At the Goodman Community Center last Sunday morning, Miriam Grunes is monitoring a corps of volunteers, clad in aprons and white toques. Positioned nearby are baking carts, shelves laden with pies, quiches, stratas and tarts.
The sixth annual Pie Palooza is about to begin.
The event, a benefit for the REAP Food Group, is a pastry lover's paradise, bringing together over 20 different pies made with fresh, local ingredients by Madison-area chefs.
"It's an opportunity to work with local farms and encourage restaurants to use local products," says Grunes, REAP's executive director. "And it's pie, so it's about a cultural and culinary celebration of food, too."
Pie, indeed. In 2009, REAP celebrated its most successful Palooza yet, raising $7,000 and serving over 900 pieces of pie to 450 people.
"We're hoping for even more people this year," Grunes says.
Lucky for her, flaky crust isn't a hard sell. Five minutes after the doors open, the line snakes out of the room. Each ticket holder is guaranteed a green salad, a choice of beverage and two pieces of pie (sweet, savory or one of each). But not all 23 pies are available at once -- that would lead to "decision paralysis," Grunes says. Instead, eight pies are on hand at any given time.
"It can get hectic," David Flesch, a two-time Pie Palooza volunteer, says. "Kids want the sweet pies. Moms want them to have savory. People have a hard time deciding, and that can slow down the line."
He gives me a pointed look. It's decision time and I'm holding up the queue, wavering between Liliana's spicy crawfish cheesecake and a bacon, potato and Cheddar quiche from Beans 'n Cream Coffeehouse. Finally I opt for a piece of feta and fennel pie in a yeasted double crust, donated by the School Woods Supper Club, and a wedge of bittersweet chocolate pear tart from the Dayton Street Grille.
Oh, that tart. Fanned across the top are slices of pear, slightly caramelized, flecked with vanilla bean and perfectly cooked, tender but not mushy. Chunks of Swiss chocolate thread the creamy filling. A Dixie cup of vanilla ice cream from Sassy Cow Creamery sweetens the deal.
Back at the pie table, slices of a rich quiche from Sunprint Café, studded with root vegetables, spinach and sage, disappear fast. A cakey raspberry almond tart from Honey Bee Bakery also vanishes quickly.
Calvin Brace, of Madison, snags a piece of raspberry almond tart, but arrives too early to score a piece of pecan pie, his favorite. Rather than hopping back in line (additional slices are available for $5 each), Brace purchases three whole pies, including a chocolate pecan pie from Monty's Blue Plate Diner and a sweet potato pecan pie from Hubbard Avenue Diner.
"I'm in charge of pie at Thanksgiving this year, so I'm set," he says. "Pie Palooza solved all my problems."
He leaves happy, as does Miriam Grunes. Nearly 475 people attend Pie Palooza this year, a slight bump from 2009, and REAP earns $7000 from the event.
It doesn't hurt, either, that when it's Grunes's turn at the pie table, she nabs a piece of apple crisp cheesecake from Grace Cheesecakes.
"I try to resist getting my heart set on a specific pie," she says. "But I do love cheesecake."
Here are ten recipes from Pie Palooza 2010:
- Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust from Porchlight Products
- Bacon Lardon, Leek, Gruyere and Tomato Quiche from Marigold Kitchen
- Chocolate Pear Cream Tart from The Dayton Street Grille
- Chocolate Pecan Pie from Monty's Blue Plate Diner
- Cranberries and Cream Pie from Market Street Diner & Bakery
- Greens, Fennel and Feta Pie from The School Woods Supper Club
- Kuri Squash Pie with Red Wine Cranberry Compote from L'Etoile
- Napoli Country Cheese Pie from Lombardino's
- Sweet Potato Pecan Pie from Hubbard Avenue Diner
- Pumpkin Pie from Honey Bee Bakery