HARKERS ISLAND — The summer edition of Taste of Core Sound returned Friday and attendees got to weigh in on a long-held pie rivalry.

Despite the winter edition of the event being held in Morehead City due to hurricane damage to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, the summer edition returned to the facility Friday due to hard work, organizers said.

“We are so glad that you are here,” the museum’s Executive Director Karen Amspacher told the crowd. “You are in a miracle building that is cleaned and wiped and usable.”

The museum is still undergoing repairs and officials hope to be open to the public as usual by Easter.  

Continuing the tradition of Taste of Core Sound, those who attended were treated to a decadent, six-course meal prepared by Chef Bill Smith, formerly of Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill.

The meal consisted of Core Sound Hancock salad, Bill Neal’s Pamlico Sound shrimp and grits, cold fried chicken and traditional collard greens, hot fried fish and cold summer succotash, Mr. Smith’s crab stew and, the stars of the show, Atlantic Beach pie and Down East milk pie.

Mr. Smith said he used the area as inspiration for the meal.

“We tried to get things that were typical of food Down East,” Mr. Smith said. “I think they really hit that mark. That fried chicken and fried fish was good. The stew crab is something I grew up with Shrimp and grits is what Crook’s Corner is known for and everyone asks for that. We have a lot of good seafood down here.”

Ryan Stancil, one of the event’s co-organizers, introduced Mr. Smith to the crowd after the meal was finished.

“When Karen asked us to introduce Bill tonight, my first thought was someone like Bill Smith needs no introduction,” Mr. Stancil said. “Bill is a legend in his own right. He is an incredible chef. He is a steward of Southern food ways and he is, perhaps, Karen Amspacher’s arch nemesis.”

Mr. Stancil was speaking of the great pie debate.

Atlantic Beach and Harkers Island have a long-running rivalry over pie, as it happens.

Harkers Island pie is made with a Ritz cracker crust and a meringue topping, a specialty of Ms. Amspacher.

“I was joking with Baxter (Miller) and I said on the eighth day God created Down East. On the ninth day, Down Easters created Harkers Island lemon milk pie. And then Bill Smith abominated that pie and made the Atlantic Beach pie,” Mr. Stancil said.

Mr. Smith told the crowd the story of how the Atlantic Beach pie, arguably the more well-known of the two, came to be and tried to defend himself.

“That stupid pie. Let me just say what happened with this pie,” Mr. Smith said. “I didn’t set out to cause trouble. Three hundred chefs were coming to North Carolina to study barbecue and they wanted one night that wasn’t barbecue. They called me. For dessert I thought about the pie.

“I got some church cookbooks and went online and called a few restaurants. I put together this recipe and without giving it any thought. It’s got saltine crackers because that’s what was in my kitchen, it doesn’t have meringue because after I served it for this event, I found it was so easy and so good that I started to serve it at the restaurant. Meringue doesn’t last very well beyond the first day. It shrinks and sweats. I didn’t want that on top of my pie.

“I thought we would just do whipped cream. I didn’t give it a thought.”

After an NPR interview, Mr. Smith’s pie recipe became public, and that’s when he started getting phone calls.

“‘What did you do with all those egg whites?’ ‘Did you waste those egg whites?’ ‘Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone? It was fine like it was.’ ‘Mamma always used Ritz crackers.’ That is how all this started. It was an accident,” Mr. Smith said. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”

The pinnacle event of Friday evening was pie tasting, pitting Mr. Smith’s famed Atlantic Beach pie against the Down East dessert that, legend has it, started it all — Harkers Island milk pie.

The crowd got a chance to vote for their favorite pie by round of applause, naturally.

The result was a tie. We may never know which pie is better.

Contact Megan Soult at 252-726-7081, ext. 228; email megan.soult@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @meganCCNT.

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