My research takes me over a pretty wide swath in the Fraser Basin, and so I often find myself driving through Chilliwack, though I rarely leave the freeway there. However last week I had a meeting in that town and I had a little time to kill, so I decided to check out the Airport Coffee Shop at the Chilliwack Airport. Now I love a good out of the way dining experience, and I’m always on the lookout for an excellent pie, but I will admit I was hesitant to go, of my own free will, and eat in an airport. Success did not at all seem guaranteed.
In addition, I tend to be wary of random recommendations. When people find out what I do for a living, they often immediately tell me about some favourite secret culinary experience, and when I was a newer food researcher I would often bound off hopefully in search of some great discovery only to be hugely disappointed. In general, one person’s hidden gem is another person’s culinary nightmare; food experience is subjective; we never sit at the same table twice. But something strange was afoot at the Chilliwack airport. The more I wandered about the valley, the more people told me that the Airport Coffee Shop has the best pie in the Lower Mainland. Or in BC. Or in the universe. I had to see for myself.
The first thing that surprised me was that the airport was about as laid back as an airport can be. The parking lot was free of charge, and pretty much empty. A few small planes were getting a nice shammy shine. There were no metal detectors involved. The Coffee Shop was gently busy hosting a number of older farmers, which is a general good sign; if the locals are there, the food is likely at least not terrible. I grabbed a table with a nice view of the runway, though in the hour I was there the only aviation I witnessed was a stunt plane that buzzed the runway and continued West. I ordered a peach/apple/cranberry pie, and waited. Even the mountains seemed expectant.
And now to the pie. It is, in all likelihood, the best pie in the Lower Mainland, and it certainly is the best pie near Vancouver. The crust was flaky and perfectly formed, with no massive lip of pastry. The filling was exquisite. They have been turning out excellent pies for 28 years, and they make several dozen types, though at any one time they have a random assortment. I’m told they serve other food, too; I guess I didn’t notice. But in short, and I’m speaking as someone who has eaten pie in literally hundreds of spots across our great nation, this was the best piece of pie I have had in a restaurant in Canada. Now there might be better out there, but I haven’t found it yet.
Which brings me back to the idea of our secret, special, personal places to eat. Yes, I have a few, and no, I won’t share them all. But I’m reasonably sure given the remote location that all of Vancouver won’t rush to Chilliwack to ruin my new special pie cafe. But for once, I wasn’t disappointed by a recommendation, and I’m sure I’ll sneak back there. And I’m pretty sure that if a person likes pie, this cafe won’t let them down. They cultivate a rumour that people have actually flown to the airport just to buy pie. Well, maybe. I think I would, if I had a plane.