, and it was perfectly adequate. Enough to spark my interest. So we started making…
MATTISON: What I remember most is that you had fun. A lot of people are afraid of pie crust. My mom is a piemaker and she makes a very practical pie. So many of our neighbors were like, “Did you make a pie crust?” Your willingness to say, I do this, I experiment with this, I know how it goes. Not a lot of people make pie crust.
GROWLER: How did you dial in your crust? You’ve credited Black Sheep Pizza proprietor Jordan Smith as being critical to the process. How was he involved as you auditioned to get your pies into his barbecue spot, Storm King?
SWAN: Jordan showed up at George and the Dragon where I was waiting tables and he was like, “Hey! Pie! Let’s talk!” He and I started getting together, and he’d say, “Okay, make me an apple pie.” And over a period of time, I probably made 50 apple pies—probably more—for him, because he really wanted to get into the nuts and bolts of why I did what… it just became a super large conversation. The long and short of it is that I attribute a lot of my craft to him […] bugging me.
MATTISON: It was fun to watch. Jordan is a classically trained chef, so he might say, “Is that lemon in there? How much lemon did you use? Why did you do that? What do you think it does with the salt?”
There was a point at which he was having a conversation with you [Rachel] about one of the ingredients and he was encouraging you to leave it out and you came back and said, “I really like it like that!”
Great. Great! That’s the place where you want to be, where you know why you’re making what you’re making. Where you can have a conversation with a classically trained chef and you can say, “I like it.” It was really a lovely conversation.
SWAN: When I was first making crust, I was an all-butter crust person. That’s what all the books said to do, and all of the big pie shops were like “Ooh! All-butter crust!” It wasn’t until Jordan came along that he said, “Why do you do an all-butter crust?” I didn’t have an answer for it.
Jordan worked with me to refine what I would now call my pie crust. It’s a blend of 5 ounces of butter and 3 ounces of lard.
I love my crust, and if you ask any of our regulars, that’s the one thing we hear over and over and over again—“Oh my gosh, that crust! What the hell.” That’s enough for me to not want to change it.
GROWLER: Tell us about your Pie it Forward fund.
SWAN: People fill out our [pie-order] form, and we ask questions. Some of them are about things like allergies, but others are like, “Hey, what are you listening to on Spotify right now?” or whatever. Then we’d have this form: “Anything else you’d like to tell us?”
And people would really tell us stuff. Really tell us stuff.
[Remember the TV show] “Arrested Development,”: “there’s always money in the banana stand”? There’s always money in the Pie It Forward Fund. If somebody tells me in this email that they’re going to take it to their friend who’s in hospice and has two weeks to live? They’re not going to pay for that pie.
We can’t do it all the time, but it’s our way of saying, “I see you and I hear you, and I’m going to pour my heart and my intentions into this pie on your behalf.” I also have a church-y background like Nate [Houge] from Brake Bread. It’s not a thing, but it gives you some of the context for who I am and why I do what I do.