Pie in the sky no longer

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Upper crust: At the soft opening of Real Pie Co. (2425 24th Street) on April 8, a line of hungry customers snaked around the block to Broadway, and owner and baker Kira O’Donnell was overcome with emotion. She had been planning on reopening her business ever since she closed the first Alkali Flat location a decade ago.

“I didn’t sleep the night before, and I was nervous and exhausted,” she said. “It feels like it’s never going to happen and suddenly, one day, it’s happening. The day of the soft opening, all these people floated in and I was crying.”

Through the years, her baking prowess and thoughtfully made pies helped her maintain a strong customer base even without a storefront. The latest seasonal menu includes jumbleberry pie ($5.25/slice) with blackberries, cherries, wild blueberries and raspberries; and Lindsey’s Almond, Ginger and Date Tart—named after Lindsey Shere, pastry chef at Berkeley’s storied Chez Panisse.

Clearly, O’Donnell is dedicated to her craft. She humbly calls herself a self-taught baker, but she worked with the well-renowned pastry chef David Lebovitz at the very same Chez Panisse. She knew she wanted to strike out on her own, but after her pie shop had been open just a year, she scrapped it to spend more time with her young children.

In the intervening years, O’Donnell has continued to bake one-off pies for her customers in borrowed kitchens, with ovens provided to her courtesy of Corti Bros. and Paragary’s. “There’s a pretty warm camaraderie in the food scene in Sacramento,” she said. “People look out for each other.”

Once O’Donnell’s children were grown, she was itching to get back to baking, but it took two years of planning for the Curtis Park storefront to open. “I started feeling very depressed because it seemed like it was never going to open,” she said.

So she called up Chez Panisse, and the kitchen allowed her return for a stint. The restaurant reinforced its lessons: “If you’re working with beautiful ingredients, you just let them talk. Let them do their thing—you don’t have to make things fancy,” O’Donnell said.

Now, once again, O’Donnell feels connected to her roots and her customers through pie. Her crust recipe reminds her of her grandmother, a farmer in Humboldt who instilled in O’Donnell a reverence for produce and for pie. The dessert tends to draw out nostalgia in her customers, too, she’s noticed.

“Pie evokes a lot of memories and a lot of feelings for people, and that’s always been the one thing I love to make and give to people,” O’Donnell said.

New noodle: Hailing from San Francisco, Super Pan (900 15th Street) has added a ramen option close to the Capitol. The menu includes such comforts as cheesy curry rice with tonkatsu ($10.99), beef brisket and dumplings ramen ($9.99), and Korean fried chicken wings ($7.99).