Tomato Pie! That delicious, delightful taste sensation that has become so popular throughout the South. I was introduced to tomato pie at The Moose Café located on a hilltop outside Ashville, North Carolina. My husband and I were visiting friends who escape the heat of their bayside home in Pensacola by spending their summer months in Ashville. After the obligatory, yet fascinating, tour of Biltmore, we decided to do some further sight-seeing in the area. While driving and admiring the lovely countryside our friends recommended The Moose Cafe for lunch. Well, that certainly sounded different so my husband and I eagerly agreed.
Upon arrival, the situation was both good and bad. Good because the parking lot was almost full – which meant it was a popular eating spot so the food must be good. Bad because it was a popular eating spot and would be filled with hungry diners – which meant an undoubtedly long wait to be seated. Then another long wait for our food.
There was a short wait, but that was fine with me because I could browse around the store and check out the items for sale. Their famous apple butter is a huge seller. We were seated sooner than we thought possible. Our waiter took our orders, and we received our food rather quickly. It was then that I noticed The Moose Café has a huge wait staff so no one has to wait long for anything. The kitchen must have a colossal staff as well, for our fried chicken, chicken and dumplings and fresh vegetables from the nearby farmer’s market were freshly prepared, warm and tasty. Oh, my aching stomach! There were large servings of all the food. It would likely take a lumberjack to eat all the meal plus the dessert. Of course, the biscuits and apple butter provided to each table is devoured with great gusto prior to the arrival of the entrees.
Oh, the tomato pie! Our hosts ordered it and suggested we do the same. I’m a complete convert to The Moose Café tomato pie. It is a luscious, layered slice of goodness on a plate! From the crisp crust (yes, the bottom crust was crisp) to the filling of fresh sliced tomatoes, to the topping of cheese and all the secret ingredients inside all three distinctive layers, this tomato pie was superb.
Eating that pie brought back such wonderful memories of my childhood when oodles of sun-ripened tomatoes, some split with the tangy juices easing down their sides, were laid out on newspapers on our back porch, waiting for Mama to finish canning the first batch before starting on this one. Then it was back to the tomato patch to pick even more. I loved to squeeze the juice from the oozing, overripe ones into a cup for a drink of pure tomato essence.
I’ve tried tomato pie since then with varying degrees of satisfaction. The Tomato Café in Havana, Florida, located just south of the FL/GA line and near to Tallahassee, serves it, but on my one try I found it to be soggy. I would guess this was due to microwaving to reheat it. The Spring Creek restaurant in Wakulla County, FL serves it both as an appetizer and as an entrée. I tried the appetizer and wished I’d ordered the meal. It was the real deal and very similar to that served at The Moose Café.
I left Spring Creek vowing to learn to make it myself. I searched for recipes and wound up discarding many before settling on a simple one offered by Paula Deen, a recipe that had received five stars from voters who had tried it (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/tomato-pie-recipe/index.html). It is indeed, a five-star recipe. Baking the crust first and slicing, salting and draining the tomatoes are musts. Sealing the edges of the pie with the cheese mixture topping, just like sealing a cream pie with meringue, is essential. I baked it longer than noted because the cheesy top must brown to a glorious golden color. I cooled the pie and dished it up to my husband and a friend who had accompanied me to The Tomato Café where we had not been impressed with their version.
Wow! Instant love! We three took bites of our tomato pie and moaned in true appreciation. I’ve made it since and have learned valuable lessons. I repeat – you MUST thoroughly drain the tomatoes or you WILL have a watery crust, even if it was crisply baked when you started putting together the pie. The seasonings mainly consist of fresh shredded and chopped basil, green onions and salt. You taste the goodness of the ripe tomatoes, the sweet tang of the basil and the mouth-watering baked cheese. My last pie was hurried and wasn’t so perfect. I guess I need to go back to The Moose Café and get recharged.
The address is: 570 Brevard Rd., Ashville, NC, 28806. I suggest you visit this wonderful restaurant and order anything you like off the menu. It is certain to be delicious. And DO order the tomato pie. You’ll be delighted you did. http://eatatthemoosecafe.com/