Sweet & Salty Atlantic Beach Pie

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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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Why Christmas Always Reminds me of Blueberry Pancakes

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This Christmas foodie adventure started in the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Once all the wrapped and tightly taped gift boxes and bags were inside the car, I climbed in the back seat behind grandpa Lee and grandma Vember, and away we went. It was early one Christmas Eve morning in the 1990s.

My grandparents lived in the small textile mill community of Caroleen in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Some years I’d stay with them for a few days during my Christmas break from school, and this year I’d spent a short time with them prior to the holiday. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d gather with my mom and dad at our house in the Gaston County community of Alexis for dinner, gifts, goodies and time together. Grandpa was also known to go shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve itself—he was calm, cool and collected enough to do such a thing—and I accompanied him at least a couple times. Grandma and grandpa would spend the night in my room, which meant I slept in our third bedroom on a different side of the house. The change of venue for that one night each year always produced a magical quality for me.

But this isn’t a story about the usual Christmas experiences of my youth. Rather, it’s the memory of one exceptional year when our Christmas Eve journey from grandma and grandpa’s house had a special stop on the way to mom and dad’s.

I always remember my grandma as one who enjoyed eating breakfast in restaurants. She didn’t eat eggs, grits, bacon and toast at home when she helped make it for grandpa and me. But get her in a restaurant and it was a different story. So it’s no surprise that we stopped for breakfast at The Pancake House in Shelby, North Carolina—coincidentally less than a mile from where my wife and I now live—on the way to mom and dad’s this particular Christmas Eve.

What honestly is a mystery is why I ordered a massive stack of Pancake House blueberry pancakes that day. I was known for, as the Southerners say, “having eyes bigger than my belly.” I often tried to eat more food than I could actually hold as a child. (I’m so sorry, Mom!) And it won’t surprise my close friends to read that I’d order blueberries. If anything, I’m over-known for my love of blueberries. Yet, I’ve always been one to prefer my pancakes with only butter and hot, hot syrup, which The Pancake House serves quite well!

So, the blueberry pancakes arrive, and I remember grandpa, grandma and me gawking and fawning at how they were hanging off the plate in front of me. I ate pancakes, and I ate pancakes. Then I ate some more pancakes. (If you’re familiar with the movie or book “Matilda,” perhaps imagine a situation figuratively similar to Bruce Bogtrotter eating the massive chocolate cake, but far less repulsive!) The blueberry pancakes were incredibly delicious. Grandpa finished his breakfast—what it was, I don’t remember exactly—and then he took bites of my remaining pancakes.

We couldn’t finish them.

We tried anyways, and a sizeable portion remained.

We were stuffed, and my mom is known for her Christmas goodies, so I don’t think we took them with us. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we took leftovers, which would in no way happen now. I’ve developed firm beliefs in not wasting any food if at all possible.

For years, we talked about the size of those pancakes and how grandpa and I couldn’t finish them together. It became food legend in our family, and I don’t think it will ever leave any of us.

My grandpa and grandma Quinn have passed on now. Grandpa died in 2013, and grandma passed away this year (October 2017). But they’ve supplied me with an estate of so many fond memories, including treating me to those blueberry pancakes.

On one recent morning, I had a hankering for blueberry pancakes. Maybe it was something grandpa and grandma put into my head from Heaven. So I got up and went for an extra long walk in my neighborhood to prepare myself, took a shower, got dressed and drove a mile up the road to The Pancake House. I sat down in a booth by myself, imagined grandma and grandpa side by side across from me, and I ordered a plate of two blueberry pancakes, a side of sausage links and coffee when the server arrived at my table.

For a half hour, I sat there slowly indulging in the pancakes and the memory of my childhood visit to the very same restaurant. This time, the pancakes didn’t seem quite as large, but then again I’ve grown much larger myself in the years since that adventurous day years ago. And somehow I remember the blueberries being cooked into the pancakes before, while these pancakes had a tasty blueberry compote on top. But with all of the differences between the memory of the past and the reality of the present, I still know grandpa and grandma were enjoying the Christmastime breakfast with me.

Foodie Travels: Black’s Grill, Cherryville, N.C.

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“Black’s Grill,” I would say as I answered the phone, pen poised in hand, ready to take another order. I’d write it down on a ticket pad, then tear it off and stick it above the main grill. Whoever was manning the grill would put on any necessary burgers and buns, and pass the ticket on down the line. As the fry cook, if I took the order, I’d go ahead and get the fries from the freezer and put them in the basket, to dip down into hot, yellow-brown oil.

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My two favorite parts of the job were the people and the free meal every day. The people I worked with at Black’s were there because they needed a job or wanted this particular one. Our boss, Barbara Hastings (who later passed it on to her son), was a phenomenal boss who cared just as much about her employees as she did her business. I think she knew it takes good, happy employees to make a good restaurant. My coworkers were like family to me. Those ladies taught me a lot about getting along with other people and caring. They had been through hard times, so they understood more than most people do. I wasn’t a rich kid, I was just trying to help make money for myself and for college. So I understood, too. I worked there for over two years, and those years at that job taught me more than many other jobs I have had. I learned hard work and I learned what kind of worker I was: someone who valued quality, attention to detail, and who would get things done when she saw they needed doing.

Today, I’m a schoolteacher and I don’t get to man the deep fryer anymore, or carry up large boxes full of fries from the basement. I don’t get to occasionally work the grill or dress the sandwiches. But I still go back to Cherryville from time to time to get a taste of that good old food so characteristic of my time there. And when I taste my first sip of a hand-crafted cherry lemon Sun-Drop, I know I’m in the right place.

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So what can you get at Black’s Grill? Oh, Lordy, where to start! Here are a few of my favorites. First, you have to get that cherry lemon Sun-Drop, because the waitress will make it with Sun-Drop, real cherry juice, a lemon, and cherries mixed in. It’s a powerfully refreshing drink. For food, Black’s has one of the best hamburgers in the world. Thick, perfectly-grilled, hand-pattied, juicy, hearty burgers with plenty of cheese on a toasted bun. We used to toast the buns with a thin layer of mayonnaise on the underside and lay ‘em straight on the grill. (Don’t tell my dad. He hates mayonnaise.) They have a mean hamburger steak, and another of my favorites is the grilled chicken melt: a grilled chicken breast on Texas toast with grilled onions and cheese. Get mayo, lettuce or any other toppings you like.

One good thing to know about Black’s: the default sandwich topping is slaw, tomato, pickle. I still go places and get slaw and tomato due to my love for it at Black’s. (They make slaw fresh every day, and there were quite a few times I made it myself. It’s a no-sugar slaw, just freshly chopped cabbage and plenty of cold mayo. It’s pert near perfect.) You can also get any number of other things like hotdogs, chicken patty sandwiches, corndogs, and more. They have a delicious Poorboy, ham and cheese on a hoagie bun, or Half and Half, ham and cheese on one half and a small cheeseburger on the other half of a hoagie bun.

Perhaps the king for me though is the grilled cheese. I’m serious. Black’s will trip you up because they have two versions: a toasted cheese and a grilled cheese. Be not fooled – they are not the same. A toasted cheese is your typical grilled cheese – cheese toasted between two slices of buttery bread. But a grilled cheese sandwich is another beast entirely. Here’s how it’s done: they take a fresh slice of American and plop it right on the grill, then put the bottom half of a hamburger bun on top of it upside down. They let the cheese cook and harden until it’s brown and crispy on one side, then use a spatula to scrape it up, while holding the bottom bun, then flip it right-side-up onto a sandwich paper. The sandwich dresser tops it with slaw, tomato, two small pickles, and salt and pepper, before capping it with its top bun. It’s then wrapped Black’s style. Let me tell you. I have never gotten a grilled cheese as good as this anywhere and my husband and I have eaten local food in more than 30 U.S. states. When you bite into that fresh, cool slaw and tomato, and taste it all mixed in with that crispy, toasted, melty cheese…there ain’t another taste like it. Even when I get another menu item, or even a basket, I get a grilled cheese to share with someone, too.

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Black’s famed Grilled Cheese

When you first walk into Black’s, you might feel a little out of place, or time. That’s because the people who go there are mostly regulars. But it won’t take long before you’re greeted and treated like family. And it won’t take long, if you live close by, before you’re a regular, too. I don’t live in Cherryville anymore, but I stop by when I can. It is always worth the stop. They’ve also done some snazzy retro redecorating inside and I must say, I really like it, from the Cherryville-themed mural to the antique fry baskets hanging on the walls holding ketchup packets and such. One word of warning: the parking lot and the dining room are cozy, so try to go at a less busy, less typically-lunch time of day.

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Thinking back to tickets, Black’s Grill was one of two food jobs I had where someone sent me home with order tickets before I started my first day. I was encouraged to study them and the menu to learn what was offered and how to write it. And study, I did. I was a nerdy kid. Today, I’m so glad I had that job, that when I walked in to meet Barbara for the first time, she was willing to give this homeschooled kid a chance, and that when I started to work there, I became a part of the Black’s Grill family. I miss those times. But what a blessing it is that Black’s Grill is still there – and hopping with business! – as a reminder of what’s important in life: treating people, and feeding people, right.

Black’s Grill, 1915 Lincolnton Highway, Cherryville, NC

Celebrating a #FoodieScore milestone

#FoodieScore celebration

Dear #FoodieScore Friends,

These words mark the 100th post here on #FoodieScore. Thank you for supporting us each and every day with your visits, your shares, your comments and your suggestions. You have allowed us to experience more great food than we ever imagined when we started this space.

#FoodieScore began more than two years ago with the sole idea of helping us organize favorite recipes we tried in our home kitchen. We cook often and just wanted a way to remember delicious simple dishes that we discovered. We had no idea so many people would be so kind by reading and sharing with other eaters. Several posts in particular seem to have deeply connected with fellow foodies, most of all our Mississippi Slug Burger, which astounds us when we see its thousands of views continue to climb.

The kind people in the state of Mississippi are a great example of the incredibly generous support we’ve received throughout these past couple years. When we began sharing restaurants in addition to recipes—and when we launched the #FoodieScore social media family on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—the folks in the Town of Holly Springs helped spread the word about our Foodie Travels series by sharing a piece on a visit to Phillips Grocery. We delight in every bite we enjoy, but it thrills us even more when we see others reminiscing about delicious food from the past or discovering a great meal for the first time.

To be honest, we are both humbled and proud to welcome those who come to #FoodieScore for recipe and restaurant suggestions. We take great pride in supporting the #EatLocal and #ShopLocal movements through our approach, which focuses more on sharing great food instead of critiquing anything less than stellar. But in an age of gimmicky marketing tactics everywhere we look, we are even prouder that you, dear friends, are what keep our food adventures alive and well. All our support has come from what marketing moguls might call “organic” generation, meaning we’ve done no paid advertising or sneaky shopping of personal information to get our #FoodieScore posts in front of your eyes. It’s all been old-fashioned foodie-friend support, and as we roll into the future, we will continue to share simple recipes and great restaurant finds with you, thankful that you share our joy in food so much you’ll continue to help spread the love.

And speaking of that future, we have a great plate of new features cooking up in the #FoodieScore kitchen that we’ll serve up soon. We spent a lot of time traveling America this summer, and that means we have some top-notch restaurant suggestions on the way. Our experiences also mean we’ll have quite a packed Best We Ate in 2017 coming out by year’s end. (Check out Best We Ate in 2016 here for a preview.) And just as we began, with recipes, we continue to cook up lots of tasty dishes with simple ingredients and directions, and you are on our mind with each bite. So keep joining us for dinner!…and breakfast…and lunch…and dessert.

In the meantime, be sure to check out our Foodie Travels map for ideas on where to eat when you’re on the road, or at home. You might have also noticed that we recently reorganized our archives into distinct Travels, sorted by state, and Recipes, sorted by dish type, sections to help you (and us!) more quickly search among all the great food!

So, thank you again from the bottom of our stomachs (and hearts). Your kindness to join us on this journey makes each #FoodieScore experience more flavorful.

Your Friends,

Matthew & Molly Tessnear

 

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Foodie Travels: Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream, Angier, N.C.

f4daf9ed20558c50ec3c10eeb341907eIf you haven’t yet discovered Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream in the North Carolina community of Angier (between Raleigh and Fayetteville), you’re missing out. Dozens of flavors await you, including some very creative options that you likely wouldn’t expect.

My first experience with Sunni Sky’s came about a dozen years ago while visiting a friend at nearby Campbell University. A group of us drove along the country roads of central North Carolina and over to the ice cream shop, where I had my first taste of pumpkin pie ice cream. And, boy, was it good!

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Photo: Sunni Sky’s Facebook page

That’s a pretty tame flavor compared to one of the shop’s most adventurous selections. How about ice cream with hot peppers and other sizzling ingredients? That’s the aptly named cold sweat, and it’s so fire-like that you can expect to sign a waiver if you want to consume a serving. The flavor is so “hot” that it’s garnered attention near and far for Sunni Sky’s.

Sunni Sky’s draws customers by the droves in the spring and summer months, so don’t expect to have this place all to yourself, especially on the busiest days. But while there’s not much standing room inside when the counter’s full, there are options to sit outside, or you can roll down the windows and take a seat in your car in the parking lot.

v67DMubcwVWAnzJMtqWmg_UQtkYpRC7VSx47f-gWCTcWhat makes an ice cream shop a winner for you? Maybe it’s the reasonable prices, the flavor selection, the consistency of the treat, or the small-town, family-friendly atmosphere. Or perhaps you like the opportunity to try as many flavors as you like to decide what you want to purchase. You’ll find all of those at Sunni Sky’s, which the owner named after his two children, Sunni and Skylar.

Take cash with you to Sunni Sky’s, and prepare your tastebuds. You’re in for quite an ice cream ride!

 

Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream

8617 State Highway 55, Angier, N.C.