By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Originally published in AvidLifestyle Magazine)
Some people decide the destination of their Colorado day trips around experiencing hot springs, hike-able 14-ers and historic locales.
I base where I drive on the quality of the baked goods.
I use GPS to map out local bakeries. My roadside attractions are cinnamon rolls, doughnuts and especially pie. I sigh for butter-flaked wedges oozing berries, not goo. Sadly, great examples of America’s dessert are hard to find on the road in Colorado. As a veteran pie competition judge I’m appalled at what passes for pie, but the following four shops dish the real thing. Made with first class ingredients by spirited individuals, these pies are not inexpensive and well worth every forkful and mile.
Some destinations don’t have seating or it’s limited by pandemic restrictions, but all are located in pretty towns with nearby parks. While you can reach these bakeries in about two hours depending on traffic, we also suggest some distinctive lodging possibilities. Be sure to order ahead if you crave a specific pie flavor.
Ginger and Baker, Fort Collins
Pie-obsessed owner Ginger Graham carved a combination café, bakery and cooking school out of a restored historic grain mill in Old Town Fort Collins. My destination pies here a quadruple coconut cream unit in a coconut crust and a cold-brewed coffee cream pie. The latter makes your mouth happy with a chocolate cookie crumb crust, coffee-white chocolate pastry cream and coffee-infused whipped cream. Among the other stunners are buttermilk berry and Nutella caramel corn pie.
359 Linden St., Fort Collins, gingerandbaker.com
Where to stay: Old Town lodgings – Armstrong Hotel: thearmstronghotel.com
Estes Park Pie Shop & Bakery
The shop sign says it all: “You Need Pie!” After two hours stuck behind a slow Winnebago, everyone in the family is more than ready for a slice if not a slab. Just downslope from the creepy Stanley Hotel, this is the place to find the deepest deep-dish fruit pies I’ve seen. My favorite is shop owner Val Thompson’s tart cherry crumb top made with up to six pounds of fruit. Individual wedges are available as well as “pie-lets:” individual banana cream and Key lime pies.
509 Big Thompson Ave, Estes Park. estesparkpieshop.com
Where to Stay: Classic mountain lodge – Baldpate Inn: baldpateinn.com
Columbine Cafe and Bakery, Avon
Pie is a big tent idea and I also appreciate pastry’s ancestors. I’ll stop at the Columbine Cafe & Bakery any time I’m near the Vail Valley. Ronda and Daniel Niederhauser take a butter-powered approach to classic quiche Lorraine, fruit-topped tarts and not-too-sweet apple strudel. My joy is their wonderful raspberry-filled, almond-scented, lattice-top linzer torte. Besides, you have to love a café where lunches always include dessert.
51 Beaver Creek Place, Avon, columbinecafe.com
Where to stay: Cool boutique-style adult hostel – The Bunkhouse, Minturn, vailbunkhouse.com
Showboat’s Drive by Pie, Granby
The quirkiest pie palace in the state is hidden behind a bank on Granby’s tiny main drag. The name is appropriate because you can only grab your order through a small walk-up or drive-thru window. Pastry chef/owner Sherry Kent doesn’t do hand pies, cupcakes or cream pies and apple is usually the only flavor available by the slice. She focuses on profound fruit pies including mixed berry, Montmorency tart cherry and a memorable green chile green apple pie in a chewy buttery crust. I was totally wowed by Kent’s double-crusted wild Maine blueberry pie jammed with tiny wild berries. Her fruit exception is a nut-loaded chocolate pecan pie with little of the usual sweet goo. You can always enjoy it a few miles away in Rocky Mountain National Park using Kent’s pie party kit: pie cutter, forks, plates and napkins.
54 1st St., Granby, showboatsdrivebypie.com
Where to stay: Private log cabins – Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Tabernash, devilsthumbranch.com
John Lehndorff was the spokesperson for National Pie Day, Executive Director of the American Pie Council and Chief Judge at the National Pie Championships. He hopes to someday open the Museum of American Pie. More about pie: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com/tag/pie/