A not-so-secret society of delicious sweet and savory pies
The best-selling pie at Angela Pinkerton’s Pie Society is the passion fruit meringue. The chef developed the recipe when she opened her San Francisco restaurant, Theorita, in 2018. But it also sprang from her previous experience working at the Ritz Carlton. For the enormous brunch service at the Ritz, she made a basil panna cotta with a passion fruit gelée. She loved the combination and considered how it might apply to a reimagined lemon meringue pie.
Pinkerton loves basil, but it doesn’t last for long when it’s stored in the refrigerator. “I also have an affinity for the bay leaf,” she said. Drawn to savory flavors added to desserts, she thought, what about passion fruit and bay leaf? “They just worked together,” she said. “It was something different than just making a lemon meringue pie.”
Bay leaves are routinely added to soups and stews, to comfort food. Pinkerton describes the flavor as green and herbal. After steeping it in milk, the bay leaf brings a homeyness to the passion fruit’s tartness. “We use sugar, of course, and white chocolate in it,” she explained. And it’s housed in a graham cracker shell with a good amount of salt. “Then toasted meringue. You can’t go wrong with toasted meringue,” she said. “People love it.” A 5 inch version is $20; the 9 inch is $45.
The Pie Society also sells savory pies, including quiche and pot pies. Pinkerton said that, overall, they sell more sweet pies, but the savory ones sell out every week. “Chicken pot pie is right up there. It’s probably our second favorite,” she revealed. Theorita was only open for four months, so she didn’t get the chance to start a savory pie program there. Since opening Pie Society, she has noticed that customers get very excited about them. “I hope one day that we have more time to make different variations on savory pies,” she said.
In September 2020, they moved into a shared kitchen on Seventh Street in Berkeley. Earlier this year, in April, the other two businesses moved out and Pie Society took over the lease. “We decided to open a retail space in July,” Pinkerton said. With a little rearranging, they’ve also been able to add a small outdoor seating area, where one can tuck into a single slice of pie.
If one would like to buy a pie for the holidays, pre-orders are already closed, but the store will be open on Thursday and Friday. Pinkerton guarantees there’ll be a stampede for the passion fruit pie (“We can’t make enough of those,” she said). But the Dutch apple is one of her personal favorites. It differs from a regular apple pie because it contains crème fraîche. It also has a brown butter shortbread crumble on top. “It’s a little richer, and tarter than you think it’s going to be, but not sour. Just a little something extra,” she explained.
Pie Society will also be making a hazelnut brownie mud pie and a once-a-year special—an eggnog custard pie. “It’s everything you want it to be. It has a little bit of bourbon and rum in it, as well as cinnamon and nutmeg, but it’s lighter than drinking a glass of eggnog,” Pinkerton said. She described it as both a simple custard pie, but also as a festive one.
At this point, Pinkerton has enough pie recipes to fill a cookbook. “Those recipes and those ingredients can be combined into millions of varieties of pies,” she said. “But we’re always tweaking things and trying to get them to be the best they can be.” She believes that’s the quality that defines what it means to be a good chef. “I don’t want to say you’re never satisfied, but you’re always trying to make things better,” she said.
On a recent visit, I ordered a slice of pie, but adding whipped cream wasn’t an option. When asked about the absence of whipped cream, Pinkerton cheerfully replied, “If I’m going to have something with pie, I think of ice cream—and we can’t do ice cream.” She added that a couple of customers have recently made the same request for whipped cream, saying, “That’s good inspiration for us, to get on that and to start offering it.” Here’s hoping for a 2023 filled with many spoonfuls of whipped cream on top of pie.
Pie Society, check the website for holiday hours. 2533 Seventh St., Berkeley. 510.280.5944. piesocietysf.com.