Food writer Aaron Gilbreath writes at the Paris Review blog about his full appreciation of the House of Pies on Vermont in Los Feliz. He covers the history of the chain started by the creator of the International House of Pancakes — the Vermont cafe opened in 1969 and is the last LA House of Pies survivor, he says — and concede neither the architecture nor the interior design are anything special. Still, for Gilbreath the experience is special.
It’s as if its décor is teaching visitors a lesson: when you do something this good, you don’t need to dress up.
On an average day, House of Pies has around forty flavors for sale: coconut cream, banana cream, Bavarian chocolate, vanilla custard, lemon meringue, Dutch apple, pecan. A menu hangs on the wall above the register, and a handwritten sign lists seasonal flavors like fresh summer strawberry and sweet potato in fall. My slice is enormous. Cream coats the top, mingling with the strawberries to create a red and white swirl. Tart and sweet, the berries were probably grown in one of California’s innumerable berry fields, possibly over by Oxnard, or further up in Watsonville. Eating here always makes me wonder what the food used to taste like in 1969. Was the pie just as good? It seems impossible that anything this delicious could have been better.
Sure, you can get gourmet pie flavors at Pie Hole downtown. You can get better coffee most anywhere. You can find more unusual egg breakfasts right across the street. But the burgers here are fat and delicious, the pies are unmatched. And House of Pies is one of those powerful places where no matter where you’re from or how you dress, you can come in and, for the duration of a meal, feel united with strangers, shedding your background and your origins, and just be a person, united with all other people in a shared appreciation of things simple and sweet.