Today is National Pie Day. (No, not Pi Day—that’s celebrated on March 14 and appeals mostly to math nerds.) My husband Jefferson Graham recently recently visited a small hamlet in New Mexico with a name just made for this holiday. Here’s his guest column on the subject. Enjoy it and then dig into some pie—or, better yet, bake one.
At the top of the Continental Divide on New Mexico’s Route 60, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, you come across this tiny village with a name that conjures up Willy Wonka-like possibilities: Pie Town.
Pie Town? As in, all currency is in crust and town council's motto is "In Lard We Trust”? Streets are named Apple, Blueberry and Peach?
You get the idea. That’s the fantasy. And the reality?
Who wouldn't want to pull over and see if reality measures up to the dream?
Naturally, I did, and, to my utter disappointment, all three pie stores were closed when I zipped through town. One of the stores was for sale. But another said it would be open on Sunday.
So I continued on to my destination in Sorocco, NM, home base for my recent bird photography adventure at the Bosque Del Apache nature preserve. However, I would be coming back through Pie Town in a few days, so I contacted the restaurant, the Pie-O-Neer, to confirm that their doors would indeed be open for visitors and made plans to visit. On an empty stomach.
So, after watching the morning "blast-off" of 20,000 or so birds for a few days in the great migration at Bosque, I left the small town of Socorro (the largest "city" near Pie Town, pop. 8460) and drove up the hill 90 minutes or so, for my return visit to Pie Town.
First of all, while there is a sign in town that says :"The secret to life is lard and pie," not everything is really about pie. There’s a post office. An emergency fire department. A few gift shops.
One pie shop did indeed close, and another just shut down. Pie-O-Neer was shuttered for a year and a half because of COVID—until Sarah Chavez came to the rescue and bought the place.
She had moved from Phoenix to retire, but when she saw Pie-O-Neer, she saw an opportunity and decided to go all in and bring pies back to travelers.
But how did the little town get its name in the first place? In the 1930s, there was a little gas station at the top of the hill where people would stop to fill up and eat a slice of heavenly pie. Because the pie was so good, the area became known for it, and the local townspeople petitioned to name their city Pie Town.
These days there are highway signs that confirm the existence of Pie Town, and the local post office even dignifies it with its own zip code: 87827.
Although the streets aren’t paved with crust or named after fruit, I did encounter Key Lime Street and Custard Lane.
The Pie-O-Neer is not one of those places that hits you over the head with so many different varieties of pie that you can't make a decision. (That happened to me when I visited the Grand Canyon Cafe in Williams, AZ, which has over 50 varieties.)
When I visited, Pie-O-Neer had about 10 pie varieties on display. These included blueberry, ginger-peach, and the main attraction, New Mexico apple, a fairly traditional apple pie with some of the state’s famous green chiles added to the filling. The restaurant serves regular apple pie as well, but I opted for chocolate pie with green chiles. It had a bit of a bite but tasted fantastic.
The Pie-O-Neer is a a homey diner, with Route 60 and 66 memorabilia, old photographs from the 1930s on the wall, big red booths, and a separate room to the side called the "Music Room," with a piano and record covers of Glenn Miller, Waylon Jennings, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Willy Nelson on the wall. People are encouraged to come in and play the piano and bring in their own instruments at any time.
Beyond pie, Chavez offers stew (chile, of course) and homemade bread, and, on Sundays, serves a multi-course dinner that includes everything from pulled pork sandwiches to macaroni and cheese—along with a slice of pie, of course!
Business is booming, she says, thanks to the nonstop parade of travelers traveling up the road who are thrilled to find an open restaurant in Pie Town after making the 90-mile ride to the top of the road. Once you’ve entered the inside, as you can see in the video, you never want to leave.
Meanwhile, what's up with our love of pies? Chavez has the answer.
"It's nostalgia," she says. "Pies bring us back to another simpler time."
There's always time for crust, I say, whether that's a chicken pot pie (one of my all-time favorites) or chocolate or banana cream. What's your favorite pie?
(Back to Ruth: My favorite is is an old-fashioned apple, which I made for Thanksgiving, but there’s a great recipe for New Mexico Apple Pie with Green Chile & Piñon in New Mexico Magazine that I’m planning to make. I’ll share it with you in a future post.)
Thanks for reading this guest post from Jeff. You can find his stories at https://jeffersongraham.substack.com.
I’ll be back next week with a story you won’t want to miss.