Growing up on a farm in central Kansas, Jan Knobel loved to help her mother and grandmother in the kitchen.
They taught her how to bake banana cookies as soft as muffin tops and German chocolate pie chock-full of shredded coconut and pecans. Making the filling was easy; perfecting the flaky crust was the hard part.
“I saw my mother do it very easily and quickly,” says Knobel, who eventually mastered the art and opened The Upper Crust Pie Bakery in downtown Overland Park with her sister, Elaine Van Buskirk.
Knobel, who lives in Lenexa, and Van Buskirk, who lives in Prairie Village, sliced into the baking business 10 years ago. They started by selling pies at the Overland Park Farmers Market, where they met Louise Meyers, the owner of Pryde’s Old Westport. When Meyers told the sisters she had a commercial kitchen available at Pryde’s, they moved in and started selling The Upper Crust pies there on Fridays and Saturdays.
Three years ago, the entrepreneurs took an even bigger leap and added a standalone bakery at 7943 Santa Fe Drive. Knobel, who previously worked in human resources, does much of the baking. Van Buskirk, who has a sales background, handles marketing and stocks the retail side of the bakery.
“I like to shop,” Van Buskirk told me when I was at The Upper Crust last week. “Can you tell?”
Aside from pie, cookies and other sweets, The Upper Crust sells locally roasted coffee (the drink and the beans) from Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, Hugo Tea, and cards from Louisiana-based Blackbird Letterpress. The bakery also sells party decorations, aprons, pie servers, kitchen towels and T-shirts that say “This is Pie Land.”
The pies filling the case on the counter were modeled after those made by the owners’ mother and grandmother. The apple pie ($4.50 per slice or $24 for a whole pie) is made with fresh Fuji, Jonathan or Jonagold apples peeled in-house. Knobel spices the filling with nutmeg instead of cinnamon because that’s how her grandmother liked it. The only variation: Knobel uses butter instead of lard in her pie crust dough because she prefers the taste.
Another best-seller, the German chocolate ($4.50 per slice or $24 for a whole pie), comes from a recipe gleaned and adapted from an agricultural publication. The banana cookies come from another family favorite Knobel found in her mom’s recipe box. They are similar to banana bread, or the golden top of a freshly baked banana muffin. The thick layer of burnt sugar frosting might be the best part.
The Upper Crust’s other cookie flavors include chocolate chip, chewy oatmeal raisin, lemon sugar and snickerdoodle. I like the dense, heart-shaped shortbread cookies ($2.95) — particularly the pink ones, a Valentine’s Day special studded with chewy cinnamon-flavored candy.
There are even more pies to choose from: Aside from classic apple, cherry, peach and blueberry, The Upper Crust offers coconut cream, lemon curd, butterscotch-meringue, key lime and gooseberry, just to name a few. The lemon curd and raspberry rhubarb have a delicious tartness, but don’t miss the cherry, with its sugar-dusted crust and crimson filling. I ordered a 5-inch “cutie” cherry pie ($7.50), big enoughfor two people to share.
A good time to sample several of the bakery’s pies is on Local Life Third Fridays (the next one is Feb. 20), when The Upper Crust stays open late from 5-8 p.m. along with several other downtown Overland Park businesses. The bakery’s third Friday menu features $7 pie flights — that’s three smaller slices of pie, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, for good measure.
Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at email@example.com or tweet @sarah_gish.
The Upper Crust
Location: 7943 Santa Fe Drive in downtown Overland Park
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: There’s free parking in front of the bakery on Santa Fe Drive.
Don’t miss: The saucer-sized banana cookies ($2.50 each) and the 5-inch “cutie” pies ($7-8) which are perfect for two or three people. Flavors include cherry, apple, peach, chocolate-pecan, coconut meringue, and Bumbleberry, made with a berry-apple filling.