Putting a freshly baked pie in front of me is downright dangerous. I have no self-control when it comes to dessert and could easily gobble down half a pie in one sitting. I arrived home after a Friday afternoon outing to the Iron Horse Café and Pie Shop in Three Forks with a made from scratch raspberry-huckleberry pie. Jamie Taylor, also known as the Three Forks Pie Lady, was responsible for this delicious concoction. By noon Saturday, I had devoured all but one small slice saved for my husband Ed.
Jamie and Parker Taylor are owners of the Iron Horse Café & Pie Shop in the heart of Three Forks. The couple moved from Spanish Fork, Utah, in 2007 when Parker transferred with the Army National Guard to Belgrade. Jamie worked for an online corporation, a job she cherished while staying at home with their two kids. It was the ideal setup. When the corporation downsized in 2017, Jamie found herself unemployed and asked the question, “Now what?”
From a young age helping her mom and grandmother in the kitchen, Jamie had developed a passion for cooking. She loved making pies. In preparation for Thanksgiving, Jamie was busy baking and mentioned to Parker, “I just want to make pie all the time.” He replied, “Then why don’t you make pies all the time?” The wheels were set in motion when the couple discovered the Iron Horse Café was for sale. Jamie asked the owner if she could work at the restaurant before buying the business. She wanted to get a feel for what she and Parker were stepping into. The rest is history, with their first day of business being Jan. 23, 2018.
They were slow to make changes to the menu or the name of the café, understanding that a small community needs time to adjust to changes with existing businesses. But ownership of Iron Horse opened the door for Jamie to go to town with her pies. It started with two pies per week, then two per day, and now she's averaging between 20-30 pies per day, five days a week. Until January 2021, Jamie used a conventional oven in the café’s pint-sized kitchen for all her baking. Much to Jamie’s joy, a commercial oven was installed the week of Jan. 11, capable of baking 40 pies at any one time.
Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Café quickly gained the respect of Three Forks and the surrounding communities, not only for the food, but the exceptional service, and of course, mouthwatering pies. In March 2019, the Taylors changed the name to Iron Horse Café and Pie Shop. Jamie’s friend in Bozeman, savvy about social media, told Jamie she needed an appropriate hashtag. Thus was born #threeforkspielady.
Jamie invited me into her kitchen to talk while she worked her magic with a two-crust berry pie. She uses a treasured recipe from her great-grandmother for her dough, with the only change being the use of butter instead of lard. The dough was rolled out and shaped into the pie pan, then Jamie added the juicy filling of huckleberries and raspberries. After rolling the dough out for the top crust, Jamie folded it in half, then half again, forming a wedge. She removed the corner of the wedge with a small heart-shaped cookie cutter. When the dough was unfolded and laid over the pie, four cutout hearts with the filling poking thru adorned the top. Jamie crimped the pie’s edges, then took the dough hearts and added them to complete her crust artistry. After a light sprinkle of sugar, the pie was ready for baking. Melanie Irwin, one of the wait staff, passed by and declared with a big grin, “Pie is Jamie’s superpower.” I understood. I just watched a dedicated act of love craft a pie.
I had to ask Jamie, “Do you ever get tired of making pies?” Calm and collected, Jamie replied, “Never! Not once in three years have I grown tired of making pies. And I’ve never used a recipe I’ve seen in a magazine, cookbook, or online. I may look at them for ideas, but what I make is always my version.” Now I’m curious about Jamie’s favorite. “My favorite pie is the triple berry, as this was the first pie I baked with my great-grandmother.”
I’m counting at least 70 varieties of pie listed if you want to order in advance. In the café, there is always a selection of 9-10 pies ready for takeout and fresh pie on the menu. There are berry pies: blueberry, blackberry, cherry, strawberry and apple, to name a few. Variations include double crust, graham cracker crust or crumb toppings. Bourbon pecan pie is the local favorite, but you can also order espresso pecan, maple pecan, southern pecan and chocolate pecan. Cream pies? Absolutely! Flavors include coconut cream custard, Boston cream and banana cream.
It’s also possible to order a graham cracker crust cheesecake with a choice of strawberry, red berry, triple berry, pumpkin or huckleberry (seasonal) filling. A few unusual pie offerings include Amish oatmeal, chocolate s’more, mint Oreo, and a German chocolate “cake” pie. Jamie believes everybody should enjoy pie, so she offers both gluten-free and sugar-free pies, but best to order in advance. I’m sure that if you had a particular pie in mind not on Jamie’s list, she would create it for you.
It’s a full day of food at the Iron Horse, starting with breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon, then lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., followed by dinner from 5 p.m. to closing. On my next visit, I will be trying the cinnamon roll French toast. The description reads, “Our fresh HUGE cinnamon roll cut in half, French toast battered, topped with made-from-scratch buttercream frosting & dusted with powdered sugar. Diet be damned!" For the first meal of the day, choices include omelets, breakfast burritos, croissant breakfast sandwiches, and the customer favorite, made-from-scratch biscuits and gravy.
Lunch and dinner entrees are what you would expect at a Montana café. Burgers, sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups, and bison burgers featuring local bison from the Madison River Ranch are available. Additional features in the evening include ribeye steak, wild-caught Alaskan coho salmon, and tempura jumbo shrimp. With great pride in being veteran-owned, the Taylors offer all military, police, and first responders a 10% discount every day — yet another reason to make a stop in Three Forks for a meal.
Jamie did a bit of calculation, then determined 24,000 slices of pie were served last year, between the purchase of whole pies (eight pieces) and those eaten in the café. I’m at a loss for words with that number, but if anybody deserves to be known as the #threeforkspielady, it’s Jamie Taylor. It’s also a testament to the locals that have supported the restaurant, especially during the pandemic. The café moved into takeout mode from March 16, 2020, to the first week of May to address COVID restrictions. Jamie speaks from the heart when she says, “We have an amazing community. The fact that people were spending money to support us was very humbling, knowing all of us were facing hardships.”
In the 2021 Bozeman’s Choice Readers’ Poll, the Iron Horse Café and Pie Shop won in three categories; Choice Comfort Food, Choice Wait Staff, and Choice Local Secret. This recognition is a testimony to how Jamie loves cooking, feeding people and operating her business. Step inside the café, and you instinctively know this is small-town Montana at its best, where you can count on food rivaling home-cooking. The attentive staff makes sure your coffee cup and water glass never goes empty. I would suggest following the advice of Jacques Torres when dining at the Iron Horse. "Life is short. Eat dessert first.” And take a pie home!
Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.
TheLastBestPlates.com is a digital destination that serves up Montana's tasty food, travel and culture stories … one bite at a time.