Pie is old-school. It's classic. It's all-American. Pie evokes images of open windowsills, holiday dinners, and flour-dusted aprons. Pi is a number that's used to figure out the circumference of a circle.
Together, they create the name of a new artisan food company in town. 3.14 Pies is determined to yank pie out of the past and place it squarely in the center of Charleston's increasingly-experimental dessert scene.
The mathematically-inspired bakers Brent and Lindsay Doolittle founded the Charleston-based company this spring (officially forming their business on March 14 for obvious reasons) and began selling in mid-April.
Lindsay says 3.14 strives to incorporate innovative flavor combinations using local, all-natural, organic ingredients that are seasonally available. This has led the couple to create a different menu for each season.
"We want to transform pie into an imaginative, designer dessert," says Lindsay.
Currently, 3.14 pies are only available through existing retailers, which Lindsay and Brent have carefully chosen based on how well the shops align with their brand. Right now you can get 3.14 Pies downtown at Caviar & Bananas and Ted's Butcherblock; a full list is available on the 3.14 Facebook page.
The spring 2010 menu featured a mixture of classic dessert flavors and inventive creations: Blackberry Cabernet, Blueberry Bahama Mama, Strawberry Short Pie, Farmers Market Strawberry Rhubarb, Velvet Elvis, The Fusion (peanut-butter mousse and chocolate ganache), and Salted Rim Lime Margarita. The summer menu has just become available, and, in addition to many of the favorites from spring, it includes a Peach Basilberry Pie and a s'more-inspired Campfire Pie.
With the help of some friends, I managed to sample every single spring pie except for the rhubarb, and they all deserved high marks, particularly because of the phenomenal crusts that form the backbone for each creation. The owners tout pies that are made from scratch, and that doesn't just mean they make their sugar cookie crust or their Key lime filling. These guys are actually making the cookies that go into the crust and the condensed milk that goes into the filling.
The fact that the pie crusts stick out isn't an insult to the fillings, just a compliment to 3.14's crusty concoctions. Actually, it probably is an insult ... to all the boring, frozen crusts that get served every day.
The slices, especially the fruit-based ones, are meltingly tender yet retain a satisfactory firmness. The Cabernet features whole blackberries that are loosely bonded with a Sauvignon so they hold their shape without descending into a gelatinous mass. The Bahama Mama, again replete with whole pieces of fruit, almost comes across as a homemade cobbler, but better, because it's nestled in the bed of another lovely 3.14 crust.
The purity of the peanut flavors in the Fusion and the Velvet Elvis are a rich surprise. 3.14 uses an organic peanut butter that provides a clean flavor without the sugary additives.
My only minor complaint comes from the inconsistency in the alcohol-based flavors of the Cabernet and the Margarita. I sometimes found myself searching for the Sauvignon or Tequila infusions and then coming upon sudden, sharp bursts. This was by no means a deal-breaker, and some might even prefer the shots of flavor to a more mellow mix throughout.
Right now, full pies can be ordered by phone or at retail locations 48 hours in advance and run between $37 and $40. Slices at most locations are about five bucks.
When asked the inevitable questions about expansion or snagging their own storefront, Lindsay acknowledged some future plans but only under certain conditions.
"We're very cautious about growing organically," says Lindsay. We're committed to letting the market dictate what the market wants."