Jim Romero — magic hands, magic pies
We headed for Jim Romero’s Jim’s Kountry Pies with visions of pies in our heads and an address in our GPS. After just a short drive from Abbeville, Louisiana, and Dupuy’s, our GPS proudly told us “here you are.” Um, no.
Jim’s was nowhere to be seen. Knowing we were defeated, we called Jim for directions. Fortunately for us, Jim answered even though it was his afternoon off. It turned out that we weren’t that far off. After just a bit more of a drive through interesting country, we pulled up in front of Jim’s.
Walking in the front door, it isn’t glass cases full of pies that tells you that you have achieved pie nirvana. It’s the very air that you are breathing. That air seems to be alive with the very essence of cinnamon, vanilla, fruit and browning dough.
Aside from the glorious air, there is nothing immediately impressive about Jim’s. A clean but plain waiting area, a counter at the prep area, a glimpse into the kitchen. While Jim packaged our order, he invited us to look more closely at the walls.
Business cards from across the country decorate the walls. One corner is filled with the “childhood” that Jim shared with his children. Newspaper and magazine articles are proudly displayed, including a piece by Pableaux Johnson. Johnson knows how good these pies are; they were served at his wedding.
Choosing which pie to order is a daunting task. When we arrived, a close friend of Jim’s was there. The friend, a prominent local attorney, offered to help us make our decision. We were glad for the help, but what we got instead was typical lawyering as our pie (singular) choice turned into two pies, a cheesecake, two tarts, and half a dozen pralines. Well, we aren’t really complaining. If our attorney turned a suspended sentence into 25-to-life, maybe, but for ending up with an armload of beautiful and delicious pies, we can live with that.
Miraculously, we arrived home only one tart short. After checking on our animals, we headed out for an informal dinner party with some Slow Food Memphis friends. Unsurprisingly, we (or at least our pies) were warmly greeted.
We had chosen a coconut cream pie, like we had at our wedding reception, a pecan pie, and a cherry cheesecake. It was fun to poll our friends and see which they liked best. True to their foodie natures, nearly everyone tried all three pies. The result of our poll was pretty much a tie.
The coconut was rich and creamy with a fluffy and beautifully toasted meringue. The pecan was a gooey praline treat that was absolutely decadent. Both of these pies used Jim’s sweet pastry crust that he makes by hand in small batches. This crust is flaky, moist and the perfect vessel for transporting pie filling into your mouth. The cheesecake was sinfully rich and topped with a layer of sweetened sour cream and cherries. The secret is in not eating it the same day Jim makes it, we were told. You need to let cheesecake sit for a day or so to let the moisture out. You’ll know it’s ready when the crust pulls away from the side of the pan. It was ready and it was wonderful. Squirrelly, Jr., is a huge cheesecake fan, and he declared this to be the best ever.
I would love to make a return trip soon. Of course, I want to buy more pies, but more than that, I want to learn Jim’s secrets. Jim talks about serving so many customers who exclaim that his pies are just like their grandmother’s. They often lament not having learned their grandmother’s secrets.
Jim is less than sympathetic to these folks. “They say, ‘I watched her make pies. I always meant to ask for her recipe.’ I always think, ‘no, you just never spent time with her. That’s all she wanted. That’s why she showed you things, to get you to spend time with her. You just never put forth the effort.'”
My own grandmother died before I was old enough to learn much more than picking worms off the tomato plants. My mother never learned those recipes, those techniques. I see her regret often. That’s why I am so glad to have such good food friends. We have so much to share with one another. If only we make the time.
If Jim has the time for teaching, I will gladly make the time to go back. And if he doesn’t have time, I’ll still go back. Nothing tops off a bowl of gumbo quite like a slice of that pie.
Jim’s Kountry Pies
3606 Romero Rd
Jim’s is easy to get to, but call for directions and to be sure he’ll be there.