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The Right Time for Pie at Noon Mark Diner

Keene Valley, nestled between I-87 and Lake Placid, may be the sweetest spot in the Adirondack Park — and not only for the majestic rock slabs and peaks in its backyard. While climbers and hikers use the village’s central location to springboard themselves up their next cracked face or 46er, Keene Valley isn’t simply a quaint pass-through on the path to adventure. One reason: pie. For many outdoor enthusiasts, stopping for homemade pie at Keene Valley’s Noon Mark Diner has become a staple of the Adirondack experience. And regardless of where visitors rank Noon Mark pie alongside other Adirondack favorites…

Keene Valley, nestled between I-87 and Lake Placid, may be the sweetest spot in the Adirondack Park — and not only for the majestic rock slabs and peaks in its backyard. While climbers and hikers use the village’s central location to springboard themselves up their next cracked face or 46er, Keene Valley isn’t simply a quaint pass-through on the path to adventure. One reason: pie.

For many outdoor enthusiasts, stopping for homemade pie at Keene Valley’s Noon Mark Diner has become a staple of the Adirondack experience. And regardless of where visitors rank Noon Mark pie alongside other Adirondack favorites — wood-carved bears, balsam pillows, authentic maple syrup — the 32-year-old recipe has built a reputation.

“It’s such an institution,” says Olivia Dwyer, associate editor at Mountain magazine. “If people have wandered into the ‘Dacks, chances are they’ve heard of the Noon Mark Diner.”

Dwyer, a Keene native who attended school a block from the Noon Mark, recalls hiking five days a week as a kid in the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society’s summer program. She says going to the Noon Mark was always the thing to do after hiking. At first, she says, she stuck with chocolate cream pie, preferring the chocolate pudding because it was “least like actual pie,” before her palette developed tastes for pumpkin pie and eventually her favorite — strawberry rhubarb with a crumb crust.

Customers need choose not only a flavor, but whether they want a single slice on a plate or a whole fresh pie in a box. Boxed pies, stocked by a cooler near the register, are usually available in fewer varieties than slices, but they invite several times the indulgence.

“You can’t go wrong with any flavor,” says Dwyer, “but if you picked from the cooler, you ran the risk of missing your favorite.”

muffins and treats

Noon Mark has a variety of fresh treats. (DoNorth/Matt McDonald)

For pie-eating outdoorsman Jeremy Degroff, it’s not all about the favorite. Degroff, who has worked for 13 years at The Mountaineer, an outdoor gear shop half a mile up the road from the Noon Mark, says Noon Mark pie sets itself apart.

“I’m not a fan of lemon meringue, but theirs is hands down the best you could have,” he says.

For years, Degroff has seen people build their trips into the mountains around pie. “It’s become a fixture for folks, a social sort of debrief,” he says.

Noon Mark manager Rosie Winchell also recognizes the diner’s role in the outdoor community.

“It’s a staple,” she says. “Hikers have to come for soup and pie after hikes.”

Winchell has worked at the Noon Mark for 25 years, serving recipes her grandmother concocted. “Everything is homemade,” she says — various soups, muffins and breads each day. And of course pie, which she identifies as the Noon Mark’s signature.

“Most days, about three people come out of the woods and have pie,” she says.

As she pours coffee and shares the flavors of the day, calling many guests by name, Winchell radiates a welcoming aura integral to the Adirondacks, baked into Noon Mark pie. The diner’s literature calls it “the warm, friendly ‘Adirondack’ feeling.” Ever difficult to define, it’s a mountain sensibility worth spreading.

“With mail order, we’ve sent pie as far as Alaska and Hawaii,” says Winchell. “It’s just everywhere.”

The legacy has indeed resonated far beyond the Adirondacks; Winchell says she spoke to a customer who met a traveller familiar with the Noon Mark in the African safari.

Meanwhile, Dwyer recently found herself recalling home during a backpacking trip in New Zealand.

“Only three people slept in the hut that night,” she says, “and one of them turned out to be the cousin of a summer kid I’d grown up hiking — and eating at the Noon Mark — with.”

“Here I was in Nelson’s Lake, New Zealand, talking about Noon Mark pie,” she says. “It’s a thread in the outdoor community.”

But wide as the thread reaches, bites of Adirondack goodness will always be freshest at the source. Tucked away in the shadows of New York’s highest peaks, blanketed by Adirondack authenticity, the Noon Mark remains idyllic.

The door opens for the uninitiated venturer. And whether their hands are caked with mud, coated by climbing chalk or covered in dough, the locals know the way.

Issue 1: Summer/Fall 2013

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