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Tampa Bay area bakers whip up pies for Thanksgiving Day

The turkey sits under wraps on the lowest shelf of the fridge. Stuffing fixings (corn bread? oysters? chestnuts?) are convened. The silver is polished and Grandma's tablecloth has been pressed, the stain from last year hidden under the flower vase. But what about dessert? Two words: Buy pie. Here's where.

Pumpkin

Walk into A Special Touch Cakes in St. Petersburg and your teeth start to ache a little bit. Tiered white buttercream cakes stand at the ready, waiting to be accessorized with rosettes, lacy piping and birthday wishes. In this location for 12 years, this tiny storefront is by and large a special-order cake emporium, but around the holidays the butter and flour are put to different use, turning out pumpkin, pecan and cream pies (lemon, banana, coconut, French silk). There will be some on hand in the display case, but better to order in advance — the pumpkin's the top draw. But, hey, those chocolate eclairs are looking pretty fly.

Few Floridians will need a reminder about Village Inn, but here goes. Their country apple, strawberry rhubarb and coconut cream won awards this year from the American Pie Council, but at Thanksgiving it's all about pumpkin, above. They sell so many that some locations station a freezer truck outside, selling the pies right off the truck. They move thousands, which you can order from the Web site or just walk in and get yours topped with fresh whipped cream. Each year the Village Inn sponsors a charity, all leftover pies going there the day after Thanksgiving. Customers can purchase extra pies to donate to the charity.

Key lime

A regional oddity, sure, but key lime pies grace the tables of many Floridians at Thanksgiving. Graham cracker crust cradling a piquant filling of egg yolk, condensed milk and the juice of tiny key limes, it's not complex, but divine when it's good.

Mike's Pies in Tampa makes 30 kinds of pies, selling between 4,000 and 6,000 each week to 55 distributors in 25 states. Mike Martin's biggest seller is key lime, shown, by a good bit, but he has won 13 national championships at the annual Great American Pie Festival for a range of pies, some from family recipes dating back more than 100 years. When he started baking in 1992 he wasn't going to offer a key lime. Didn't much care for them. But then he did some research.

"I tinkered with it in the beginning and haven't tinkered since," he said. "We haven't budged from that recipe."

Other things have changed for Mike's Pies. Its retail location on MacDill closed in June, but you'll find Mike's Pies at the Junction on MacDill Avenue in Tampa, at Land and Sea markets and at Sweetbay markets. Sweetbay carries an 11-inch key lime, Land and Sea a 9-inch pie. Mike's also offers laudable pecan, pumpkin and apple pies for the holidays, most of them the same recipes Martin's mom made for him back in the 1970s when he was a linebacker for the University of Kentucky (proving that real men may not eat quiche, but pie is fair game).

Another longtime local pie outfit, J.J. Gandy's Pies in Palm Harbor, was opened by Jeff Schmidt and family in 1982. These days it's just Jeff, his father having passed, his mother retired and his sister no longer involved in the business, but he keeps on keeping on with the family's traditional key lime recipe. It's the biggest seller, a couple hundred sold a day during the holiday season. It's sold in four sizes, a nice touch, from the traditional 10-inch, to a slightly smaller 8-inch, a two-person tart and an individual little guy. J.J. Gandy's sells 35 other kinds of pie, with a number of seasonal goodies, from pumpkin chiffon to pumpkin cheese to mincemeat.

Pecan

Wrights Gourmet House is justifiably famous for its pecan pie. No doubt, its flaky crust, deeply toasted pecan flavor and sweet, custardy filling is among the best around. Most pies come in a returnable glass dish (there's a $5 deposit), so it's tempting to offer it up as your own handiwork.

During the holiday season there will be some pies available for walk-in business (look for apple lattice, apple crumb and pumpkin, too), but they urge customers to order ahead.

At Chocolate Pi, Kim Yelvington has wowed the Tampa Bay area with her architectural, high-flying Ace of Cakes-like special occasion cakes. We're talking wedding, or at the very least a major birthday. Step into her South Tampa storefront and it's all about exquisite little pastries and tarts that seem a shame to mess up with a fork.

During the holidays, though, she turns her attentions to a few seasonal goodies. There will be pecan pies, chocolate pies (natch), apple and lemon, as well as a decadent pumpkin cheesecake. Order several days in advance to assure you'll have yet another thing to be thankful for on Nov. 27.

Sweet potato

Bernice Green did her thing on St. Petersburg's 22nd Street S for 24 years. There, she made the kind of sandwiches Mom used to, nudging you about how big a mayonnaise slather you want on there, and salting and peppering the lettuce just right. She also made sweet potato pies that warranted serious devotion. At one time right in the thick of things, the location languished along with all the other nearby businesses once Interstate 275 slashed right through it.

Almost seven years ago Green's Bakery relocated, bringing its homey sandwiches and sweet potato pies to 18th Avenue S. The pies have a flaky crust, the filling unfussy, not too much spice to detract from the earthy flavor of the pureed sweet potato. These babies could be pawned off as homemade, no sweat. That's because they are. By Bernice.

In a way, Uhuru Pies are homemade, too. The Uhuru Movement concerns itself with the struggle of African people around the world, seeking justice, sustainability and self-determination. Uhuru Foods is among its fundraising arms, asking hundreds of volunteers to come together in commercial kitchens just before the holidays to make pies, which are then sold at St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market, Wednesday Midday Market, Lakewood United Church of Christ and other locations.

Uhuru volunteers have worked with the same recipes for the past 25 years, turning out loads of sweet potato pies, along with apple crumb, pumpkin and, this year, a new vegan blackberry pie. Go to the markets and browse the goods or order from the Web site.

Fruit

Most of the year, Pane Rustica doesn't traffic in whole pies. Its cookies, pastries and those thin-crust pizzas are what South Tampa adores. But on Nov. 25 and 26, the glass cases will be overrun with elegant, vaguely French-looking apple tarts, cranberry-blueberry pies, cranberry bread and a whole lot of pumpkin goodies (pie, cheesecake and quick bread). If you have your heart set on something in particular, it's better to call and order the week before. Pane Rustica also intends this year to offer turkey dinners to go, so this could be one-stop shopping for the whole shebang.

No fillers, no apple sauce, just real sliced apples seasoned with cinnamon and other homey spices. That's why the Pie Factory in Largo sells 2,000 apple pies, above, the week of Thanksgiving. The storefront and cafe has been around for 18 years, building its reputation on peanut butter swirl pie, key lime and — also special for the holidays — pumpkin pecan praline, sweet potato pecan praline and triple-layer pumpkin pie.

Standing in front of the glass case at the Pie Factory can be daunting. Which to choose? Another option is to pick single slices of a range of pies to appeal to all your Thanksgiving guests' tastes.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

A Special Touch Cakes

3153 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

(727) 327-5725; wwwcakesbycarolyn.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Prices: $12 to $15

Chocolate Pi

2821 S MacDill Ave., Tampa

(813) 831-2195; www.chocpi.com

Hours: noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Prices: $19.50 to $25

Green's Bakery

3065 18th Ave. S, St. Petersburg

(727) 323-2089

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Prices: $9

J.J. Gandy's Pies

3725 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor

(727) 938-7437; jjgandyspies.com.freewebspace.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Prices: $13.50 to $15.50

Mike's Pies

Available at Junction Ice Creamery and Coffee House

4004 S MacDill Ave., Tampa

(813) 805-6936; www.mikespies.com

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. weeknights, until 10:30 p.m. weekends

Prices: $18 to $22

Also available at Land and Sea Markets, Sweetbay markets and Bella Vino, 100 Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs, (727) 584-5552

Pane Rustica

3225 S MacDill Ave., Tampa

(813) 902-8828; panerusticabakery.com

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Approximately $12 to $28

Pie Factory

12777 Walsingham Road, Largo

(727) 593-1884

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, until 3 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $10 to $15

Uhuru Pies

(727) 683-9949; uhurupies.org

Available at:

• Saturday Morning Market, Al Lang Field parking lot, First Street and Second Avenue S, St. Petersburg, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 22

• Wednesday Midday Market, Williams Park, Fourth Street and First Avenue N, St. Petersburg, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 19 and Nov. 26

• Lakewood United Church of Christ, 2601 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 22 and Nov. 24-Nov. 26

Prices: $8 to $20

Village Inn

9107 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg

(727) 576-5005; www.vicorp.com

Hours: 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 24 hours Friday and Saturday, all day until midnight Sunday

Prices: $5.99 to $13

Wrights Gourmet House

1200 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

(813) 251-5242; www.wrightsgourmet.com

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Prices: $21.95 to $29.95 (includes a refundable $5 deposit for the glass dish)

Tampa Bay area bakers whip up pies for Thanksgiving Day 11/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 9:21am]

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