Classic key lime pie, perfectly complemented with silky coconut flavored whipped cream.
Comfortably Domestic Confession: I was well into my twenties before I’d ever sampled classic key lime pie. I know. I know! How does any self respecting, self professed Pie Girl live for over two decades without ever trying the southern classic?
The short answer? I have no idea. The longer explanation? Coming from a long line of pie lovers, my family adores the idea of a slice of pie after a good meal. Only we’re fruit pie kind of folk. No one in my ancestral gene pool has ever been known to pass up a fat slice of my favorite cherry pie, nor a hearty helping of mile high apple pie.
The only explanation I have for never catching so much as even a whiff of classic key lime pie in my formative years is that custard pies just weren’t on the radar. Michigan is rife with orchards and berry farms. Fruit pies are our thang. (Misspelling quite intentional to reflect requisite sass.)
Thankfully, I was finally introduced to the southern classic one night when I ended up kind of stranded in a what was considered to be a fairly sketchy neighborhood. Wait. What?!
See, I was driving home from a night class in the city when I ran over some road debris. POW! Whatever it was caused one of my tires to explode and hemorrhage air at an alarming rate. I was driving through what was considered a terrible area for a woman to be travelling alone in, especially with a compromised vehicle. Without a cell phone. Back then, cell phones were brick-like things that only celebrities bothered toting around. I limped onto the nearest exit ramp and prayed for the best.
My prayer was soon answered when I approached the top of the ramp and spied a blue neon sign beckoning, City Bar-B-Q. I was also ravenously hungry, so I took it as a sign that I was meant to stop. Once inside, I was greeted by two picnic tables covered in red and white checked plastic, and two stools at the carry out counter. The place was tiny!
Behind the counter was a larger-than-life man sporting a huge grin. He wore a chef coat that was more barbecue sauce in color than it was white, with the name Chef Larry embroidered on the pocket. Before I could speak, Chef Larry let out a big laugh that honestly made me jump a little. He said, “Giiirrrrrl! I just know you’ve got to be lost!” in a slow southern drawl that instantly made me feel safe. I couldn’t help but laugh in response!
Here was a man that was obviously raised in the south, telling me I was the one that was lost for stumbling into his rib joint in the north.
I explained to Chef Larry what had happened and asked to borrow a flashlight, all the while he smiled and nodded as he slapping together a mounding basket of barbecue. When I’d finished my story, Chef Larry slid the plate in front of me with a chuckle and said, “Girl! You sit tight and best eat up! This one’s on me. Your skinny self doesn’t look like you’ve had a proper supper in months!”
He then called his son, Little Larry, out of the back and asked him to see about changing the tire for me. Being an independent woman, I tried to protest and insist that I all I needed was that flashlight so I could change the tire myself. Both Chef Larry and Little Larry roared with such a laughter that I knew the argument was over. I just shut up and ate my barbecue. That was some of the best barbecue that I’d ever tasted then or since. Chef Larry clearly had a way with a smoker and rib sauce.
At about the point that my once heaping basket held nothing but a pile of bones, Little Larry returned and announced his tire changing success. He came in brandishing the rather large roofing nail that caused the blowout that had brought us together that night. I thanked him whilst unashamedly licking every last bit of sauce from my fingertips. I was a class act, even then!
I then turned my attention back to Chef Larry to gush over his amazing barbecue. He chuckled a bit while shaking his head and saying,
“Well if you like my food so much, then you’d best top it off with a slice of my grandmama’s classic key lime pie!”
I’m certainly not one to pass up a slice of pie–especially if it’s a slice of somebody’s grandmama’s pie. One bite that that tart, creamy key lime custard, and I was instantly smitten. The fact that the pie was slathered in a hefty layer of coconut flavored whipped cream about made my eyes roll back in my head with sheer joy.
Chef Larry went on to tell me that he was raised by his grandmama, who always told him that he was special, that he could do anything he wanted to do in life, and that he shouldn’t listen to anyone that told him any different. His grandmama worked hard to support he and his three brothers. She even took an extra job–for a total of three–in order to pay his way through culinary school. He told me that no matter how tired his grandmama was, she was always sure to have one of her key lime pies in the refrigerator so that he and his brothers would be able to have a slice to “top off” their supper.
I honestly thank God to this day for putting me on the path to meet Chef Larry. From that point on, I spent every Thursday night for the better part of a year with Chef Larry at City Bar-B-Q. Little Larry always greeted me in the parking lot to see that I was safely escorted into the restaurant. Chef Larry always greeted me with a heaping basket of his famous ribs. We swapped stories or talked current events, as friends do. Often times it was Chef Larry and Little Larry that critiqued my upcoming presentations or helped me study my notes before a test.
No matter the evening’s topic, I never left without enjoying a slice of his grandmama’s classic key lime pie.
I was shocked the day that my friend told me that he was going to move back to Alabama to be closer to his grandmama. Her health was declining and although she insisted that he not “close up shop just to make a fuss over an old woman,” he knew that it was time for him to go. “Who knows?” he said. “When things settle down, I might just open up another rib joint!” So with a big bear hug and a few tears shed by all, I wished Chef Larry well on his new adventure.
My Classic Key Lime Pie with Coconut Whipped Cream is a tribute to the sweet man and his son that made a girl stranded in the wrong part of town feel like family.
I often wonder if Chef Larry ever opened up that rib joint. I sure do hope that he did.