I saw the sign
The road-side pies of Chester
Chico’s much-beloved Sweet Cottage has closed its brick-and-morter spot (though the mobile cart is back in business at the Thursday night and Saturday morning markets). Sad as this is on several levels—for me, it spelled the end to my go-to killer pie shop. In an attempt to fill that void, I took the 90-minute drive to Chester, where Jeff-Roe’s serves great pie in its own inimitable fashion.
What is it about food places that are outgrowths of fruit stands that makes them so winning? There’s a charming, bucolic “Shucks, here’s the food” attitude that I can’t resist. Chico’s Fresh Twisted Café has it. Jeff-Roe’s Produce and Pie Shop has it in spades. There’s also a minimalist approach to cooking—fruit stands know that peaches, berries and corn don’t have to be tweaked to taste good.
You know what you’re in for as you approach these places because of the signage. Fruit stands love signs. If you sell it, you need a sign telling passersby you sell it. Preferably with uncalled-for apostrophes, superfluous quotation marks and pleonastic adjectives (avocado’s, “sweet!” and the like). Jeff-Roe’s (called that because the owner is named Jeff-Roe, in case you were wondering) has at least 21 signs in its front yard: melons, ice cream, burritos, deli sandwiches, tacos today (an apparently permanent sign), fresh press, “sweet” watermelon, “white” corn, dog “Bow Wow” friendly, shake’s (there’s that apostrophe!), gourmet hot dogs, Salad-Bar, and on and on. Yes, they have all that and lots more, in a small shack little bigger than a trailer. It’s fresh, simple and good.
Walk inside and Ocean, the proprietor and sole employee (Jeff-Roe mans the fruit stand next door), greets you like a friend and basically does anything you want. The menu, written on a white board in blue marker, is short (nine items total), uninspiring and chaotic—“salad bar” is listed under “sandwiches,” for instance, and “quesadilla” is listed twice. Don’t worry. The menu is a distraction. Just ask Ocean what’s good.
Jeff-Roe’s atmo is relaxed, with a high quirkiness factor. In lieu of napkins, there’s a roll of paper towels. All lunches come with fruit, chips and drink, which here means there’s a pile of bananas and apples on a table, a pile of little chip bags next to them, and a tub of soda cans in ice—grab one of each. There’s a bin of condiments including a squeeze-bottle of barbecue sauce. There’s a gumball machine on the patio. There’s a large wedge from a conifer painted to look like a watermelon slice.
Jeff-Roe’s is, in short, a hoot, but it’s not a joke. Care is taken with the food, and it pays off. The salad bar has an amazing 25 toppings, and you can put them on anything you order, turning any sandwich into something extraordinary. The smoothies are 100 percent “real” fruit and perfect. There are eight flavors of quality ice cream. They do a mean quiche. Portions are predictably large. And Ocean and Jeff-Roe care—you’ll get used to them coming by, asking how things are, offering desserts and other add-ons.
But I came for the pies, which are usually fresh berry and very, very good. What is there to say about good pie? As Yoda might say, pies do or do not—there is no try. Jeff-Roe’s pies do. Perhaps not quite to Sweet Cottage standards, but what is? A la mode is another buck, which is a steal.
Jeff-Roe’s has been in business for 15 years and is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday during tourist season. Ocean and Jeff-Roe actually live in Sparks and/or Truckee. At least that’s what Ocean told me. Don’t try to research the place, because Jeff-Roe’s has no Facebook page. And no email. And no business cards. And no phone. I guess they put their entire PR budget into wooden signs. Just drive down Chester’s Main Street. Can’t miss it. Trust me.