After more than 15 years of pie-making, the owners of Upper Crust bakery in Overland Park are getting some more national recognition for having some of the best pie in America.
In its lineup naming the “Best Pie in Every State,” Food & Wine magazine gave the Upper Crust the co-title of the best pie in Kansas.
The magazine also included Sommerset Cafe in Dover, a small town just west of Topeka.
“From sweet chess pies studded with tart rhubarb to a harvest-times cranberry apple infused with orange zest and buried under walnut crumble topping,” Food & Wine’s article read, “The Upper Crust in Overland Park is all about pushing the boundaries just enough so you barely notice you’re trying something a bit different.”
Upper Curst co-owner Elaine Van Buskirk said she was happy to hear that people enjoy their pies as much as they enjoy making them.
“I don’t know why it’s surprising after all these years of doing it, but it is,” she said. “It brings us a lot of joy to just have recognition for doing the things that we love every day. We’re glad other folks are enjoying it as much as we are.”
It’s not the first time the Upper Crust has drawn praise from a national publication. Earlier this year, USA Today also said the bakery had the best pie in Kansas in a list curated in part by customer Yelp reviews.
A family business with small-town Kansas roots
Van Buskirk owns and runs the bakery with her sister, Jan Knobel.
They come from a family of bakers and started making pies under the Upper Crust name in 2005 after talking about how they wished they could find pie in Kansas City like the kind they remembered growing up in Marion, Kan., a small town nearly a three hour drive from the metro.
“It was always part of our upbringing, having pies at any kind of celebration,” Van Buskirk said. “My grandmother was a great baker and my mom’s a great baker. It was just kind of a natural thing that we did.”
Van Buskirk and Knobel began selling pies at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market and briefly in Kansas City, Mo., before opening their bakery in downtown Overland Park at 7943 Santa Fe Drive nearly 10 years ago.
Since then, they’ve been serving up traditional favorites like apple and blueberry along with newer kinds like German chocolate or blackberry sour cream.
Food & Wine says the Upper Crust’s highlights include “pucker-up gooseberry pies, gooey-delicious, cinnamon-scented oatmeal pies you could eat for breakfast, and chocolate chip cookies in tart form, because why not?”
A ‘local pie bakery experience’
On a daily basis from Wednesday through Saturday each week, the Upper Crust has anywhere from eight to 16 pie flavors available.
Van Buskirk said they learned and implemented their mother’s recipes and techniques at the bakery. When the Upper Crust opened, she said they wanted to bring the small, local pie bakery experience back.
“Many times, when you get to be so big, it tends to almost taste manufactured,” she said. “Having that small bakery experience where you can see the people actually baking the goods there in front of you is quite a lost art in the baking world.”
Van Buskirk said her favorite part of owning and operating the Upper Crust is the customers who come back year after year and have made the pie bakery a tradition in their own lives.
“We have customers that have been with us from the very beginning, purchasing pies at the Farmers’ Market,” she said. “It’s fun to see the familiar faces and be able to be a part of their family holidays and their traditions. It’s very heartwarming to hear that it means that much to them, that they have our goodies at their gatherings just like we did and still do.”