Like some of the nearly two dozen pies featured Saturday afternoon at Mission Pie, the day was decidedly bittersweet.
It was, after all, Mission Pie’s 13th and last pie tasting contest before the beloved bakery will serve its final slice on Sep. 1.
Upwards of 100 people packed into the small spot at 25th and Mission for the afternoon gathering, joined in a blessing of the pies, and got to work selecting the best of 20 pies baked in the homes of pie aficionados around the Bay Area.
Tayberry, Shabbat, banoffee, summerthyme blackberry, Persian mulberry-peach-basil, bacon-mushroom, blueberry plum balsamic, cauliflower pesto gruyere, blueberry corn, blueberry rhubarb blossom, Mission rhubarb and strawberry, Door County cherry pie, raspberry rhubarb, apple-berry with lattice top, mixed stoned fruit with berry, (vegan) peach, paprika peach, peach cream and, well, just plain peach.
Anthony Gesek, 35, couldn’t remember which peach pie left him gripped by a mixture of saudade and delight, but it had a “large, layered flake crust that almost had some crunch to it with whole slices of peach and syrup.”
“When I first fell in love with pie in college, the house I lived at had a peach tree, and we used to make pies from it,” he said. “It’s a very nostalgic and emotional thing for me, eating a peach pie.”
Susan McCallister, 66, showed up a little late and didn’t try every pie, but she certainly had favorites: raspberry rhubarb (made by her son’s girlfriend) and blueberry corn. “ I don’t generally like blueberry pie — I like raw blueberries,” she said. “This was very unusual; there’s something about the sauce and the complement of the corn.”
Sitting next to McCallister was her friend, Lisa Ziebel, 58, who said she’s not big pie fan and didn’t partake in the tasting. That was a surprise, because Ziebel baked pies at Mission Pie for six years before leaving in December. Over the years, she’s seen her share of Mission Pie contents. This one was special.
Being the last one ever, “it magnified what it has always been,” she said. “It’s the heart of Mission Pie’s community sense.”
Krystin Rubin, the 47-year-old co-owner of Mission Pie, remembered how the first pie contest came to be 13 years ago. This was when Mission Pie occupied only its kitchen area, and the South Exposure art gallery took up what’s now the restaurant space.
One of the gallery’s artists, Nathan Lynch, “had the idea of doing a pie contest,” Rubin recalled, standing in the kitchen area. “So we opened in January and had our first pie contest that summer.”
For Rubin, the contest has been about much more than pie. It’s been a way to bring together people she and co-owner Karen Heisler have always admired — chefs, bakers, agriculturalists, previous winners, and the kitchen staff that sometimes remain in the background.
“It’s a time when we see a lot of familiar faces,” she said. “Over the years, we’ve seen their lives transform.”
“I’ll miss it a lot.”
Oh, and the winners?
“Beauty” — Raspberry rhubarb by Robin Fischer
“Best in Show” — Door County (Wisconsin) cherry pie by Muriel Kay
“People’s Choice” — Blueberry corn by Chris Dingus
“Creative” — Shabbat pie by Christine Keating