by Tracie McMillan
With Midwest roots and a Brooklyn inflection, bakery Sister Pie brings a new kind of sweet to Detroit. Find Sister Pie founder and head baker Lisa Ludwinski’s Ginger Peach Biscuit Pie recipe, here.
Visiting Sister Pie, a bakery on Detroit’s east side, gives rise to philosophical questions. Questions like: Can a bakery be too welcoming? Can it be too down-home-meets-Pinterest, too Instagram perfect? Is this even for real?
This gives way, almost instantly, to a second question: Can one die from consuming too much pie?
On any given morning, the former beauty salon is bustling awake along with the stable residential West Village neighborhood in which it resides. Head baker and owner Lisa Ludwinski usually arrives before dawn from her nearby apartment, and flicks on the pink neon sign above the door. Soon, the walls of windows flood the shop with early light as its bakers get to work in an open kitchen, turning out batches of handmade pastry. The early hours are quiet as Lisa, 33, shares the prep table with baker Tianna Bogan. Tianna, who is 21 years old, modest in height and build, clambers on top of a milk crate to leverage her body weight onto a massive bowl of dough.
The women’s eventual reward is on display in the bakery case. There are whole baked eggs peeking out from atop curried lentil and potato hand pie galettes, savory scones with ricotta and rosemary, sweet ones with carrot and raisins, muffins of grape jam and cream cheese, and stack after stack of cookies: peanut butter paprika, buckwheat chocolate chip, ginger rye, shortbread with grapefruit or rosemary or rose petal.
And that, of course, is before you even get to the pies, golden scalloped edges holding inventive flavors that reference both local and national palates. There is Lisa’s burgeoning icon, a salted maple pie, tawny and sweet with a saline bite, alongside a stunning ruby round of sweet beet. A spectacularly browned meringue pillowed on top of a delicate honey-lemon custard sits next to a showstopping red, hot chocolate—a brown-black fudgy disk flecked with snowy powdered sugar reddened with cayenne. Spring and summer see crumbles and lattice-tops take center stage, showing off Michigan’s fruit with abandon: sour cherry bourbon, ginger peach, blueberry-rhubarb turned floral with snapdragon sugar. Whatever time of year, cutting a slice always requires a satisfying thunk of the knife as it pierces shatter-prone pastry tanged with cider vinegar.
A bakery like Sister Pie would garner praise and attention most anywhere, a fact reflected by the shop’s semifinalist nod this spring for the James Beard Outstanding Baker award. Some of that reflects Lisa’s impressive—and wholly informal—training, with stints at both Milk Bar and Four & Twenty Blackbirds in New York. But Lisa’s made-for-social-media story doesn’t hurt, either. She launched the shop with a combination of a dance-a-thon fundraiser using crowdfunding site IndieGogo, and winning $50,000 in a Detroit bank’s competition for entrepreneurs. Her food, along with her eye for photos and contagious enthusiasm—she regularly posts “dance break” mini videos—has earned her more than 30,000 Instagram followers and a cookbook deal with Ten Speed Press. But in Detroit, a city where media coverage tends to favor tales of coastally trained repatriates fueling a rebirth, it has made Lisa a locus of attention.