Diep Tran makes many glorious things at Good Girl Dinette, the Highland Park diner she’s run since 2009. There’s the pho, of course, and the Red Boat bacon and eggs, and the blistered corn, but one of the best things that comes out of Tran’s kitchen is her pie, particularly her hand pies. Tran, now 43, began making pie using a recipe from Southern cookbook author Edna Lewis. “I think about Edna Lewis every time I make a pie,” says Tran now. She also, despite many friends telling her she’s insane, makes all her pies completely by hand, which includes mandolining all the apples for all her pies. She says that she does, however, want a dough sheeter for a wedding present.
You just told me you don’t like pie.
I don’t like pie very much. I don’t like desserts. I like the idea of pie. I didn’t start making pie until I was in my 30s. I made a pie when I was in my 20s, and it was a disaster, and then I stopped making pie because it was dumb. I didn’t understand what the whole fuss was about.
Why start making pie then?
I wanted to make pie that I would like. In the begining, I was kind of a pie-making lurker. Just reading recipes but not really making it. It was like, oh, you have to have a marble slab, you have to have a rolling pin from France, it’s got to be on a holy day, you’ve got to be a virgin, you know? [Laughs.] It felt so unapproachable.
Why hand pies?
I started baking them to round out my breakfast menu. It’s funny, you can have the same dish but package it differently, and all of a sudden it’s a breakfast food instead of dessert. But that was a foolhardy decision, because it’s so labor-intensive. I couldn’t just do a turnover, I had to do round pies, and crimp them all, it was so dumb. I wanted a hand pie that would bring me joy. But it did not bring me joy because it did not bring me any money.
What’s wrong with so much pie these days? Is it because people fear pie — or because their mothers made bad pie and they think bad pie is normal?
No, I don’t think it’s that. I think if you ate Hostess, if that’s your idea of pie. I think the reason why you don’t have better pies in restaurants is that it’s too expensive, ultimately. And at home, it’s because people don’t know. I also think it’s equipment. Even if your oven is fantastic, it’s hard to get that bottom crust really beautiful. If you have a crappy pie plate, put the pie on the floor of the oven for 20 minutes, then you lift it. It jump-starts it. I want to make you a great pie, something that’s worth it, that’s not like an ‘80s action movie, that’s not gratuituous. I want to give you sugar that’s great.
Did you grow up eating pie?
Hostess. Yeah. There was a Hostess wholesale place, like an outlet, on the way to school in Cerritos, on Artesia Boulevard. We’d get an apple pie, and I liked it enough. There’s something about constantly seeing that that makes you want it.
Good Girl Dinette, 110 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980, www.goodgirldinette.com