Pies Across America: Who makes the best?

What's the best piece of pie you've ever eaten?

Karen Barker, pastry chef and co-owner of the Magnolia Grill, 1002 Ninth Street, 919-286-3609, Durham, NC), makes the best pies I've ever eaten. Karen made all the pies for a pie breakfast at a Barbecue Conference I went to a few years ago In Oxford, Mississippi, and I'm afraid I singlehandedly decimated her supply of pies. She wrote a terrific cookbook a few years ago, and tomorrow or the next day I will put her pie recipe up on Ed Levine Eats.

In New York, as I mentioned yesterday, my two favorite pie bakers are Two Little Red Hens (1112 8th Ave. (11th St.), Park Slope, 718-499-8108, 1652 2nd Ave. (85th St.) 212-452-0476, and Yura & Company, 1650 Third Ave. (92nd St.),212-860-8060. If you haven't ordered your pies for Thanksgiving this year, and you live in New York, get your pies from one of these places.

If you are a Jerseyite or a Philadelphian, my friend Andy Clurfeld, food and wine editor and restaurant critic for the Asbury Park Press, responded to my request for pie recommendations with the following:

"My favorite pie baker in New Jersey is Carol Todd, at the Market Roost, 65 Main St., Flemington; 908 788. 4949. Carol has been doing the state's best pastries for more than 25 years. Her most memorable seasonal-ingredient Thanksgiving pies are the Pear-Cranberry Streusel and the Cranberry-Orange Pie with aWalnut Crust. Carol's definitely beyond compare when it comes to pies in the entire Mid-Atlantic region."

In a very traditional vein, there is Ye Olde Pie Shoppe, 74 Oceanport Ave, Little Silver; 732. 530. 3337. This is in the mega-wealthy "Peninsula" area of the Jerey Shore. The pies are classics, well made and familar: Apple, pecan, pumpkin, with forays into banana cream and lemon mousse. Very conscientious owners.

"In Philly, there's a landmark pie, and that's to be found at Miel's Patisserie, 204 South 17th St., 215. 731 9191. Miel's pumpkin pie might be the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. It's also one of the few pies (maybe the only pie) this classic French patisserie does - and it's worth their complete focus."

"The other classic pie in Philly is at Delilah's, the soul food place in Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch streets. 215 574, 0929. It's the sweet potato pie and it's very traditional in style and taste".

In San Francisco my spies with trustworthy taste buds tell me that Tartine is the place to go for pie. Elisabeth Prueitt is one of the nation's finest bakers (I once spent a hundred dollars in Tartine getting one of everything in the joint), so it is no surprise that she makes San Francisco's best pies. It must be stated for the recrod that the only pie on her Thanksgiving menu is pumpkin. Everything else is a tart.

Paul Lukas, a wonderful New York-based writer I recently broke bread with, wrote a really fun piece for Money Magazine a few years ago about his search for the best pies in America.

Tomorrow I will tell you about great mail-order pies from around the country that can still arrive in plenty of time for your Thanksgiving meal.