We spend many an hour holed up in coffee shops, toiling to find the right words to describe the food we review week by week. We scrounge not only for a cafe where the Wi-Fi is blazing, but that's also a quiet nook where we can be alone in our thoughts to work. A space that also dishes out a delightful pastry to feed our senses — well, that's always a bonus.
We find all this at Sister Pie. It's a bright spot on a quiet corner in up-and-coming West Village, a sweet shop that's equal parts bakery, serene writer's nook, and conversation starter. Inspiration pours out of every detail of the place, from the daintily hand-written signage describing each baked good, the stacks of delectable cookies, vegan brownies, and savory scones, the aroma of sugar, high-fat French butter, and seasonal fruit wafting in the air, to the "piebrary" antique hutch that's filled with kitschy coffee mugs.Check out our mouthwatering photos from our visit!
Behind the whimsy is Lisa Ludwinski. Cooking and eventually baking came unexpectedly for the metro Detroit native while she was a theater major in New York. She became fascinated by the city's food culture and using her flair for theatrics, started filming a cooking show from her apartment, testing out new recipes each week. She landed a gig at the acclaimed Momofuku Milk Bar in Manhattan, where she was inspired by the creative process that made founder Christina Tosi a game-changer in the dessert world. It was at the East Village spot where she was also tasked with preparing the crew's family meal, a routine that taught her how to improvise with whatever ingredients she had on hand on any particular day.
When Ludwinski returned to Detroit in 2012 she decided that pie making would her business, utilizing those improvisation skills she learned back in New York. You see it in Sister Pie's ever-changing menu. This time of year, when blueberries are in abundance, you'll see her "blue-barb blossom" pie that is accented with calendula and marigold petals picked from Coriander Farms in Detroit. Or there's the ginger peach, made with Michigan peaches, grated fresh ginger, light brown sugar, and lemon juice. One of her signature pies, the salted maple, takes Grade B maple syrup, large flakes of Maldon sea salt, and tops off with either vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream. As the for the pie crust, it has a baked-at-home crumbly quality.
Cookies here depart from predictable flavors and textures, with recipes that call for buckwheat in the chocolate chip, paprika with peanut butter, lavender shortbread, and fennel in a Snickerdoodle. When you're not in the mood for something sweet, a rotation of savory hand pies, scones, and galettes are available. Whether it's a hand pie filled with goat cheese, broccoli, white beans, and carrots, a galette with sweet potato, cheddar and egg baked right in, or a "Sister Salad," made up of a medley of seasonal veggies, your tastes are going to be satisfied.
Perhaps even more appetizing than the pastries is the sense of community that comes from the people who make them. During a recent visit, the Sister Pie crew was busy in the open kitchen space preparing for an evening event, mixing ingredients, peeling peaches, and cracking jokes amongst each other — all set to a playlist of old school jams. It's this congeniality that Ludwinski has strived for since day one. Part of that comes from the way she shares as much about the shop's growth as possible with the workers, a practice in transparency reminiscent of another revered bakery, Avalon International Breads. The all-women team of 17 recently held a town hall meeting to talk about what's working in the company and what could be improved upon. Eventually, Ludwinski tells us, she wants to pay everyone on staff $15 an hour, an effort to provide for a living wage.
It's this approach, both in the care given to the recipes and to the staff, that attracts a diverse mix of loyalists. In the little over a year that it's been open, Sister Pie has become a destination for locals, suburbanites, and tourists alike. Even former President Bill Clinton has been known to stop in (he visited in March and tried some "Banana Pete" pie while in Detroit campaiging for his wife Hillary). It's one of many newer businesses that's making West Village a walkable, dynamic neighborhood where one can grab a coffee, high end groceries, drinks for happy hour, or have a romantic night out.
Customers can converse at the long, communal table, while standing in line, or from intimate little bistro tables that line one wall. Strings of photos hang from that same wall, reminding guests that they're part of one big family. Even a "Pie It Forward" program allows visitors to pay the pie tab for others who might be short on cash. It's for all these reasons that we say Sister Pie has just the right recipe for success.