A North Carolina Pie That Elicits An 'Oh My God' Response
There are days for cake, and days for ice cream and cookies. But every now and then, you crave a different kind of finish to a satisfying meal. Enter Atlantic Beach Pie, a salty and citrusy staple of the North Carolina coast.
Katie Workman is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket. She says the Atlantic Beach Pie from Crook's Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., is the best pie she's ever had. She shared a recipe for the dish for All Things Considered's Found Recipe series.
Workman describes Crook's Corner as a "shrimp and grits, fried oysters and hush puppies kind of Southern food restaurant." On one visit, she fondly remembers enjoying a particularly large spread.
"We were having this amazing dinner, eating more than I think I've ever eaten in my entire life," she says. "I had no intention of eating dessert, and then he sent out this pie."
Atlantic Beach Pie has a filling similar to those in key lime and lemon meringue pies, but Workman says the crust is what makes it special.
"It's this dense, crispy, thick, salty saltine crust, which is such an amazing balance to the tanginess and sweetness of the inside," she says.
She was smitten at first bite and describes a When Harry Met Sally moment upon tasting.
"I think the only reaction I had was, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.' For quite a while that was pretty much the only thing I could say," she says. "I think I was under control but I was in sort of a fugue state, so I can't be sure."
Bill Smith is the chef at Crook's Corner. He doesn't take credit for inventing the pie, which is often referred to as "lemon pie" on the North Carolina coast. In Smith's version, whipped cream replaces meringue as the topping. There's also a bit of lore that surrounds the dessert.
"When we were growing up, everybody believed that ... if you ate any kind of dessert after having seafood, you would drop dead sick," he says. "The one exception was this lemon pie that all the fish restaurants along the coast served."
The appeal is in the pie's simplicity. Smith jokes that it takes all of four seconds to make. In reality, it's just 18 minutes to bake the crust and 16 minutes to cook the filling.
"You don't have to wait for the crust to cool," he says. "The only thing that takes any time is it has to cool enough when you're done so you can cut it without making a mess. But it couldn't be faster."
Recipe: Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie
This is a newer version of a pie that is commonly served at seafood restaurants on the North Carolina coast. Chef Bill Smith has been serving it at Crook's Corner and at special events for about a year. He calls it the easiest recipe in the world.
Makes one pie
For the crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
For the filling:
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.
While the crust is cooling (it doesn't need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
There are days for cake, days for ice cream and cookies. But every now and then - especially after a big, satisfying meal - you might be inclined to just say no to dessert. Well, after this latest installment of our Found Recipes series, you might want to rethink that.
KATIE WORKMAN: Hi, I'm Katie Workman. I'm the author of "The Mom 100 Cookbook," and the creator of the Mom100.com blog. And I'm here to tell you about the most amazing pie I think I've ever had.
(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "IT HAD TO BE YOU")
WORKMAN: I went down to North Carolina, and I made a beeline for Crook's Corner, which is a fabulous destination restaurant. It's been there for a very long time. It's a shrimp and grits and fried oysters and hushpuppies kind of Southern food restaurant. And the longtime chef, Bill Smith, was sending us out so much food. And we were having this amazing dinner, eating more than I think I've ever eaten in my entire life.
I had no intention of eating dessert, and then he sent out this pie. It is a creamy citrus filling - much like the filling of a key lime pie, or a lemon meringue pie - covered with billows of whipped cream; but the crust is made out of saltines. So it's this dense, crispy, thick, saltine-salty crust, which is such an amazing balance to this tanginess, and the sweetness of the inside.
When I first took a bite of this pie, I think the only reaction I had was, oh, my God; oh, my God; oh, my God. For quite a while, that was pretty much the only thing I could say. It definitely was a slightly "Harry Met Sally" moment. I think I was under control, but I was in sort of a fugue state, so I can't be sure.
BILL SMITH: Well, first of all, it's not really my pie. It's a pie that's served all over the coast of eastern North Carolina. My name is Bill Smith, and I am the chef at Crook's Corner Restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C. I called it Atlantic Beach Pie but down there, it's just called lemon pie. When we were growing up, everybody believed that - for some reason - that if you ate any kind of dessert after having seafood, that you would drop dead sick.
I asked my mother about that. I said, why do we think that? She said, I still think that. She still won't do it. But anyway, the one exception was this lemon pie that all the fish restaurants along the coast served. The best thing about this dessert is it takes like four seconds to make. You cook the crust for, like, 15 minutes and then the filling, another 15 minutes. You don't have to wait for the crust to cool.
The only thing that takes any time is it has to cool enough when you're done so you can cut it without making a mess, but it couldn't be faster.
WORKMAN: Oh, yes. I have that recipe and the pie was so ridiculously easy to make, but I'll tell you there was slightly sad grand finale to this pie, which is we ate a chunk of it and I covered it gently with saran wrap and we took it in the car someplace. And my husband left the car, jumped back and jumped into a different seat in the car and sat on the pie.
And I said, did you just sit on my pie? And he said, I think I did. How do you not know if you've sat on a pie? And I was so sad. Not sad enough to not eat it, but sad nonetheless. It was squished, but it was so good still.
BLOCK: Katie Workman talking about her favorite found recipe, Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie. And yes, you also heard Bill in there. You can get the recipe and see a picture of Katie's pie before it was sat upon on our Found Recipe page at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.