Yesterday we had National Creamsicle Day, an improbable dessert that mixed the creamy dairy-ness of vanilla ice cream with the sweet citrus of an orange popsicle. And today is also another unlikely candidate for a sweet, well-loved dessert: lemon curd. Just the sound of something like “lemon curd” makes your mouth pucker up unpleasantly! But it’s not as sour or unpalatable as you’d think from the name. And it’s one of the main components of today’s national food holiday: lemon meringue pie! The other–besides the shortbread crust–is the meringue, a fluffy, impossibly light concoction that is, surprisingly, composed almost entirely of egg whites, whipped and beaten until they form stiff, white peaks of fluffiness. (There’s also sugar involved, of course. Let’s be honest there’s always sugar involved.) The lemon curd takes the yolks of those egg whites, mixes them with lemon juice and zest (…and sugar), and a starch, and makes a thick, sturdy pudding out of the ingredients. The pie itself takes the meringue and layers it atop the curd–usually in pretty peak designs if you’ve got the baking flair–and bakes it all in the oven until the curd is set and the meringue puffs up and browns at the ends, making for a deliciously sweet and tart, beautiful lemon meringue pie!
Anyone who’s made a lemon meringue pie from scratch–or just read that last paragraph, lol–can see the many places where one may go wrong in preparing a perfect pie. The meringue can be whipped too much, so it collapses when you put it in the oven. The starch you use in the lemon curd can turn it into a gluey goop instead of a velvety smooth custard. And, let’s not forget, the sugar: any deviation in the amount you need to use and you could end up with a burned, sour lump in your oven. Which is why lemon meringue pie, as simple as it looks, is incredibly difficult to master, and many restaurants will overlook the dessert classic and make something less temperamental.
But not the North End Grill! Named after North End Street in Battery Park City (obviously not the north end of the city by any stretch), this restaurant is bold in flavor and big in the guts department, boasting a menu that’s untethered by a regional cuisine (the menu offers both pumpkin-crab soup and a bacon-shrimp burger, WOW) and goes whole-hog on inventiveness. It’d be weird to see such a classic dessert like lemon meringue pie on their menu, if you didn’t know how difficult it can really be to perfect it. And that’s certainly what they do: their lemon curd is tart yet sweet and smooth, and the meringue is cooked to perfection. They don’t skimp on the curd, either, so you don’t get a ton of fluff and none of the tang. Because if you just wanted a sweet slice of pie, order just the meringue! Even one slice of this pie is massive, so make sure you leave extra space in your stomach for dessert when you order.
North End Grill
104 N End Ave (at Vesey St)
“When a dish is surrounded by quite a bit of hype, it can be a bit of a letdown when you actually try it. Thankfully we can report that 30 Under 30 honoree Alexandra Ray’s lemon meringue pie at North End Grill doesn’t disappoint. Given that the proportions can be tough to nail, it’s not commonly found (or in our case, eaten), but despite the visual, the concentrated tang of the lemon filling balances well with the tall, airy meringue, and the addition of candied almonds provides a pleasant crunch.”–Zagat
“Lemon meringue pie is often distinguished by the disproportionate ratio of fluff to lemon curd. North End Grill’s excellent version lives up to the hype (and height).”–Bloomberg
“Lemon Meringue Pie at North End Grill: The desserts are fairly classic at Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz’s new Financial District eatery, with a fine lemon chiffon number. A nicely tart curd rests under a pillow of fluffy meringue, garnished with candied almonds on the side.”–Village Voice
“The pie hews closely to the classic recipe. The craftsmanship shows up in the details: how finely Ms. Ray hones the sweet-sour edge in the lemon filling; how crisp she gets the crust without resorting to loads of sugar; how tall and soft she gets the meringue by adding the sugar very slowly to beaten egg whites.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“For dessert, of course one of us got the Butterscotch Pot de Creme, and it was probably our favorite dish of the night. Salted caramel with butterscotch pudding and chocolate crumble — winning combination. My husband loved the tartness of the lemon meringue pie.”–Victoria R.
“I moved on to dessert with no hard feelings. Thank goodness for that. The lemon meringue pie was one of the best I’ve ever had. The scotch selection was to die for. Well done and let’s hope the chef can take feedback on the scallop sauce w aplomb.”–Samantha S.
The North End Grill, while serving a expertly-made lemon meringue pie, admittedly may be a little too rich for my blogging blood: we can’t all shell out $75 per person for dinner every time we get a hankering for lemon meringue. So what do you do when you’ve got the national food holiday craving but your wallet just doesn’t agree? Well, does $2.50 sound much better to you? It does to me!
That’s how much the lemon meringue donut at the aptly named Dough bakery costs. For less than 1/3 of the price of North End Grill’s pie, you get yourself a meringue-topped donut that tastes just like the real thing. The donut is filled with tart, creamy lemon curd, and they don’t skimp on the lemon flavor; this is no Bavarian cream with a tiny bit of lemon zest added to the batch. You really get the sour-sweet kick of the curd as you dig into the donut, which is topped with stiff, high peaks of freshly made meringue. It’s even browned just like a real lemon meringue pie would be in the oven! I don’t know how they get it like that–whether they cook it all prepared together, like the genuine article, or they brown the meringue with a blowtorch after baking–but either way, it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a bit messier than a fork-and-knife slice of pie, but when something tastes this good, you enjoy getting a little messy!
It’s incredibly fitting that all the reviews I’ve found for the North End Grill’s pie came from high-end newspapers and blogs, while Dough’s got the backing of personal foodie blogs and the population at large. North End Grill might make the perfect high-class lemon meringue pie, but everyone else is nomming on Dough’s donut!
305 Franklin Ave, Bedford Stuyvesant
“I picked at a few (all amazing) before getting bold and going for the Lemon Meringue and OH MY GOD YOU GUYS. It’s a fluffy yeast donut filled with tangy lemon curd and topped with a giant dollop of toasty-topped meringue. I am a fierce partisan of Bomboloni’s Toasted Marshmallow and their Raspberry, but Melissa was right: the Lemon Meringue was unreal. I have to call it the day’s Best In Show.”–Tara Ariano
“Lemon Meringue ($2.50) was, without a doubt, my favorite. This was a doughnut of excess. The doughnut was crowned with torched, spiky peaks of sweet meringue (think sticky toasted marshmallows), and inside…a great gushing amount of sweet, tart, eggy lemon filling. No complaints with this doughnut at all. It was a bit hard to eat with so much going on (meringue nose is guaranteed), but it’s a problem I’d eagerly tackle again.”–Bionic Bites
“The lemon meringue donut is basically a handheld cake and is one of the few filled donuts that they offer. It is topped with meringue and they actually take a torch giving that characteristic toasted meringue. The lemon curd was balanced and perfectly tart. I almost feel weird calling this a donut because this donut tasted better than lemon meringue pies I have ate and the amount of effort to create such a donut handheld treat is a true mark of quality and high standards.”–Om Nomz Hero
“My favorite doughnut of the afternoon was Kara’s lemon meringue ($2.50), which was filled with lemon curd and topped with caramelized meringue peaks. It was a splendid mouthful of soft dough, fruity curd, and sweet meringue—doughnut perfection. I am passionate about doughnuts, and Dough did not disappoint. I could taste the love with every bite I took. A subway ride to Clinton Hill will be a requisite activity on every future New York City vacation. It’s the right thing to do.”–Gastronomy Blog
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Lemon Meringue – Picture a lemon meringue pie that has been made into a donut. They 100% nailed it, but a little more lemon filling on the inside would’ve been nice, especially with how large the donuts are.”–John-Paul P.
“So, I finally got to eat one of their lemon meringue donuts. Now, I love love love me some lemon donuts, but the meringue part gave me pause. As it turns out, I guess I don’t like crappy meringue, but Dough’s meringue is frigging delightful. Fluffy and a little marshmallowy — and that’s not even the best part. The lemon curd inside it… OMG THE LEMON CURD. Now I know why they’ve been all out of these donuts every other time I’ve been here.”–Kooky R.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!