As a Texan exiled for 14 years to Arizona, I feel fortunate to have found decent barbecue, chicken-fried steak, and—halfway through my time there—even Blue Bell ice cream. There was no Tex-Mex, though. And, unfortunately, there was a shocking dearth of pie.
Well, the right pie, that is. Chess. Buttermilk. Sweet potato. All manner of fried pies. Pecan pie made by someone who knows how to pronounce pecan.
So, in addition to all of the other reasons I was glad to move home, good Texas pie was a welcome comfort upon my return. I’m sure it’s the same for displaced New Englanders who miss their apple pie with cheddar, or a waylaid Midwesterner yearning for a slice of brown-sugar Hoosier pie.
It got my attention then, when I stumbled across a lively Facebook debate about which Hill Country eatery offers up the best slice. Dozens of folks advocated for their favorites, from Royers in Round Top to the Koffee Kup in Hico and Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia. (Incidentally, those three bastions of baked goods make a nice pie-slice shape when plotted on a map.)Dozens of restaurants scored at least one mention in the informal poll.
Within this upper echelon of pie peddlers, the city of Marble Falls stood out for its status as home to not one, not two, but three spots garnering multiple mentions. It will shock no one who knows desserts that the venerable Blue Bonnet Cafe remains the undisputed king of Hill Country pie. There’s no telling how many wedges have been consumed in the wood-paneled dining room, or whole pies taken home, in the nearly 84 years that Blue Bonnet has dished out traditional home cooking from a squat, white building on US 281.
John Kemper, who owns Blue Bonnet with his wife, Belinda, says that the café’s best-selling varieties—pecan, coconut cream, and coconut meringue—also happen to be his personal favorites. But you can’t go wrong with any of Blue Bonnet’s 15 varieties, even the sugar-free apple version. Blue Bonnet’s slices stand out because they are the epitome of classic. The coconut meringue, for instance, is a sky-high confection with a firm, sweet base that practically bursts with coconut flakes.
The most exotic pie on the menu is probably German chocolate, but even that is not anything fancy—not much fancier, at least, than the simple fruit, chocolate cream, or peanut butter selections. They’re all just unassuming and tasty, the way good pie should be.
That simplicity is also a hallmark of The Sportsman’s Cafe, situated 15 miles east of downtown on FM 1431 toward Lago Vista and Jonestown. The Sportsman’s ample menu features hearty breakfasts and burgers, chicken-fried steak, and catfish—all meals that will fill you up. It would be a pity, though, not to leave room for dessert.
The Sportsman’s offers at least eight pies every day, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. When adding a pie to his roster, owner Charles Garner and his baker, Christie Edwards, work together to tweak their own old family recipes. The results speak for themselves. “We try really hard to get it right,” Charles says, “and we’ve been happy to get lots of compliments.”
Three of The Sportsman’s pie varieties are especially unusual. The Elvis, a peanut-butter-and-banana concoction, is a steady seller, as is the crunchy-sweet Caramel Apple. But the most-requested pie, and Charles’ favorite, is the Nutty Jeff Davis, a bourbon pecan pie with minced nuts and a delicate sugary crust, similar to that of a crème brûlée, that forms on top during baking. Impossibly rich and delectably textured, the Jeff Davis avoids being too sweet thanks to bourbon in both the pie itself and the whipped cream on top. The Jeff Davis takes pecans to a whole other stratosphere of flavor.
Marble Falls’ final notable pie destination is smack-dab in the middle of town. Open since August 2012, Main Street Coffee has already accumulated a following of loyal regulars. Situated in a 1920s house and furnished with quaintly mismatched tables, Main Street Coffee serves a variety of specialty tea and coffee drinks, plus quiche, sandwiches, and panini for breakfast and lunch.
What pleases and surprises owner Elaine Johnstone is not that the fledgling café has been so well-received but that it has been singled out for pie. Main Street’s drink menu is fairly extensive, but its pie list is limited to three pies at a time—cherry, walnut, pecan, and seasonal varieties—and they are minis. Versions of Elaine’s Czech grandmother’s pie recipes, the saucer-size pies are big on flavor. The nut varieties are dense and not too sweet, so that the focus is on the chopped pecans or walnuts. That attention to quality, combined with their petite size, make Main Street’s mini pies a perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or a latte.
So if Marble Falls is on your itinerary, enjoy your good fortune. As you sidle up to the table, keep in mind these words, attributed to Yogi Berra: “Cut my pie into four pieces,” he said. “I don’t think I could eat eight.”
Marble Falls Pie Tour
The Blue Bonnet Cafe is at 211 US 281 in Marble Falls. Call 830/693-2344.
The Sportsman’s Cafe is at 14426 E. FM 1431 in Marble Falls. Call 830/693-0605.
Main Street Coffee is at 108 Main St. in Marble Falls. Call 830/613-5054.