Writer Joseph J. Airdo // Photo Courtesy of PIEbar
Less than two hours north of Phoenix, the community of Strawberry hugs the scenic Mogollon Rim between Payson and Camp Verde. In addition to several notable historic buildings and hiking trails, its nearby attractions include Tonto Natural Bridge — one of the world’s only natural travertine bridges — and Fossil Creek — a river that gushes 20,000 gallons per minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600-foot-deep canyon.
The community is also home to PIEbar, a restaurant that serves mouthwatering, incredibly delicious, hand-made empanadas in both sweet and savory varieties. Owner Kimberly Brennan and her staff take tremendous pride in the “magic dough” — which took her years to perfect — and many homemade fillings that make each hand-pie so scrumptiously special.
“They are little pockets of pure delight,” says Brennan, noting that some of her favorite fillings include Mountain Mamma — spinach, mushrooms, sautéed onions, garlic, bacon, parmesan and red pepper — and Mountain Man — chorizo, potato, gravy and cheese. There are also several breakfast varieties; a molten chocolate option with hints of espresso and hazelnut; and, of course, strawberry and cream in honor of the community’s name.
Although Brennan has always loved empanadas, she believes that her real obsession with them began many years ago while she was living in Puerto Vallarta.
“I came across a little tienda that sold them early in the morning each day,” Brennan says. “The old woman who prepared them made only two trays. So if you did not get there by 6:30 a.m., you were out of luck. There was always a line for her empanadas.”
Now, that line is at PIEbar. It is not unusual for folks to be lined up outside the door of the 329-square-foot building that Brennan thought would be the perfect spot for her business. But the owner assures that the wait is usually brief and always worth it.
“We opened in the middle of a pandemic, quickly became a go-to spot for a special day-trip and have not looked back,” Brennan says. “Thankfully, people love empanadas. Locals are our mainstay but our visitors are making us almost famous.”
And rightfully so. With fillings such as chicken pot pie, green chile pork and lemon bar, not only are PIEbar’s empanadas delicious but they are also the perfectly portable meal to enjoy outdoors.
“PIEbar’s gorgeous mountain town setting is hugged on all sides by lush green hills and is always 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix,” says Brennan, noting that outdoor seating is available in the sunshine, under the pines or below the nearby massive double oak tree.
They can also be taken to go and enjoyed while embarking on one of those aforementioned adventures for which the Strawberry area has come to be known.
“Strawberry seems to be fast becoming one of Arizona’s premier vacation/staycation/second home destinations,” Brennan says. “With easy access to Tonto Natural Bridge, Fossil Creek and the laid-back atmosphere of Pine Country, Pine and Strawberry offer a quick and relaxing respite from city life.”
PIEbar // 5096 AZ-87, Strawberry // 602-882-1442