I undertook a noble quest this year: to find the best pies in the state of Arkansas, and share them with you.
To come up with the 100 best pies, I had to sample 145 slices, from pineapple to pear to possum — but like I said, it was noble.
What's best is in the eye of the beholder, or in the stomach of the pieholer, so what I say is best may not be what you say is best. You may think there are 10 great possum pies; my highly developed palate says there are seven. No matter.
And besides, there's likely some little restaurant, some cook in the kitchen of a little diner somewhere or another who has created yet another amazing Arkansas pie that I missed. I look forward to discovering it.
Coconut Meringue, Lemon Icebox Meringue
65th Street Diner. Straight up good. The toasted coconut and creamy rich custard are separated by a thick meringue, great on taste and texture. The Lemon Icebox Meringue takes the best aspects of two favorites and merges them. 3201 W. 65th St. 562-7800. 6:30-9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Cash only, no alcohol.
Chess Pie, Chocolate Chess Pie
Alley Oops. It's impossible to determine which is better, the creamy, slightly tart crisp-topped plain Chess Pie or the brownie-flavored chocolate version. Either way, order quickly; both disappear early in the day. 11900 Kanis Road. 224-9400. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Ashley's. The four-star restaurant serves this simple, slightly tart pie with a scoop of buttermilk ice cream and a smear of lemon curd. Pastry sous chef Tandra Watkin's creation elevates the rustic to the sublime. 111 W. Markham. 374-7474. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Chocolate Cream, Cherry Cream Cheese
Bobby's Country Cooking. All the desserts are made fresh from scratch every day from recipes that'll taste familiar. The chocolate cream hits new ranges of smooth. The cherry cream cheese pie is also a delight. 301 N. Shackleford Road. 224-9500. 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Sweet Potato, Chocolate Silk
Capital Bar & Grill. There's always some marvelous seasonal pie available at CBG, but the best is this rich sweet potato pie with notes of ginger and allspice, usually served with homemade ice cream and candied pecans. Try the chocolate tarts, too. 111 W. Markham. 374-7474. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Charlotte's Eats & Sweets. Best known for its coconut meringue, this Keo mainstay's beautiful burnt-sugar pie is often overlooked. Rich, topped with moist meringue and in a flour crust. 290 Main St., Keo. 501-841-2123. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
Lemon Cream, Walnut Chocolate Cream
Chip's Barbecue. There are so many great pies at Chip's worthy of mention, from the Chocolate Cream to the pecan to the Banana Cream to the Walnut Chocolate Cream, but the sweet-tart Lemon Cream pie is the best. 9801 W. Markham. 225-4346. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Ciao Italian Restaurant. Ciao actually imports its Key Lime from Key West, and the result is a delicate, translucent gem. 405 W. Seventh. 372-0238. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Thu.-Sat.
Dan's I-30 Diner. A rich, almost flaky, cheesecake-like chocolate base topped with whipped topping and chocolate shavings. 17018 Interstate 30, Benton. 501-778-4116. 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Dave's Place. Like your grandmother made it two generations ago, with sweetened condensed milk and Key Lime juice, this is a smooth sweet-tart pie worth reminiscing over. 210 Center St. 372-3283. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Fri.
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan
Delicious Temptations. The bourbon is the star in this rich pie. 11200 N. Rodney Parham. 225-6893. 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m daily.
Diane's Gourmet Luxuries. One of the best apple pies you'll encounter in Central Arkansas. The apples always come out a little crispy. Only whole pies available. 11121 N. Rodney Parham. 224-2639. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
Hershey, Lemon Pecan
E's Bistro. A customer gave Elizabeth McMullen the recipe for her restaurant's elegant flour-crust Lemon Pecan pie, a layer of pecans over a mild lemon custard that's delightfully hearty. The Hershey pie plays up the best of that signature Hershey-chocolate flavor with the perfect creamy texture. 3812 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock. 771-6900. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sun
Ed's Custom Bakery. Pungently tart and sweet at the same time, this sugar-cookie crusted pie was meant to be paired with whipped cream. 256 Oak St., Conway. 501-327-2996. Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m.-4 p.m. CC, no alcohol.
Ed & Kay's Restaurant. A perfect balance of pecans, coconut and pineapple make up this heartier pie that's often overlooked in favor of Kay Diemer's famed Mile High meringues on the menu. 15228 Interstate 30, Benton. 501-315-3663. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Franke's Cafeteria. Layers of graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon-infused cream and whipped cream are blended together in this most memorable pie at the state's longest continually operating restaurant. 11121 N. Rodney Parham, 225-4487; Regions Building, 400 Broadway, 372-1919. 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Chocolate Cream Meringue
Gimme Some Sugar Bakeshop. Worth a drive to Greenbrier, Xandra Sharpe's creation comes in traditional or personal sizes, with the creamiest meringue you'll find and an excellent rich custard. 294 S. Broadview, Greenbrier. 501-679-5137. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-noon. Sat.
Holly's Country Cooking. Holly's makes a mean peanut butter pie, but the banana cream pie is everything that makes banana pudding delecious in a pie crust. Made fresh daily. 120 Harkrider, Conway. 501-328-9738. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
The House. It's no joke: the Key Lime Pie at The House is one of the smoothest, freshest Key Lime pies you'll find in the state. 722 N. Palm. 663-4500. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.- 11 p.m. Sun.
Velvet Lips Chocolate Cream,
Hunka Pie. Chris Monroe offers many noteworthy pies, from a French blackberry to a Chocolate Peanut Butter, but this one is arguably the best — a smooth and mellow imported chocolate in a silky mousse under real whipped cream. 250 Military Drive, North Little Rock. 612-4754. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Gibb's Grocery. The custard on this traditional pecan pie is so thick you could glue photos to the wall with it. 7781 Hwy. 167 S, Sheridan. 870-942-5284. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Pineapple Cream Pie
Just Like Mom's. A cream pie that's really a thick custard pie, with a smooth vanilla custard base mixed with pineapple chunks and juice. 3140 E. Kiehl, Sherwood. 833-0402. 6:30 a.m.-9 a.m., 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-8 p.m Mon.-Fri.
Lindsey's Hospitality House. A hearty sweet potato pie made with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. It's an autumn pie that's almost savory. 207 Curtis Sykes Drive, North Little Rock. 374-5707. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon., 11 a.m.-7 p.m Tue.-Thu. and Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri.
Luigi's. The flattest pie on the list, with rich blueberry filling on a thin pizza crust. Different and substantial. 22000 Interstate 30 N, Bryant. 501-847-1110. 11 a.m. -9 p.m. Mon.-Sat
O'Henry's. Tart lemon overtones are evident through this fluffy, spongy layered pie. 283 Highway 365, Conway. 501-470-9045. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 7 a.m.-9 p.m Sat., 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Mon.
Paula Lynn's Really Homemade Sandwich & Sweet Shop. This pie is a fantastic chocolate mousse on top of a cloud of delightfully light cream cheese in a double-layered blind-baked flour crust. It's marvelous. 304 N. Reynolds Road, Bryant. 501-847-2066. 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Say's. There's an easy explanation to why people have been ordering Say McIntosh's sweet potato pies for decades: The orange-flavored flour-crusted pies are addictive. 2801 W. Seventh St. 664-6656. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Chocolate Caramel Mousse Torte
Silvek's European Bakery. Most of Silvek's tortes are cakes, but this one fits the pie description: a chocolate cookie crust, layered with the bakery's famed Caramel Florentina cookies and chocolate mousse draped in more chocolate. Kroger, 1900 Polk St. 661-9699. 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
Three Sams BBQ. A slice of this thick, tall pie might weigh a pound. It's made of peanut butter mousse and a peanut butter cup, topped with more peanuts and served in a peanut butter and cookie crust. It's the best peanut butter pie in the state. 10508 Mann Road, Mabelvale. 407-0325. 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Tue., 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Raspberry Cream Cheese
Trio's. The classic cream cheese pie is topped with a tart raspberry couli. It's fabulous with coffee. 8201 Cantrell Road. 221-3330. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Wagon Wheel. A thick and rich chocolate custard on the semi-sweet side, topped with a light and sweet meringue, in a flour crust. 166 S. Broadview, Greenbrier. 501-679-5009. 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Your Mama's Good Food. How many pecans can you pack into a pie? The Stocktons may be trying for a record. There are pecans on top, pecans in the custard and touches of maple and vanilla throughout. 221 W. Second St. 372-1811. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Betty's Steak & Chicken. The flaky layered-flour crust of this creation is light compared to the thick, syrupy filling packed with apple bits inside. 1203 N. Illinois, Harrisburg. 870-578-2855. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Chef's In. Old fashioned and creamy, this is a light custard and whipped cream pie with swollen raisins. 105 Burke Ave., Jonesboro 870-934-8962. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Cash only.
Gina's Place. Thick and rich, this cream-topped peanut butter pie, nuts and chocolate chips in a graham cracker crust is just about a meal in itself. 2005 E. Highland Suite 109, Jonesboro. 870-910-3900. 6:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Peanut Butter Meringue
Southside Grill. A peanut butter-flavored custard topped by a fantastic toasted meringue, this pie has a flavor of the old Chick-O-Stick candy. 2121 Batesville Road, Batesville. 870-251-2229. 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Sun.
Bulldog Restaurant. This coconut pie has heft with a thick heavy custard under a coconut-infused meringue. 3614 Highway 367 N, Bald Knob. 501-724-5195.
Ms. Lena's. The best of both worlds — a creamy chocolate custard with traditional meringue on one side, a thick coconut custard under coconut meringue on the other. Highway 33 N, DeValls Bluff. 870-998-1393. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Cash only.
Sodie's. Crunchy apple slices from local orchards star in this simple Dutch crusted delight. Hwy 178 at Hwy 62-412, Flippin. 870-453-2218. Closed until spring.
Viola Stampede. Coconut everywhere, from the coconut flavor in the whipped cream to the crushed coconut cookie crust. A cloud of joy. 9740 Highway 62 W., Viola. 870-458-2112. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Fri. 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Mon.
Village Wheel. This pie feels like a summer picnic, tart and sweet with just the right amount of firmness in each bite. Ice cream is a requirement. 1400 Central Blvd., Bull Shoals. 870-445-4414. 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily.
Dang Good Pie
302 on the Square. Alexander Virden's 150-year-old Louisiana pie recipe comes courtesy of a friend, and we're thankful it's been shared. It's the perfect balance between pineapple custard and fresh coconut. 302 Public Square, Berryville. 870-654-3952. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.-Mon.
Balcony Restaurant. The lone Arkansas restaurant we found that serves this Southern delight, just as it's done for generations. 12 Spring St., Eureka Springs. 479-253-7837. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Ozark Black Walnut
Boardwalk Cafe. No one makes a black walnut pie like this any more, where raw sugar is combined with local walnuts to create this dark masterpiece. You will want some ice cream with it. 401B W. Court St., Jasper. 479-446-5900. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Cliff House Inn. Like a cloud, this meringue-topped cream pie is soft and white, with wisps of cream dotted with fragments of pineapple and pecan, and tucked into a meringue-and-pecan crust. Light and delicious, it's only available during tourist season, which runs from March until early November. Hwy. 7, Jasper. 870-446-2292. 8 a.m.-2:45 p.m. daily in season.
Country Rooster. Ever had pie in an antique store? This flea market/consignment shop is also known for great lunches and a frequent selection of desserts, including this firm-custard chocolate meringue. 101 Phillips Ave., Green Forest. 870-438-5710. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Apple, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan
DeVito's. Steve DeVito makes these pies to serve in the restaurant he runs with his two brothers. The apple pie here contains sweet, almost pear-like apples in a flaky, buttery crust. The chocolate bourbon pecan pie is creamy and tucked into a biscuit-like crust. 350 DeVitos Loop, Harrison. 870-741-8832. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Fri. and Sun., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Chocolate Chunk Bourbon Pecan
Greenhouse Grille. One of the best things you'll ever taste: chocolate chunks the size of blueberries suspended in a rich bourbon nut custard under a pile of candied pecans over a cookie crust. 481 S. School Road, Fayetteville. 479-474-8909. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Fresh Arkansas Peach Cream Cheese
Katherine's Cafe Amore. Creativity knows no bounds at this Italian joint. A cream cheese filling is poured over a bed of toasted coconut and topped with candied Arkansas peaches for a monumentally different sort of pie. Other seasonal varieties available, too. 2070 E. Van Buren, Eureka Springs. 479-253-7192. 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Thu.-Sun.
Coconut Meringue, Chocolate Meringue
Mama Z's. It's known best for prodigious piles of fresh-made pasta covered with homemade sauces, so most folks never get to the pies, which is a shame, since both the chocolate and coconut varieties of meringue pie are fluffy treats. 357 W. Henri de Tonti Blvd., Tontitown. 479-361-2750. 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Mud Street Cafe. The Blueberry Cream is a new pie in the case, and it's a real winner: fresh blueberries in whipped cream with more blueberry juice soaked into an Oreo crust. Great pie for coffee. 22 S. Main St., Eureka Springs. 479-253-6732. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thu.-Tue.
Neal's Cafe. Viewed as a whole pie, Neal's meringues look like Peeps under a blanket. Inside, the yellow custard is tart and delicious. 806 N. Thompson, Springdale. 479-751-9996. 6 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Susan's Restaurant. There's always a selection of pies available in the big case here. The strawberry cream is made seasonally from Arkansas berries; other good cream pies include peach, blueberry, blackberry and chocolate. 1440 W. Sunset Ave., Springdale. 479-751-1445. 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Atkin's Blue Diamond Cafe. Classic buttery meringue sitting on top of a nice rich custard in a crisp blind-baked flour crust. 1800 E. Harding, Morrilton. 501-354-4253.10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Jenny Lind Country Cafe. You have to know where you're going to get to this quaint little cafe in the middle of nowhere, but it's worth it. There you'll have half a dozen pies each day until they are gone. The Chocolate Joy is mythically rare; it's usually gone before breakfast. 2655 Gate Nine Road, Jenny Lind. 501-996-1099. 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Lewis Family Restaurant. Everything comes homemade at this place, and the pies are no exception. Light, sweet coconut-perforated meringue hugs a coconut flake-heavy honey-tinged custard in a blind-baked flour crust. The chess pie is righteous, too. 5901 Hwy 71 S, Fort Smith. 479-646-4309. 6 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.
Lucy's Diner. Crave great pie 24 hours a day? You'll get it at Lucy's, where almost every good pie has a hand-piped whipped cream topping. The coconut is mellow, just like the clientele. 4605 Towson Ave., Fort Smith. 479-646-1000. 24 hours daily.
Cherry Crisp, Chocolate
Miss Ann's on Towson. Formerly Goodson's on Towson, the place has changed its name but not its attitude or its sweethearted personnel. The pies are still tremendous, and the Cherry Crisp is phenomenal. Miss Ann's also packs more chocolate than possible into a pie with chocolate custard, chocolate shavings, chocolate chips and Hershey's Kisses in a cookie crust. 5001 Towson Ave., Fort Smith. 479-649-6300.10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon., 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Pecan Cream Cheese, German Chocolate,Tollhouse
Red Rooster Bistro / Kountry Express Truck Stop. So many pies, they can't be contained in one location. The folks who run the Red Rooster Bistro also run the Dyer Truck Stop, and they offer several of their 40-some-odd pies each day at each location. The Pecan Cream Cheese is creamy and substantial, while the German Chocolate is the perfect mix cake and pie. The Tollhouse might as well be a lovely cookie. Pie heaven. 221 Hwy 71 N, Alma. 479-430-7518. 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m Tue.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun; 1107 Georgia Ridge Drive, Dyer. 479-997-1917.
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan
Ralph's Pink Flamingo BBQ. A bourbon-soaked pie that tastes like the Pillsbury Doughboy decked Jim Beam, then made nice with an offering of chocolate chips. The extra caramel-bourbon drizzle is welcome. 2801 Old Greenwood Road, Fort Smith. 479-642-7247. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Tue.-Wed. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu.-Sat.
Rita's. The main restaurant in tiny Hector turns out all sorts of goodies; cream cheese tinted with lemon zest makes this pie light, bright and refreshing. 10894 Hwy. 27, Hector. 479-284-3000. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Sweet Treats. Great pies and a single daily special are tops on the menu at this Lamar lunchroom. This particular pie tastes as if a pecan pie mated with a burnt sugar pie; the praline flavor and texture wins out. 5 Main St., Lamar. 479-647-0133. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Turtle Brownie Pie
Cafe 1217. Diane Bratton's creations always delight. This fantastic cheesecake-textured pie tastes exactly like the best brownie you never had. 1217 Malvern Ave., Hot Springs. 501-318-1094. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
Fisherman's Wharf. Made the old-fashioned way, this graham cracker crust is packed with a creamy yet slightly tart rendition of a good key lime filling. 5101 Central Ave., Hot Springs. 501- 525-7437. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Sweet Potato, Almond Streussel
Java Primo. A dense, thickly packed sweet potato pie, with syrup and almonds. Best for cold weather. 4429 Central Ave., Hot Springs. 501-318-9789. 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri., 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat..
Caramel Apple Nut
Mama Max's. Choosing a great pie here is like shooting fish in a barrel — you just can't miss. This crispy, crusted pecan-packed apple pie would be a winner without the caramel; with it, it's perfection. 1102 W. Main, Prescott. 870-887-5005. 10 a.m.-8 p.m Wed.-Sat.., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
Red Oak Fillin Station. A convenience store and gas station with excellent pie? You betcha. This ambrosia-like pie takes marshmallow fluff, coconut flakes and pineapple bits and combines them into the perfect summertime pie. 2169 Carpenter Dam Road, Hot Springs. 501-262-0400. 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Rolando's. Here you'll find a double-layered Key Lime custard atop a thick graham cracker crust drizzled with raspberry syrup and smacked with whipped cream. So tart, so sweet. 210 Central Ave., Hot Springs. 501-318-6054. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Shangri-La Resort. Mrs. Carr has been getting up at 3 a.m. each morning for decades; she makes apple, peach, cherry and several meringue pies each and every day. The resort is closed for the winter but will reopen February 1. 975 Shangri Lane, Mount Ida. 501-867-2011. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
Lemon French Coconut
Zoe's. Dainty and refined, this delicate pie is packed with lemon-scented shaved coconut. Perfect for tea. 2230 Malvern Ave., Hot Springs. 501-321-2921. 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Fayrays. The best part of this pie is at the bottom. Beneath the bourbon-soaked pecan custard lies a soft crust that tastes almost like phyllo dough and falls apart with a fork. 100 E. Elm, El Dorado. 870-863-4000. 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Black Bottom Pie
Colonial Steakhouse. Rum plus chocolate equals a magnificent pie, and the only one of this variety of heritage pie we've found in the state. 111 W. Eighth St., Pine Bluff. 870-536-3488, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Dew Baby's. The most perfect example of an egg custard we've ever experienced, with a firm texture and hand-rolled crust. Beautifully toasted on top. 813 E. Michigan, Stuttgart. 870-672-7333. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. Cash only.
Pecan, Sweet Potato Pecan Half-and-Halfs
Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales. You can get a regular slice of pecan pie if you order ahead, but even better are the little tarts they serve up at lunch with that perfect pecan filling. Sweet potato and chocolate meringue are also awesome, as are the sweet potato pecan half-and-halfs. 714 Saint Mary St., Lake Village. 870-265-3108. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Cash only.