Milwaukee is no slouch when it comes to pie. The metro area is filled with diners, cafes, bakeries and other purveyors of fine pies. In fact, I once ate a slice of pie every day for a full month and never went to the same place twice. Amid all of the fabulous pie palaces in Milwaukee, two stand out for the quality of their pies and their proximity to each other: Cafe LuLu and Honeypie Cafe, which are located about a half mile from each other in Bayview.
Cafe LuLu, located where South KK, Howell and Lincoln avenues intersect is approaching its 10th anniversary in the neighborhood. It’s really two cafes in one with a diner in a space formerly occupied by George Webb and an adjacent tavern/restaurant in a former bookstore. One kitchen serves both spaces. LuLu’s has an impressive array of soups, sandwiches, wraps and ciabatta pizzas. Look for the “breads and spreads” on the appetizer list. The hummus and gorgonzola and walnut spreads are especially tasty.
For me, of course, the pies are the centerpieces of Cafe LuLu’s menu. General Manager Wendy Ashley and “Queen of the Kitchen” Jane Zbinren explained the recipes are handed down from Zbinren’s grandmother. The options are limited: cherry, rhubarb, apple and blueberry. With pies this good,however, you may not need more options. I’ve sampled all but the apple pie, and find each delightful. For me, the highlight of a LuLu pie is the crust, which is light, flaky and has an almost croissant-like quality. If you’re a crust junky, and I am, this might be the best crust you will ever eat. Ashley, who has worked there for 7-8 years, the last three as GM, says an emphasis on fresh ingredients and attention to detail make the difference. Zbinren tells of batches of pastry dough that are discarded if they don’t meet her standards.
Just a half mile south on Kinnickinnic Avenue you find Honeypie Cafe. Look for the “Pig in a Bib” logo on the sign outside. Honeypie is a relative newcomer, having opened in 2009. Valeri Lucks and her brother Adam have operated the Comet Cafe on Milwaukee’s East Side for many years and had been looking for a Bay View location for a second restaurant. When the space on KK became available, they jumped on the opportunity.
Valeri Lucks says she has been a fan of pie since childhood, learning the craft of baking from her mother. Comet Cafe had served pies, but with a limited kitchen, apple pie was originally the only offering. The Bay View space provided more space and an opportunity to expand the offerings and experiment with new pies. Together with head baker Tahani Lyman, Lucks and her staff of six bakers produce 10-15 pies per day, up to 100 per week. Honeypie’s chefs have 30 or so tested recipes they regularly serve to their customers. Popular favorites include banana cream, jumble berry and pistachio cream. On a recent trip to Honeypie, I tried one of Lyman’s latest creations: Chocolate Macadamia Pie. Comprised of a layer of dense and rich dark chocolate with macadamias pressed into the top, this is a chocolate lover’s delight.
Honeypie also serves a wide variety of menu items for lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday Brunch. Lucks says she and her staff emphasize fresh and local ingredients, trying to minimize miles to market. This year, for example, she bought 300 pounds of blueberries and 200 pounds of peaches from local farmers, freezing them for later use in her pies.
Both establishments take special orders for Thanksgiving pies. Cafe LuLu, which sells fruit pie through the year, also offers pumpkin and pecan pie in November. Wendy Ashley says they anticipate selling 125 Thanksgiving pies this year on a first come first serve basis. According to Valeri Lucks, Honeypie Cafe sold about 60 special-order pies for the holiday last year, despite having been open only a few months. This year her goal is 160 pies. Both Ashley and Lucks say ordering early is essential to secure a pie for your holiday meal.
Full disclosure, both establishments gave me a free glass of iced tea during these interviews. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this influenced my views on their pies.
2261 S. Howell Avenue
2643 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue
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