Let’s just save the suspense on this one. This is the best lemon pie I’ve ever eaten.
Now that we’ve got that bite of bold honesty out of the way, let’s back it up with my qualifications for making the claim.
I’ve eaten a lot of lemon pie. My mom loves lemon pie. So did her dad. My wife Molly loves lemon pie, too. So does her dad. Infinite opportunities, by my count, have presented themselves to my mouth for lemon pie consumption.
We learned about Atlantic Beach Pie while visiting the fabulous small food city Chapel Hill, N.C. Locals tout the legendary and unique flavor of the Atlantic Beach Pie, made from a recipe always credited to Bill Smith, at local restaurant Crook’s Corner. (Why does he make it this way, and why is it called Atlantic Beach Pie? Here are your answers.)
No matter how much we tried, we couldn’t get the pie, and the opportunity to make our own at home, out of our heads. Then the recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie showed up in a copy of Carolina Country, a magazine we devour together each month it’s released by North Carolina’s energy cooperatives.
So we made it, just like Bill Smith does at Crook’s Corner. I don’t know if it stacks up to his or the pies served up in the restaurant, but the flavor and texture in ours were extraordinary. The filling was smooth, slightly tart and perfectly sweet. The crust was crackly, slightly salty and very buttery.
As if that wasn’t enough proof to support my argument that Atlantic Beach Pie is the best lemon pie, the popular Our State magazine included Atlantic Beach Pie in its February 2018 cover feature on The Legendary & Landmark Pies of North Carolina. And a slice of Bill Smith’s Crook’s Corner creation adorned the very cover of the edition.
Can you see by now that you must make this pie, no matter where you live but especially if you’re a North Carolinian? When you try it, let us know what you think! Is it the best lemon pie?
Here’s the recipe, with complete and praiseworthy credit to Bill Smith. (If you Google “Atlantic Beach Pie,” his name will be attached to most all of the search results anyways, and rightly so!)
Atlantic Beach Pie
1 ½ sleeves saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 14-ounce can 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
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands.
3. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough.
4. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.
5. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.
6. 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.
7. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 16 minutes, until the filling has set.
8. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.
9. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.