Pies by Inge (pronounced In-gee) is an abundant stand of pastries housed in a cozy corner of The Brown Bag Deli Restaurant. Located in the historic district of downtown Monticello, this pie and pastry business is part of a well-loved local establishment known for its quality ingredients and welcoming and homey atmosphere.

Pies by Inge joined The Brown Bag Deli in 1990, and was originally owned by the eponymous German woman. After retiring, Inge sold her business to a matrilineal line of community members. The current owners still use Inge’s recipes, but have significantly amended the focus on pies with other pastries. For instance, Friday’s special is a tin of gooey and soft cinnamon rolls, and customers are also tempted by cookies, brownies, cupcakes and cakes displayed in colorful plates and glass domes. 

I visited Pies by Inge on the Brown Bag Deli’s 40th anniversary, and enjoyed how the pie stand blended nostalgia with pragmatism, innocence with temptation. Pies by Inge has two glass cases carrying an impressive array of fruit, baked, and custard pies made fresh everyday. It delights its customers with seasonal flavors such as peach, blueberry rhubarb and, and cherry, but also offers the classics like pecan, raisin, German chocolate, and butterscotch meringue. As the daily selection changes constantly, there is always room for surprise.

Inge’s recipes produce quintessential examples of pies that are neither fussy nor pretentious. And I report with great relief that the pie crusts are nutty, sweet, flaky, and crisp. The expertly latticed and double crusted pies are golden to perfection. The single-crusted pies have no soggy bottoms in sight. The pies hold their shapes perfectly when cut, and there is no unsightly bleeding from the fresh fruit pies.   

I ordered the fresh strawberry pie, the peach and blueberry pie, the apple streusel pie, and coconut cream pie. The strawberry pie was refreshing and held together by a cool strawberry gelatin that coated the fruit in a lovely sheen. The fruit pieces were large and perfectly ripe. The pie was also encircled by star-like dollops of whipped cream that balanced the sweetness of the fresh fruit filling. 

The peach and blueberry pie was tangy and sweet, and sang of summer. The blueberry and peach flavors melded together so that instead of tasting each ingredient separately, one experienced a new essence altogether. Its crunchy latticed top allowed for alternating bites of unadulterated fruit or more crust.

Moving onto the apple streusel pie, I was amused by the sudden shift from delicate textures to a hearty mix of pumpkin and apples. The streusel was unobtrusive, and finer in texture than what I was expecting. Nonetheless, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the autumnal flavors. On the contrary, the slight crunch and molasses notes of the brown sugar lightened the soft fruit and pumpkin puree below.

I ended with the coconut cream pie whose custard was redolent of coconut essence, and topped with a whipped cream. The custard was thick, rich and creamy, but not too dense. I was amused by how such a brash coconut flavor was carried by the custard’s cool airness. Personally, I would have preferred for the coconut flavor to be less sharp, and perhaps softened with some coconut milk. But I really can’t fault the pie. Its flavors were perfectly old fashioned, and evoked tea time with lace gloves, floral dresses and cordial conversation belied by intense self-indulgence. A bit naughty in broad day light, this pie.    

Pies by Inge provides fare that is both light and substantial. Its wide menu promises a spectrum of flavors, textures, and mood-lifting indulgences. The whimsical romance of a pie shop and the satisfaction garnered from the pastries are fabulous excuses to visit Pies by Inge. Pies are $3.25 a slice, and $17.50 for the entire pan. And don’t forget, there are free refills of coffee at the restaurant.

If you ever are in need of last-minutes desserts, holiday staples, or an everyday delight, Pies by Inge is a great place to fix your cravings. You can call The Brown Bag Deli at 217-762-9221 to learn about its inventory of quick pick frozen pies. However, please call Tracy of Pies by Inge at 217-778-0200 to order cakes, bars and pies in advance. A two day’s notice is requested for most orders.

Pies by Inge is located at 212 W. Washington Street, Monticello, and is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can find more information at its website or Facebook page.

All photos by Jean Lee.