After visiting Anza-Borrego, I exited the park and headed to nearby Julian, the tiny and charming village famed for its apple pies. I'd planned to taste slices of pie at the many bakeries and then invest in a whole pie from the victor. But the best laid plans and so on . . . I did not arrive until 4:15pm and discovered that most of the town closes down at 5pm. No visit to the ciderworks either, and I dashed as quickly as I could to scoop up a variety of examples before they rolled up the sidewalks.
First stop was Apple Alley Bakery.
Slice of apple crumb pie heated up hit the spot. Tender but not mushy apples with a hint of cinnamon, buttery crunch topping and shortbread-like bottom crust made this an excellent start to my taste-off.
Also from Apple Alley, Sugar-free apple pie was far more subtle with next to no cinnamon, less sweetness, more firmness to the somewhat tart apples, and more neutral-tasting pastry crust top and bottom. While the crumb pie could be called a crowd-pleaser, this is the one I appreciated for its unadulturated taste, natural balance and simplicity. It would be awesome with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream offered here.
Next I ran down the street to Julian Pie Company, perhaps the most well-known of the town's pie shops.
The original apple pie is a classic with a flaky, buttery crust, softer and sweeter apple filling and a heavy dose of cinnamon. Re-tasted alongside the earlier two the next day, this seemed more confected and almost candy-like.
I slid into Mom's Pie House just before 5pm and got in line. I asked for a slice of the apple flakey pie to-go, pointing to the pan on display with two slices left. The counter gal said that because it was almost closing time, they would only sell me a whole pie to-go. No sale.
Toward the middle of town, Julian Cafe & Bakery serves dinner so was open a little later.
The slice of apple pie for eating in was warmed up and served with a squirt of aerosol cream. The top crust was a gorgeous golden brown, but raw on the underside, as was the bottom crust. Blobs of cornstarch goo stuck to the mushy, achingly sweet chunks of apple. When I ordered, I had asked for a box to-go, but not wanting to taste this again, I left the pie and the empty container behind.
Two other places that serve pie are Buffalo Bill's and Rongbranch Cafe. I was not sure if the pies were housebaked so I made them a lower priority and ran out of time before I had to get back on the road to return to Palm Springs before dark.
I retasted the three pie slices from Julian Pie and Apple Alley the next day with my friend, freshening them up slightly with a few seconds in the microwave. We both liked the natural, fresh flavors of Apple Alley's no-sugar-added pie. All three were very good examples of type and it comes down to more of personal taste preference than any difference in quality among them.