Friday, September 16, 2005

Pie Times My Radius Squared

This week I drove down the Flat Tops Scenic Byway in north central Colorado. There were plenty of mountains and scenic vistas, and it was all very lovely. I started in Yampa after a quick visit to the Finger Rock fish hatchery to feed the trout. As we drove the three-hour route westward from Yampa, my traveling companions and I began to get hungry. We were on a gravel road with no towns nearby, and we had not thought to pack a picnic, which was a bit of a shame since there was a perfect picnic spot at the overlook by 10,300-foot Ripple Creek Pass.

After a couple of hours we were mostly down from the pass but not yet to the first town, Buford. Just as our tires touched asphalt, I spotted a cafe. When my stomach calls, I hate to let the phone ring off the hook, and we hastily pulled off the road. The place was Fritzlan's Cafe, and we were just in time to eat lunch before they closed for a couple hours at 2:00.

I expected the food would be good. The place was clearly frequented by locals, and the decor wasn't the type of stuff that people just pack up and move: antiques, antlers, even a moose head they acquired when somebody from Nebraska shot it by mistake, thinking it was the biggest damn trophy elk he'd ever laid eyes on.

What I did not expect was that when I ordered hot tea, I would be able to choose blackcurrant tea from London, which I would steep in freshly boiled water. Water hot enough for tea is a treat nearly impossible to find in restaurants not specializing in tea. I've even had lukewarm tea water at one place that called itself a teahouse. Here the menu was simple cafe fare, and the special of the day was a chicken-fried steak sandwich accompanied by crunchy, pickly potato salad topped with paprika. I appreciated the attention to detail shown in the paprika sprinkle. Also, the service was fantastic.

I was so impressed that I ordered dessert, guessing I might be able to get a good slice of homemade pie. In fact, their only desserts turned out to be pie: peach, apple, cherry, or blueberry. My hopes rose higher. My pie's cherry filling was very ordinary, but the crust was nice and flaky. Although I very often eat dessert to be polite, there are few ways to tempt me with dessert I will actually want. One of those ways is to offer me pie.

Autumn is just settling in, which means that soon I will be compulsively baking pies. I bake apple-walnut pies, dark brown from the molasses I sweeten them with; chunky, spicy squash pies; pecan pies with bubbling maple syrup; custard pies that bake for hours and are so rich they have to be eaten in small slivers with a cup of black coffee; buttery peach tarts with almonds; savory pies with tender carrot slices. I like pies.

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