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Ugly Crust Pies

Comments from the Kitchen Office

This is one of a full series of articles about interesting food locations along Route 66. See "related articles" or search "Route 66" for the full series.

Ugly crust? Seems like kind of a mean thing to say about someone’s baking, but, hey, it gets attention. And, while the pie baker’s crusts may have started out a little shaky, she’s managed to perfect them over the years of serving people at the Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas.

Joann Harwell is the resident pastry chef, turning out pecan, chocolate chip, apple, lemon meringue, chocolate pies and more. Her son, Brady, told us the family story, about how his mother learned from his great-grandmother how to make pies, and how her own first attempts had, well, issues.

“Her grandmother’s pies came out like works of art, they were so good looking,” he said. “When my mom started baking, well . . . every time she cooked her crust and it came out of the oven it seemed to crater and fall in,” he said. “But they still taste delicious!”

And, he says, their appearance has “gotten better over the years.”

When we connected with Joann herself, she told us, “The main ingredient in any recipe I have is the love that goes with the attempt. I don’t make a perfect pie crust, but I’ve come to see that there’s more to life than being perfect. Each pie I have made over the years has a very  personal connection to the unconditional love my grandmother provided to me. That’s a lot better than perfect.”


Still, practice can at least get you close enough. Harwell bakes several batches of pie 3-4 nights a week, including working on weekends. Her chocolate chip pecan pie is a signature dish, served with ice cream and fudge sauce, and you never know for sure what else might be available.

On our stop, it was a luscious lemon meringue with and lots of tangy lemon flavor and a thick meringue that is undoubtedly the “Never Fail Meringue” recipe offered in her cookbook, "Ugly Crust Pies Favorite Recipes”, and a Granny Smith apple pie that was pretty much melt-in-your-mouth good.

The Café itself has been around since the time when Route 66 was the main highway, operating 24 hours a day. When the bypass came around, it changed business—and changed hands, which it is set to do again (owner Fran Houser, known for serving as inspiration for the Flo character in the 2006 Disney-Pixar movie, “Cars”, reportedly has the restaurant up for sale).

Still, it’s the halfway mark of Route 66 between Chicago and Santa Monica, and a great stopping point for a little pie. If you are a pie perfectionist, just ask for yours a la mode!