Half and Half Pie from Ms. Lena's Pie Shop
The little pie shop just off Highway 70 on Highway 33 in DeValls Bluff could be easily overlooked, but once you step through those kitchen doors, you're hooked. Viv Barnhill is keeping up her mama's pie shop, still selling big sliceable pies in many varieties, including sweet potato, apple, and other fruit pies. But it's the meringue pies that you really can't leave here without trying. Her most popular is the Half and Half: a thick meringue pie with coconut on one side, chocolate on the other. The custard is rich, and it satisfies both coconut and chocolate fans. Or you can bid for a middle piece with a little coconut and chocolate both.
Highway 33, North DeValls Bluff, AR 72041 (map); 870-998-7217
French Blackberry from Hunka Pie
Choosing just one of Chris Monroe's fabulous pies is difficult. His Velvet Lips Chocolate Cream Pie is one of the best chocolate pies around and his Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, oh my. But there's no denying the supremacy of the French Blackberry Pie. Baked in a hand-rolled pastry crust, the whole fresh blackberries warm up under a French style cookie-ish crumble crust. It's somewhere between a fabulous blackberry cobbler and pie. While you're at the drive-in, try one of the Hunka Burgers and onion rings.
PCP (Pecan Coconut Pineapple) from Ed & Kay's
Imagine the best pecan pie you've ever tried. Add pineapple for a sweeter, deeper flavor, and coconut for an exotic texture, and you have Ed & Kay's PCP pie. Known around these parts for their Mile High meringue pies, the PCP is often overlooked—which is a shame since it is by far the best pie on the menu. On a diet? Half slices are perfectly acceptable.
15228 Interstate 30, Benton AR 72015 (map); 501-315-3253
Caramel Pie from Charlotte's Eats and Sweets
There's no way to go wrong with desserts here. Once you get through the line at the door (there's always a line) order whatever you're going to eat for dessert first because it could very well be gone by the time you finish lunch. Famous for its coconut meringue and rich egg custard pies, Charlotte's has long been on the pie-eater's map. But I found a real gem in the Caramel Pie, starring a beautiful burnt-sugar custard generously dolloped into a handmade pie shell and topped with a bubbly, eggy meringue before baking.
290 Main Street, Keo AR 72083 (map); 501-842-2123
Buttermilk Pie from Jenny Lind Country Café
Pies are baked once a day at this little café outside of Fort Smith, so get there early. The Chocolate Joy is usually first to go. The Butterfinger Crunch and the Peanut Butter are also delightful. But it's the simplicity of the Buttermilk Pie that wins me over. A nicely firm custard with a little coconut texture and flavor over a cakey pastry crust. Recommended with black coffee.
2655 Gate Nine Road, Greenwood, AR 72936 (map); 479-996-1099
Sweet Potato Pie from Say McIntosh on 7th
There may not be another sweet potato pie quite like this one. Mr. McIntosh used to sell them to fund his various political campaigns, and they surely earned him some votes. Each slice is unnaturally orange and smooth as pudding. It almost glows in sunlight. The mild flavor of the sweet potatoes is balanced by an orange juice tartness and a hint of Karo syrup.
2801 7th Street, Little Rock AR 72205 (map); 501-664-6656
Chocolate Walnut Pie from Chip's Barbecue
This barbecue joint has been kicking out some of the best pies around since Tom and Tina Chipman started selling sandwiches out of their three-table shop in 1961. Pies vary widely from pecan and pumpkin (both seasonal) to creams like banana, chocolate, lemon cream and coconut. But my favorite is the Chocolate Walnut: a dark, thick, and creamy chocolate custard poured into a homemade shell and topped with cream, more chocolate (!) and plenty of walnuts. The cheesecakes are also excellent. Be forewarned: there's a waiting list for pies when the major holiday comes around.
Cinnamon Cream Pie from Franke's Cafeteria
Think about the best cinnamon roll you've ever had. In your life. Now imagine it made from layers of whipped cream and custard. This should give you a good idea of the flavor and texture of Franke's longtime tradition, the Cinnamon Cream Pie. The light custard on top of a loose-packed graham cracker crust, all under a cinnamon-infused whipped cream and more layers of cinnamon can be found at Arkansas' longest continually operating restaurant.
Dang Good Pie from 302 on the Square
This pineapple-coconut pie dates back to the Civil War. Buttery with notes of brown sugar on a homemade crust, it's impossibly rich, like if a pineapple upside-down cake were re-conjured as a pie. You can get it with a dollop or two of light whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Lemon Icebox Pie from Rita's Restaurant
Every dessert Rita's offers is homemade, including whatever pie flavors are dreamed up by the management each day. The Lemon Icebox is barely sweet with fluffy cream cheese, lemon zest, and a little vanilla piled into a hand-crushed vanilla wafer crust. This is exactly how you want to finish a meal at a family diner.
10894 Highway 27, Hector AR 72843 (map); 479-284-3000
Cherry Pie from Ed's Custom Bakery
Ed's makes a lot of pies, both cream (like coconut and banana) and fruit. While the apple pie is lovely, the cherry pie in its cookie-dough crust takes the cake—a thick layer of sugared crust above rich cherry filling on top of more of that sweet, sweet crust.
256 Oak Street, Conway AR 72032 (map); 501-327-2996
Chess Pie/Chocolate Chess Pie from Alley Oop's
It's impossible to determine which of these two pies is better. Chess pie is, of course, the old Arkansas standard. According to food historians, it was once called "just pie." The custard is rich, the top is almost brownie-like in its light crispness and the crust is homemade pastry. The chocolate version is more of the same, but with lovely cocoa nuts.
11900 Kanis Road, Little Rock AR 72211 (map); 501-221-9400
Possum Pie from Stoby's
Another indigenous pie to Arkansas, the possum pie combines chocolate, sour cream and whipped cream in a hard-to-resist package. The best one comes from Stoby's, an eatery best known, of all things, for its cheese dip. There's something irresistible about that flavor combination: tangy cream cheese and sour cream with lightly lemoned custard, topped with milk chocolate custard, whipped cream, and nuts.
Ozark Black Walnut Pie from Boardwalk Café
The only things on the menu that aren't organic here are sodas, like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper. Everything else—from elk and buffalo steaks to elk enchiladas to wild boar chops—is organic and natural. The Ozark Black Walnut Pie is made from locally felled black walnuts, chopped and combined with raw sugar and other ingredients to create an amazingly creamy nut-topped pie. Recommended a la mode.
215 East Court Street, Jasper AR 72641 (map); 870-446-5900
Chocolate Meringue Pie from Wagon Wheel Restaurant
The chocolate custard is deep and rich, firm and balanced against the whispy tall toasty meringue on top. Almost too rich for one person, but it's just right for sharing. You'll want a cup of coffee with this one.
166 South Broadview, Greenbrier AR 72058 (map); 501-679-5009