The tiny eatery might be overlooked by motorists heading up or down State Route 87 into the small town of Strawberry if not for the giant sign perched above it. It literally screams for attention.
Well, hello, Dalí — not really the famous mustachioed artist Salvador Dalí, but a gaping likeness that beckons travelers into the brightly colored PIEbar AZ for an array of savory and sweet empanadas to eat or take home for later.
“We want people to notice us even if they are driving by at 40 miles per hour,” says owner Kimberly Brennan (pictured), a real estate agent who opened the fuchsia-and-yellow-colored place in September 2020. “It was meant to say, ‘Hey, look at us. Look at us. Come here.’ ”
Tourists and locals alike have flocked to the 329-square-foot building for a hearty menu that has bulged from seven original offerings to more than two dozen. They range from the Mountain Man, a doughy serving of sausage, potatoes, gravy and cheese, to the empanada version of chicken pot pie. Those two are the top sellers. Heading the sweet list is the apple and dulce de leche, made with homemade caramel and a not-so-secret ingredient: a few Sugar Babies candies tossed in for extra flavor.
Brennan says she got the idea for the restaurant years ago, while living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A woman in a shop there made two trays of empanadas each morning and sold out by 6:30 a.m. “They were so delicious,” says Brennan, who tucked the idea into the back of her mind until the right opportunity arose. When a ramshackle building within sight of her real estate office came up for sale, she bought it and went to work.
The key, though, would be the dough. “The thing about an empanada is that it can’t fall apart in your hands, [but] it still has to be tender and not overpower the filling,” says Brennan, who enlisted a friend in the baking world to create the trademark recipe and another to help open the place. “It’s this fine line of sturdy and delicate and flavorful.”
On a typical day in PIEbar’s prime season of spring and summer, customers sit at outdoor tables that flank the restaurant — there’s no seating inside. The average order is three of the hand pies, two savory and one sweet. On its busiest days, the kitchen has pressed out as many as 1,200 empanadas.
Brennan says the restaurant is always adding new offerings to the menu, but not all have made the cut. (Scratch the meatloaf and pizza empanadas off the list.) Others that made it seem to have a cult following. Like the lemon bar empanadas, which one customer called “life-changing” and another said were a “spiritual experience.” Really.
“Our bottom line is that it has to be great,” Brennan says. “If not, what’s the point? People will just cook at home.”
5096 State Route 87