Betty Lessard was a North Shore legend. It was a legend built upon a pallet of flour and lard. Yes, her dexterity with the rolling pin knew no equal. It was in 1956 that Ms. Lessard took control of the family smoked fish shack, over time turning the small business into a cafe, and then a cafe whose raison d’être was pie. She’d bake up to a hundred pies each morning for her loyal customers.
By the time Betty sold her cafe in 1984, Betty’s Pies was known from coast to coast as a North Shore draw equal to that of the world’s largest freshwater lake a few hundred feet to the cafe’s south. The new owners followed their own way with pies, and the cafe’s reputation suffered as a result. When the restaurant was sold again in 1997, the newer (and current) owners, Carl Ehlenz and Marti Sieber, had the courage and good sense to give Betty a call.
Betty Lessard got the new owners back on the right pie-making track, and Betty again felt like an integral part of the business she began decades earlier. Right up until her death in 2015, at the age of 90, Ms. Lessard would often be seen dining at Betty’s Pies. And to this day, Betty’s pies, every one of them, are made with a lard crust (there is no better way to achieve that perfect balance of texture and flavor).
Betty’s Pies is extremely popular and, while they’ve expanded and rebuilt over the years, it’s still not a huge place, so you will probably have to wait for a table. The whole rigmarole with entering the tent set up behind Betty’s to put your name on a waiting list may seem to portend a tourist trap experience but that quickly dissolves as you are shown to your table. Once seated, you are in a pleasant little cafe with helpful, kind waitresses. There’s no tourist schtick at all.
Betty’s Pies has a real breakfast and lunch menu where you’ll find the likes of burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Of course, you aren’t here for a salad, so why not at least make it a little interesting by opening with something more local, like one of Betty’s hearty and satisfying pasties or a filet of that Minnesota fish favorite, the walleye? Don’t overdo it, though; you don’t want to fill up on the four-piece Broasted chicken dinner!
It’s pie for which Betty became famous and it’s pie for which you are here. The pies come in three broad categories: you’ll see the listing on the wall for cream, baked, and crunch topped. Baked pies are your classic double-crusters like blueberry and raspberry-rhubarb. The cream pies are baked crusts filled with rich things like banana cream or their famous (and top-selling) five-layer-chocolate. Crunch-topped pies replace the top crust with an oatmeal/brown sugar topping. You won’t be disappointed whichever way you go.
But let us suggest an alternative: the pie shake! This is a milkshake with a wedge of Betty’s pie blended in. Now, now, quiet down, we know. We hate gimmicky and trendy foods as much as you do, and pie shakes just sound so dumb. But it’s not, at least not at Betty’s. We suppose it would be possible to choose a pie that does not work well in a shake, but making that choice is part of the fun.
We’d heard that they discourage you from using their fruit pies in a shake for textural reasons but when we asked, our waitress said she thought the fruit pies make splendid shakes, and they were her favorites. But we couldn’t resist the sound of a shake with a wedge of turtle coconut pie blended in. Folks, this was one of the greatest shakes we have ever enjoyed! Enough of the pie wedge dissolves into the shake to flavor it, but there are still plenty of chunks of crust here, topping there, so that as you drink you are also chewing. And at the bottom, there’s a nice bonus of ice cream-coated pie bits and pieces.
Did we mention that a visit to Betty’s Pies comes with a trip along one of America’s most stunningly scenic roads? If you have the time (make time!) head further north along Highway 61, even as far as Canada, stopping at will at lighthouses, waterfalls, and state parks, for a drive you won’t soon forget.1633 Highway 61 Two Harbors MN 55616 877-269-7494 Betty’s Pies’ Website Betty’s Pies on Facebook