Pie Pilgrimages: Apple Pan

From Los Angeles

Call us crazy, but we had to take a pie adventure the day after Thanksgiving. After all, here was CurvyMama, in Los Angeles for the holiday, and the legendary Apple Pan was just a 15-minute drive away.

As a former Angeleno, I was well aware of the little shop’s hamburger fame. But until I read fellow piemaker Beth Howard’s memoir, I had no idea they were equally beloved for their cream pies. So, even though I was still full from the previous day’s Thanksgiving (which included the CurvyMama pumpkin pie I wrote about the other day), I couldn’t leave town without sampling Apple Pan’s coconut and banana cream pies.

The Apple Pan

West Los Angeles

Inspired by Beth’s tales of pie at the Apple Pan with her father, I took my dad along for this pie adventure. It didn’t take much coaxing; I inherited my sweet tooth from him, and coconut cream pie reigns supreme in his varied and enthusiastic dessert affections. Even at 94, in a wheelchair and a bit challenged in the memory department, he can still recall with loving detail the slice of coconut cream pie he found in 1982 at a teensy North Carolina coffee shop on a cross-country drive with me.

Dad and I shared one of the Apple Pan’s famous hickory burgers so we could save room for pie. Dad was pretty happy about the burger, as well. And we both loved the environment of the Apple Pan; it’s a tiny place, with only a big V-shaped counter and stools to accommodate diners.

I’m guessing they’re doing business exactly like they have been since they opened in 1947. The grill guys are wearing little white paper caps. The guys that work the counter are brusque icons of speed and efficiency. They throw orders of fries out on little brown-paper plates, and slide another plate full of ketchup at you. They pour drinks in those white conical cups. Completely charming.

When it came time for dessert, we were not disappointed. We ordered a slice of banana cream and a slice of coconut cream, because how could we leave without trying both?

The banana cream was perfection: a hefty portion of sliced bananas, exactly the right ripeness, between restrained layers of thick vanilla custard and topped with a layer of whipped cream that had to be whipped from fresh heavy cream. The butter-and-shortening crust was crisp and golden and the perfect counterpoint to the filling.

The coconut cream blew us away. The custard was smooth and thick, with just the right amount of sweetness, and it was cram-packed with tender coconut shreds. This isn’t a politically correct pie; no attempt at healthfulness, no talk about local or organic or lower sugar or gluten-free. This is straight-ahead mid-1950s pie. And thank God for that. The coconut flavor was so intense that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a little coconut flavoring in the filling. But I don’t hold it against them; we all have our little secrets. And this one pays off. Big time.

To say that my dad and I were in pie heaven would be an understatement. I’m going to be dreaming about these pies forever. Thank goodness I make several trips a year to Los Angeles. I know I’ll park my butt on a stool at the Apple Pan every time.

  1. Kathy
    I love, love, love the Apple Pan. It never changes and the burgers and pie are amazing.