No Mere Pie in the Sky

Portland’s pie cult is real...

and its leader is Kate McMillen. After moving to Portland in the early 2000s, the Idaho native bounced around a number of restaurant kitchens before landing at (now shuttered) Random Order Cafe on NE Alberta Street. At the time known mostly for its casual vibe, proximity to Alberta Street’s legendary “Clown House,” and killer slate of breakfast sandwiches, Kate set to work developing the sweet side of Random Order’s menu, steadily turning out a rotating line-up of perfect pies that eventually outshone the savory offerings. It was classic Portland: an unassuming coffee shop in an offbeat neighborhood with a menu of “can you believe how good this is” pies and pastries, and the cult of Kate was born.

McMillen finally stepped out on her own in 2011, launching Lauretta Jean’s (named after her grandmother) as a cart at the Portland Farmers Market. The response was immediately and overwhelmingly positive, and within a year Kate opened a downtown takeaway window. This was quickly followed with a proper brick and mortar cafe with an expanded menu in the space formerly occupied by another legendary sugar-slinger, Pix Patisserie. Call it perfect timing or baker’s intuition or whatever–perhaps the space is just imbued with strong “dessert energy”?–but pretty immediately long lines formed and the media took notice. The local paper called it “perfect” and “classy,” locals voted it as the Best Pie Shop in town, and Thrillist called it one of the 25 Best Pie Shops in America.

All the while, Kate maintained a savory menu of superlative classics, and while she’s rightly famous for her cakes and cream puffs, dedicated fans sing the praises of the shop's not-so-sweet side of the menu. Those legendary lines aren’t just for pies, forming in the morning when the cases are piled with fortifying breakfast sandwiches, flaky biscuits, quiches studded with seasonal market-fresh ingredients, and steaming pot pies. It’s a throwback to the Random Order days, only this time Kate has her hands on the savory items too, and the people have noticed. It’s what makes Lauretta Jean’s more than just a (very, very, good) neighborhood pie shop, with items that induce cravings morning, noon, and night, and it is absolutely worth the wait when you find yourself on Division Street.

But the cult of Kate is about to meet its latest object of devotion: frozen bake-at-home pot pies, handmade and fresh from the kitchen of Lauretta Jean’s. Available in either classic chicken or vegetarian broccoli and cheddar and employing Kate’s famously exacting all-butter crust, they are a marvel of precision: just-right levels of richness, saltiness, and pepperiness, hot and bubbly and satisfying beyond all measure. While we relish an IRL visit to the Division Street shop, it is now possible to forgo the long lines completely and indulge whenever you want, without leaving the house. Hallelujah.

Photos are by Melissa Slate and Carly Diaz