WHO: Bradley’s Corner Cafe
WHERE: 844 N Kansas Ave
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday,
6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday
SERVICES: Homemade breakfast, dinner and desserts in the heart of NOTO.
The phrase “easy as pie” is almost certainly referring to how easy it is to eat pie, not the ease of making the pie. For one thing, there’s the crust. As anyone who’s attended a Thanksgiving with a traditional menu can attest, people get downright picky about their crusts. It must be the perfect balance of crumbly and flaky, light in the mouth but durable enough to hold the contents together. For another thing, there’s the filling: pudding, fruits, and any combination of the two, each demanding their own sets of mixing. And that’s not even to mention meringue.
Fortunately for Topekans, they only have to worry about the “easy” part of the pie if they indulge in a visit to Bradley’s Corner Cafe at 844 N. Kansas Ave. in North Topeka.
“We have pie for the customers here in the shop, of course,” said Bradley Jennings, the cafe’s owner and operator. “But anyone can order a pie for any time, it doesn’t need to be a holiday.”
Whole pies, though, have a time limit — people ordering whole pies have to place their order 24 hours in advance.
“Some days I make 30 pies, but if I just sold whole pies off the shelf I wouldn’t have anything left to slice for my customers,” Jennings said.
Thanksgiving, as one might imagine, is a particularly busy time for Jennings and his assistant pie maker, who he trained up to follow his recipes and technique about a decade ago. Jennings estimates they made around 500 pies for the week of Thanksgiving.
“We’ll only do about 250 for Christmas — Christmas traditionally isn’t as pie-heavy as Thanksgiving.”
Bradley’s has been a fixture in NOTO since February 2005, when it opened in the area and began selling its made-from-scratch foods, including its delicious and famous pies. Jennings’ journey to becoming pie expert extraordinaire began earlier, in his youth as an on-again off-again employee at Denny’s.
“My old manager from Denny’s, Dorothy Harmon, opened Dorothy’s Kitchen on Gage and Huntoon,” Jennings said. “She had a little sandwich shop, but when she started making pies it gave her kind of a niche.”
At the time, Jennings’ health was forcing him to examine a job change, and the two reconnected in a serendipitous turn.
“She was happy to take me on because she already trusted my work ethic,” said Jennings. “We took her business from a little shop to a true restaurant where she was serving three meals and open on weekends.”
Soon the restaurant opened another location, which Jennings managed.
“I’ve been making pies ever since,” Jennings said. “When I learned, I had help from my grandmother.”
With hands-on training from his grandmother, Jennings also armed himself with as much knowledge and study as he could.
“I’ve done a lot of research to perfect my crust and perfect my pudding,” Jennings said.
His work has clearly paid off. Chalked on the wall of his restaurant is the list of pies he’s perfected, which customers can order whole in advance. With coconut, chocolate, banana, lemon, apple, Snickers, German chocolate, pineapple coconut, chocolate peanut butter, chocolate almond, sour cream raisin, chocolate pecan, peanut butter pecan, peach crumb, cherry crumb, apple crumb, strawberry rhubarb, rhubarb, pumpkin, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, pecan, cherry... It’s hard to choose just one, but if he had to, Jennings would pick apple, his favorite.
“Our most popular fruit pie is probably strawberry rhubarb or gooseberry,” Jennings said, “Coconut cream pie is the most popular cream pie.”
The refrigerator behind the counter gives credence to Jennings’ estimate. Coconut cream pie is an obvious favorite—the coconut cream pies in the refrigerator behind the counter are missing several pieces.
“A lot of our pies you can’t get anywhere else in Topeka, lots of places don’t make their own pies,” Jennings said.
In an age where chains dominate, Jennings’ dedication to his from-scratch all-American dessert hasn’t gone unnoticed.
His positive Yelp reviews and dedicated word-of-mouth network earned Bradley’s Corner Cafe a place on the Kansas episode of “State Plate” with country music singer Taylor Hicks, which aired in November on Wichita Public Broadcast’s KPTS-Channel 8. For the episode, Jennings showed Hicks on camera how to make his sour cream raisin pie.
In the episode, Jennings displays his expertise with not only his crust, but also his perfectly whipped, non-weeping meringue, which he judges as a main differentiator between his pie and that of a lesser operation.
Next time you’re near NOTO, you can take a minute to have a cup of coffee, snag a slice of pie, and appreciate Jennings’ craft.