In October, with the holiday season right around the corner, we set out on a quest to discover the Seattle area’s favorite fall flavor and asked readers of The Seattle Times for their favorite pie flavors and places to get them.
Apple pie, made with Washington state’s most bountiful fruit, won with nearly 17% of votes. Runners-up included other classic pie flavors like pumpkin, strawberry rhubarb and coconut cream. Among all the pie votes, the local shops we saw mentioned most frequently as the places people love to get pie included A la Mode Pies, with locations in West Seattle, Ballard and Phinney Ridge; Pie Bird Bakeshop, which pops up at farmers markets; the Snohomish Pie Co. in Snohomish and Mountlake Terrace; Pie Bar, with three food trucks and locations in Ballard and Phinney Ridge; and Whidbey Pies, available at your local PCC and Metropolitan Market.
Then the question became: “Where can one get the best apple pie in the Seattle area?” To find out, we leaned on your helpful suggestions, incorporated some of our own, and rounded up 10 apple pies from all over the city and its outskirts — from pie shops like A la Mode to pies readily available in grocery stores and diners. Then, we gathered six Seattle Times staffers to blind-taste them all in one sitting to see if we could find a clear winner.
Scores were given based on our determination of what makes the perfect pie:
- A flaky crust
- Great flavor
- Satisfying texture of the apples in the filling
- A pleasing appearance
Judges scored every pie on a points scale that was equally weighted in each of the four categories described above.
When we compared notes — our stomachs bursting with apples, sugar and crust — we discovered that what makes a good pie is deeply subjective.
Jackie Varriano likes her pie with soft, peeled apples — “peeled” is key, says Varriano! — while Jade Yamazaki Stewart likes them with more structure and doesn’t mind apple chunks with the skin on. Still, we had similar ideas when it came to front-runners, and once we combined our scores, three pies rose above the rest.
So, the winners of The Great Apple Pie Taste Test are …
A la Mode and Snohomish Pie Co., tied for first place, each with a composite score of 25! The apple pie from Pie Bird Bakeshop came in third, our judges agreed, with a score of 24. Tasting 10 pies side by side, it quickly became clear that to stand out, the pie had to give us something beyond apples and sugar. Each of our three winners offered something special.
We loved how the top crust on Snohomish Pie Co.’s pie seemed to ripple gently atop a copious amount of apples. It was golden-brown and perfectly crimped — with just a few spots of sugary filling oozing through. The texture of the apples in the bake was smooth and rich without being mushy, the flavor had true notes of apple mixed in with spices. The crust wasn’t the most flavorful — but its flakiness and the sturdy, yet tender, bottom was one to be reckoned with.
A la Mode’s pie was the only French apple in the bunch (their other apple pie is an apple-pear, and the inclusion of the pear disqualified it from our apple tasting), meaning it had a streusel topping instead of a traditional crust. That crumbly topping lent a sugary, crunchy texture that juxtaposed wonderfully with the deep, apple-forward flavor of the pie. That apple flavor was a reoccurring theme in our winning pies. A la Mode uses Granny Smith apples, which lend a tart, bright flavor. They were also irregularly cut, giving the pie a mix of tender and crunchy apple bites, which proved essential.
Pie Bird was Stewart’s favorite pie hands down. Made with Pink Lady apples from Collins Family Orchards in Yakima County, this pie had the deepest, most complex apple flavor of them all — not just sweet (like Gala or Fuji apples) or singularly bright and sharp (like Granny Smiths), the Pink Lady apple filling offered a balance of sugar and acidity, with floral apple notes. The crust had a rich butter flavor, maybe from the use of higher-fat European butter. And it flaked easily, without being overly hard or disintegrating once cut.
Ultimately, while we were able to reach a consensus on the three very best pies, the exercise showed us that everyone has slightly different pie preferences and slightly different ideas about what constitutes the perfect slice of apple pie. So if you’re looking for your perfect version of an apple pie, read our full notes below to find a pie that speaks to you — be it full of spice, unpeeled apples or massive proportions.
Observations from The Great Apple Pie Taste Test
The Top 3
Snohomish Pie Co.
Check snohomishpieco.com for updated holiday hours; locations in Snohomish and Mountlake Terrace; $26.99 for an apple pie
Jackie: I think, when it came to appearance, the apple pie from Snohomish Pie Co. was by far the prettiest pie we had. However, I wanted a bit more butter — or even a hit of salt in that top crust. Still, it held together beautifully. The apples inside were of the soft texture I like; my only wish was for more cinnamon.
Jade: I also thought this pie was gorgeous, with a puffed-up golden-brown crust and just enough oozes of caramelized sugar and apple juice to make you hungry for what’s inside. The apples could have been a little tangier and with more bite, but it was still one of my favorite pies from the tasting.
A La Mode Pies
Hours vary based on location; locations in Ballard, Phinney and West Seattle; alamodeseattle.com; $35 for a French apple pie
Jackie: The crumble topping was a wild card which I welcomed, texturewise. I loved the real apple flavor in this one, and I loved how the apples were cut differently, giving each bite an interesting texture contrast of smooth and crunchy apples. Plus, it didn’t just hit you over the head with sugar, which I always appreciate.
Jade: Like Jackie, I’m a big fan of crumble toppings and the little bits of crunch they add to a good flaky bottom crust and fruit pie filling. I also appreciated the conservative use of sugar in the filling. Too much sugar obscures the flavor of good fruit and makes me think something sinister is hiding below that innocent-looking crust.
Pie Bird Bakeshop
Slices and whole pies are available at the University District Farmers Market every Saturday; Thanksgiving whole pie orders are also available for pickup on Nov. 24; piebirdbakeshop.com; $35 for a classic apple pie
Jade: Pie Bird’s apple pie was my favorite. The apples had a nice tanginess and a complex apple flavor, both things that are crucial for a good apple pie that were missing in many of the other options we tried. It’s an apple pie, for God’s sake. You can’t just use any run-of-the-mill apple. The crust, too, kept flakiness a priority while finding the perfect balance between crunch and tenderness.
Jackie: Give me the butter, baby! This pie was the only one to truly tick that box for me when it came to crust. All that butter gave it a nice flake and it was truly perfectly done; not dry but also not at all smooshy on the bottom. I also appreciated the true apple flavor.
All the rest, in alphabetical order
Jade: What Costco’s pie lacks in flavor, it makes up for in size. The hulking pile of apple, sugar and dough could easily feed 12 people, and made the other pies we ordered cower in fear from the sheer mass of their brawny cousin from the corporate grocery store. But don’t expect a lot of apple flavor in the filling or butter flavor in the crust. The amount of sugar in the pie made it super sweet, and not much else.
Jackie: I agree with Jade — Costco is the place to go if you’re feeding a crowd on Thanksgiving. Weighing in at nearly 5 pounds, this behemoth is the sugar bomb of a big family’s dreams. Make sure you’ve got plenty of black coffee on hand to offset the sweetness.
Grand Central Bakery
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; locations in Wallingford, Wedgwood, Eastlake and Burien; whole frozen pies available with a preorder — call a couple of hours ahead to have them baked for you; grandcentralbakery.com; $22.20 for a frozen apple pie
Jackie: As a whole, this was actually my favorite pie, but out of our group of testers, I was alone in this declaration! It was the only take-and-bake style, and I found the crust sturdy but flavorful — maybe I should be thanking Jade for his baking skills since he finished off the bake before serving it to us? Regardless, I loved how small the apples were cut. They were soft and rich, and the filling was the darkest of all, filled with spices, another big bonus for me.
Jade: For $22.20, this was one of the better value pies in the roundup. I liked the firm crust, achieved partially by leaving the pie in the oven for an extra few minutes, but the pie lost some points for the mushiness of the apples.
6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10010 Main St., Bothell; hillcrestbakery.com; $15.20 for an apple pie
Jackie: The appearance of this was classic pie with a golden-brown crust. When I think of diner pie — this one fits the bill perfectly. Thick-cut spears of apple that remained slightly crunchy, and a strong, applesaucelike flavor that is sugar-heavy, without much else when it came to flavor.
Jade: As somebody who values apple flavor beyond everything else in an apple pie, I couldn’t get past the lack of fruit flavor in this pie. The crunchiness of the apples also bothered me. I like some texture in an apple pie filling, but don’t want to hear the apple slices snapping between my teeth. The crust didn’t add a lot of flavor.
6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; 14423 Ambaum Blvd S.W., Burien; huckleberrysquare.com; $11.99 for an apple pie
Jackie: Unfortunately, Huckleberry Square’s pie suffered from a soggy bottom, which was a shame as the top crust was quite light. The apples were crunchy, large spears. I almost wonder — with the soggy crust and crunch on the apple — whether this pie might’ve benefited for a few more minutes in the oven. Still, it was incredibly sweet, a perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee.
Jade: Like Jackie, I thought the top crust of this pie was one of the flakier, more buttery choices out of the roundup. But the amount of sugar in the filling overpowered any apple flavor that may have existed before it died a syrupy death. If sweetness is what you like in your pie, though, I won’t judge. We should all be able to enjoy pie the way we see fit.
Hours vary based on location; locations in Ballard and on Phinney Ridge; piebar.com; $38 for an apple crumble
Jade: Pie Bar’s enormous apple crumble is a hard pie to share — it drooped and disintegrated once cut. The filling’s flavors were unusual, with boozy notes that could be off-putting to some people — a couple of our testers commented that the bourbon flavor was overpowering! — but I didn’t mind. And the flavors felt on-brand for a business that serves cocktails with its slices, promoting drunk-eating pie (a noble cause, if there ever was one).
Jackie: Any way you slice it, I hate an unpeeled apple in my pie. However, I can see why it’s done — the peel lends a lot of texture that goes beyond just crunch in an apple that some might welcome. Plus, those boozy notes gave it an interesting depth that helped showcase the spice.
Shari’s Café and Pies
Hours vary based on location; about a dozen locations in the Seattle area; $14.99 for a deep-dish apple pie
Jade: Shari’s apple pie was one of the prettier ones in the roundup, with granulated sugar adding little sparkles to the top crust. But the super-sweet, syrupy filling was hard to stomach after a couple of bites — as Jackie said, these diner pies should probably always be served with a cup of coffee to cut the sweetness and cleanse the palate between bites.
Jackie: Again, Shari’s delivers in the way only a classic diner pie can. It’s got a perfectly serviceable crust pumped full with uniform, huge apple chunks. It’s wonderfully mundane — you know what each bite will offer you and it definitely is going to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Available baked or frozen at groceries and markets around the Puget Sound area; find a list of retailers at whidbeypies.com; $19.99 for a Granny apple pie at Metropolitan Market
Jade: For a pie that can be found at grocery stores like Whole Foods, I was pretty impressed with the quality of this pie. The crust was flaky and buttery with some toasty flavors, which pair nicely with the flavor of apple and can make an apple pie taste even more like fall. The filling had decent fruit flavor, too, but was a bit on the mushy side of what I was looking for.
Jackie: Toasty is the perfect description for the crust on this pie. Again, it came to personal preference in that I enjoyed the small dice on the apple and the softness of it. However, I needed more spice and less sugar.