It is a popular belief that there is a pie behind every diner counter, but that conceit may be waning. According to pie expert and New York Daily News food critic Pascale Le Draoulec, over the past 20 years homemade pies have been vanishing from restaurants. A few calls to local cafés and restaurants found that even Portland isn't immune to this disturbing trend. "Do you serve pies?" our team of reporters inquired. "Uh... no," we were routinely told, as if we'd asked whether the restaurant served monkey brains.

Once a staple at cafés, the pie seems to be going the way of the dinosaur... but not if these pie-loving local establishments can help it.

136 NW 9th, 222-5608

With a wraparound counter and mushroom bar stools, Fuller's is an old timey coffeehouse. The waitresses themselves seem from another era--friendly, matronly, and sweet as... apple pie. Fuller's tends to serve only fruit pies (currently in season are the apple and marionberry). The crust is unique, crisp, and wafer-thin, and stands back to allow the fruit to do the talking. The marionberry was perfect; the bakers wisely preserved the original tartness of the fruit, not overcooking or using too much sugar. If you're hankering for a slice, though, go early. After the lunch crowd marches through, you'll be lucky to find a crumb.

6120 NE Sandy, 284-4942

It wasn't clear whether the Greek grandmother sitting in the entryway worked at Tosis, or if she simply enjoyed greeting diners for her own sake. Either way, her charm set the cheerful tone of this old school diner in outer Northeast Portland. With few decorating changes since the Eisenhower era--the diner is bathed in fluorescent lights and has plenty of comfortable booths--Tosis is a classic roadside diner with deserts that are uncomplicated and ample. Chocolate cream, apple, and cherry pies are stored in a glass cupboard behind the cash register, each a perfect choice after a sturdy meatloaf dinner.

Mother's Bistro
409 SW 2nd, 464-1122

Mother's serves high-end comfort food and have staked their reputation on their humble and unwavering quality. Their pies are no different. From key lime to pecan, Mother's has perhaps the best repertoire of pies in the city. (Unfortunately, they only offer one variety daily; you are at their whim!) On a recent occasion, they only had a few slices of coconut cream left, and I can see why--the pie was utterly remarkable. The crust was suburb, light paper-thin layers infused with a rich caramel. The filling was savory-sweet and hearty, and the cream on top was not airy like whipping cream, but more like a decadent cream cheese spread. Sure, each slice may cost more than a burrito lunch ($5.50), but believe me, it's worth it.

Half & Half
923 SW Oak, 222-4495

Recently Half & Half added pies to their menu (as well as offering them for custom orders). It is a great addition to the cheese sandwiches, hearty soups, cupcakes, and coffee. Out of all the pies I tried, Half & Half made the most traditional. The crust is sufficiently bulky, but understated. Criss-crossing crusts cover the pies' tops, holding in piles of fruit. A peach and blackberry mixture is a signature variety for Half & Half. A delicious combo, with the peaches' zing darting around the tartness from the blackberries.

Second Annual Northwest Pie Off

A fundraiser for the Portland Pounders, the local wheelchair rugby team, this Saturday is a chance to earn regional bragging rights for your own pie. There are six categories: stone fruit (cherry, peaches, plum), berry, tree fruit, gourds and tubers (i.e. pumpkin), nuts, and custards. This is serious stuff, folks. Each pie is judged on "integrity of crust," "effectiveness of filling," and "overall tastiness." Held at a private residence, the hosts open up the judging to all attendees and offer awards for the "best of" category as well as the overall "best in show" pie. Pies that don't progress past the first round are free to be devoured.

Saturday, 1133 SE 37th Ave, 3 pm until all the pies are eaten (entries must be delivered by 4 pm), for more info contact $20 entry fee per pie. PB