I'll Bite

Chapel Hill’s Bill Smith comes to The Asbury for dinner

The Asbury in the Dunhill Hotel in uptown Charlotte has been hosting collaborative dinners with other N.C. chefs this summer, including Keith Rhodes of Wilmington. On Monday, the visitor was chef Bill Smith Jr. of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill.

The theme was Watermelon + Gin, with a lineup of both chefs’ favorites. For a crowd of 50 diners, they came up with clever ways to work in the theme, such as Coleman’s sprinkling of pickled watermelon rind on his marinated, fried chicken thighs and Smith’s old family favorite, Watermelon and Tomato Salad.

The dinner ended, of course, with Smith’s famous Atlantic Beach Pie, a North Carolina beach town classic with a saltine cracker crust. That’s the pie that’s been written about everywhere, including here in The Observer. For the occasion, Smith topped it with a salty/sweet watermelon relish. Trust me, it was better than it sounds.

Here’s my video of the occasion if you want to dine along in your head.

Next up in the collaborative-dinner series: A beer dinner on Aug. 12 featuring NoDa Brewing. Details.

While you’re waiting, here is Smith’s recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie.

Atlantic Beach Pie

Crust:

1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter

Filling:

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, or a combination

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust, using a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press firmly into an 8-inch pie pan.

Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes, or until the crust is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool while you make the filling. (It doesn't need to be completely cool or cold.)

Place the sweetened, condensed milk in a mixer and beat in the egg yolks, then the lemon juice. Beat well, until completely combined. Pour into the saltine crust and return to the oven. Bake for 16 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from oven and cool, then refrigerate until completely chilled.

Whip cream and spread over the pie. (If you're going to keep the pie around for a couple of days, wait until serving to top it, or keep the whipped cream separately and use it as a garnish.) Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Yield: 1 pie.

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