Ben Spungin Alta Bakery

Before you ask to speak to my manager, who by the way is Weekly Managing Editor Dave Faries, I haven't gone nuts. I just want to talk.

I want to talk about how difficult it really is to get a slice—and only a slice—of pie.

I think my problem is this: There are probably a dozen or so bakeries open when I'm just getting into work. Those bakeries, following  a perfectly reasonable business model, make a limited amount of pies that they sell by the slice and by the time I can have a lunch break, that inventory is already gone or not at its peak slice-ability. 

What is more readily available is ordering in pie. But more often than not, I'm the only mouth to feed. So what are my options? 

Tarts and cheesecakes.

I'm hesitant to call this dilemma a full-on pie shortage, but the truth is, sometimes when I crave pie and can't get pie, I'm 100-percent fine with just a slice of tart or cheesecake, which I find available more frequently by the slice at bakeries for whatever reason.

A good tart, while lighter than most pies, should not be short on flavor. Take Alta Bakery's banana hazelnut meringue tart. Chances are you know, what hazelnut, chocolate and banana taste like? Nutella sammich—duh.

But do you know what those ingredients taste like when they're in the hands of master Pastry Chef Ben Spungin

Breaking the immaculate texture of the toasted meringue seems like sin. When that fork hits velvety under layer of banana and ultra-velvety vanilla cream it still feels wrong. (Yes, it really is that beautiful.) Then your fork cracks through hazelnut feuilletine crust and you take the first bite. 

It's carmely, nutty, salty, delicately fruity and nostalgic of yes, those toasted Nutella and banana sandwiches you probably ate as a kid. Like that, it's gone in less than 10 bites. It's not pie, of course, and it's way prettier than any pie I've ever seen. But it's vaguley shaped like pie and it does inspire warm and fuzzy memories like pie. So yeah...close enough.

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For a more rustic, but equally complex bite, try Ron Mendoza's Spanish Cheesecake at Ad Astra in Seaside. Done in the Basque style, this cheesecake slice is everything Mary Berry's or Martha Stewart's cheesecake slices are not. 

It dons a blackened—yes, blackened—top. Its edges are intentionally jagged and again and caramelized. In other words, it's a pretty metallic-looking cheesecake. Until of course, you see the inside and it reveals the body of the cheesecake. It is glass smooth with a pale yellowish patina.

Oh—and it's crustless.

A single bite shows the complexities of burning the crap out of cheesecake filling. And it is complex. The top gives a diners a moment of dulce de leche. Moving into the body of the cheesecake is a smooth and unbroken cream flavor.  

So yeah, not pie. But close enough. 

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Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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