There are activities that gum up your well-laid plans. It's the peeling of the pearl onions and those pesky chestnuts. And frankly, the whole turkey brining process is adding too many extra steps to your game plan. This year, one key amendment to the Thanksgiving itinerary might be this: outsource. Dessert is the easiest element to leave to some of these Tampa Bay experts.
I scarcely needed to write those two words. They sell so many pumpkin pies during Thanksgiving week that some locations station a freezer truck outside, selling the pies right off the truck. They move thousands. You can order from the website or just walk in and get yours topped with fresh whipped cream. Each year Village Inn sponsors a charity, with all leftover pies going there the day after Thanksgiving. Customers can purchase extra pies to donate. Multiple locations; villageinn.com.
Cakes by Carolynn
This tiny storefront is by and large a special-order cake emporium, but during holidays butter and flour are put to different use. For the holiday, the focus shifts dramatically to pies. The order deadline was Saturday, but don't fret. There will be pies for walk-ins. You can choose among apple, pumpkin and sweet potato for $15; key lime or banana, lemon and coconut cream for $18; and pecan, cherry, chocolate French silk or peanut butter for $20. 3153 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-5725.
Real Floridians may say "feh" to pumpkin and pecan. Their flag is planted in the middle of a key lime pie (very messy). Graham cracker crust cradling a piquant filling of egg yolk, condensed milk and the juice of tiny key limes, it's not complex, but it's divine when it's good. Mike's has won four National Pie Championships with the key lime alone. When Mike Martin 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 and started tinkering. He sells loads of other flavors (a dreamy one: salted caramel cheesecake), available for retail at places like Fresh Market, Land and Sea and Winn-Dixie, but you can also order online at mikespies.com. 8625 Florida Mining Blvd, Tampa; (813) 249-7437. (Another very solid key lime is to be had at J.J. Gandy's Pies, offered in three sizes for $18, $12.50 and $5.50. 3725 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor; (727) 938-7437.)
Wright's Gourmet House
These longtimers are justifiably famous for pecan pie. No doubt, its flaky crust, deeply toasted pecan flavor and sweet, custardy filling are among the best around. They are $31, which includes a $5 deposit on the returnable Pyrex dish (and I'm telling you, because it's in Pyrex, it's pretty tempting to offer it up as your own handiwork). Order as early as you can, because at some unspecified point they stop taking orders. There are also pies in the case for walk-in business (butterscotch, coconut cream, pecan or pumpkin), but I've seen them sell out. 1200 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 251-5242.
No fillers, no applesauce, just real sliced apples seasoned with cinnamon and other homey spices. That's why the Pie Factory sells more than 500 apple pies the week of Thanksgiving. The other big sellers are the holy triumvirate of pumpkin, pecan and key lime. The storefront and cafe celebrates its 25th birthday in January. They take orders until Monday but can accommodate walk-ins, staying open on Thanksgiving Day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for last-minute sales. 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. 12777 Walsingham Road, Largo; (727) 593-1884.
La Casa Del Pane
This is where I head for traditional panettone holiday bread, which La Casa Del Pane imports from a boutique producer in Sicily. Loaves range in price from $8.99 to $12.99, with a number of varieties to choose from. (This year there's classic orange zest and raisin, chocolate and limoncello, each serving roughly 12 people.) It makes a festive seasonal treat sliced and served with hot chocolate, cider or a sweet moscato. In-house, they make their own pies and focaccia with a number of toppings, as well as the delicious but hard to pronounce sfogliatelle: a ridged pastry that separates into delicate leaves like phyllo, cradling a filling of sweetened ricotta flavored with candied peel of citron ($2.99 for a large and $1.99 for a small). 7110 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-8322.
St. Pete Bakery
Pastry chef and educator Michael Ostrander will be familiar to folks from years at the Saturday Morning Market and from his baking academy in Largo. Last year he opened a gorgeous shop up on Fourth Street, and for Thanksgiving it's nuts over there. Yes, there are pies (apple pumpkin, pumpkin and apple combo, blueberry cranberry, chocolate bourbon pecan tarts, Southern pecan pie, chocolate cream pie, lemon meringue, etc.), but this is an opportunity to branch out with Canadian meat pies, pumpkin or ricotta cheesecakes ($45 to $65 depending on size), strudels of different sorts, Russian lemon roulades, challah rolls and dramatic bread baskets. Order now, and he welcomes custom orders. Best part? He says he'll be open late on Wednesday for us procrastinators. 1961 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 954-8837.
Bern's pastry chef Kim Yelvington had her South Tampa shop for years, reopening it in the Epicurean Hotel a couple of years ago. They do loads of pies for Thanksgiving as well as some more unusual options: There are mousse cakes offered in salted caramel, chocolate raspberry and chocolate praline crunch ($40 for a 6-inch cake) and a bevy of retro layer cakes in flavors that range from pumpkin and cream cheese to classic vanilla bean and coconut or rocky road ($45 or $65). Sophisticates may head instead for the cranberry corn bread cake with basil glaze and candied cranberries on top. They will be open until 6 p.m. Wednesday. 1205 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-2195.
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 for Thanksgiving they do all the classics ($12-$17), including a pumpkin cheesecake ($28) that everyone is gaga for. What makes Pane Rustica special is that it's also a dreamy place to pick up a loaf of bread for the holiday: seasonal specialties like cranberry orange, as well as great sourdough (offered in baguette, long baguette and pan loaf), a tangy light rye with caraway seeds, a seeded seven-grain bread, focaccia with rosemary or tomato and cheese, Venetian olive bread, rustic Italian loaves, bread sticks golden with olive oil and dotted with rosemary — I could go on. And if you really want to outsource this year, they're offering a full Thanksgiving dinner to go for $28 per person. Order deadline is today and pickup is Wednesday. 3225 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 902-8828.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.