The legend of Atlantic Beach Pie


There’s an old legend in the South, specifically in North Carolina, that if you had dessert after a big seafood meal, you’d fall ill. Some recounts of this bit of lore even claim diners would drop dead if they dared to sneak a slice of something as sweet as chocolate cake after a seafood dinner. Apparently sugar and grouper just don’t mix.

But there was an exception to this rule—a dessert that would satisfy any post-dinner sweet cravings without egregious side effects. Atlantic Beach Pie with a lemon filling akin to that of key lime pie, a saltine cracker crust, and meringue topping was that exception. It’s tangy, salty, and just barely sweet. And all the seafood restaurants along the coast served it around the 1950s. Why it was OK to eat this pie is unclear. Maybe it’s the lemon? Or the fact that the crust is salty and savory? Who knows? (And, honestly, who cares now? We’re just happy Atlantic Beach Pie exists!)

This old school Southern pie has been revived to cult popularity in the last few years, its reach expanding beyond the borders of North Carolina (it’s even a regular at Martha Stewart’s dinner parties). The pie’s comeback is largely thanks to chef Bill Smith of famed Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Smith, whose restaurant has been recognized as an American classic by the James Beard Foundation, is known for bringing fresh life into found Southern recipes. Atlantic Beach Pie (a pie, Smith quipped in Our State magazine, that could be the death of him for its sheer popularity) is one such dish.

A few years ago, Smith was asked to teach a group of chefs and food writers about eastern North Carolina food traditions. He immediately thought of lemon pie, developed his own recipe (subbing whipped cream for meringue), and served it to 600 guests at the conference. It was such a hit, he brought it back to his restaurant where you’ll still find it on his menu.


We’re paying homage to this bright and tart pie with our own version—sweet cream ice cream swirled with homemade lemon pudding and buttery, saltine cracker gravel. Our Atlantic Beach Pie ice cream hits all the notes of the classic pie: sweet, tart, citrusy, salty. And it’s part of our Early Summer Collection: five flavors we think tell a bit of the American story.