Spoiler alert. We are getting toward the end of my unpublished and probably unpublishable memoir, "The Quest for Pie." And yes, we find it.
The sun was high. The day felt torpid, silent. The boys were wilted, staggering along, supremely bored. Edie didn’t complain but her expression said it all. Maybe, I though sadly, they wouldn’t be going to Caltech after all.
The halls of science let us down. But Caltech was redeemed by Pie ‘N’ Burger, a landmark diner on California Boulevard we just happened to pass on our way out of town, as luck would have it, about noon. It was one of those spots you just love the moment you walk in, catching sight of the pie clock with “Pie ‘N’ Burger’ in orange neon.
We ate burgers — buttery buns wrapped in white waxy paper — and big mounds of hot fries. The plates and cups had that thin green line in the china that let you know you are in a Real Place, or at least someone’s sincere approximation of someplace real.
We almost considered passing on the pie — Ross had already drank a milkshake. But we were at the “Pie ‘N’ Burger,” not the “Burger ‘N’ Pie.” The pie came first. And we were on a pie quest, theoretically. We sorta had to.
Are the pies homemade? I asked our waitress.
“Everything from scratch; nothing comes out of a can,” she said. “We’ve been making pies here for 45 years.”
What kind of pies do you have? I wondered.
She handed us a sheet of paper titled: “Pie ‘N’ Burger Pies.’’ The choices were: Apple, Boysenberry, Cherry, Pecan, Dutch Apple, Blueberry, Pumpkin, Rhubarb and Custard, for $3.65 for a slice, $16.50 for a whole pie.
That was just the start. The next section was “Meringue Pies,” and those included Coconut, Banana, Chocolate, Lemon, Butterscotch, Peanut butter. Then came “Fresh Fruit Pies,” which cost 70 cents more: Peach, Strawberry, Ollallieberry.
Our waitress, Emily, explained that ollallieberry was a blend of loganberries and youngberries — a hybrid, I later learned, developed by the USDA and Oregon State University 1935. A type of blackberry, the ollallieberry — “ollallie” is Chinook for “berry” so really it’s called the “berryberry” — never took off, and you won’t find them beyond the West Coast.
Edie had to try it. Slave to habit that I am, I chose cherry, along with black coffee. The ollallieberry was excellent — I stole a few forkfuls from Edie’s plate. The berries were hauntingly delicate, dissolving at a touch. This was, we decided, the best pie we ever had, and briefly considered buying a whole pie to take away, balking only when we visualized that pie slowly jostling in the back of the Honda as the hours passed and we headed east, homeward. But we had done what we set out to accomplish: found a small place with good pie. So the trip was a success.