My husband is a huge fan of banana cream pie. Out of all the pies in all the world, banana cream pie is, by far, his favorite. However, not just any pie will do. As a self-described aficionado, he has some very specific criteria for his banana creams. First, the pie can have a regular pastry crust or a graham cracker one, but it must be really freakin’ good. Homemade is preferred because he likes his crust to have a flaky texture and/or buttery taste. The pudding part must be rich and well, creamy. Instant pudding mix will just not do. There should be an ample layer of bananas sandwiched between the two pudding layers, sliced thick enough for a solid mouthful. And the cream topping should be fresh and a mile high.
Whenever we’re in a restaurant that features pie on the menu, M will inevitably choose the banana cream. He’ll dig into the pie with gusto, ever hopeful that this time, the criteria will be fully met. Usually, he encounters sub-par desserts, but every once in a while, he’ll be blown away.
The last time that happened was at the Red Arrow diner in Milford, N.H., a 24-hour dive about an hour and a half from our home. It’s one of the only all-night restaurants in the state, so we try to make the trip a couple times a year. The Red Arrow pie is sublime. Rich, buttery, flaky, banana-y goodness topped with a snow-peaked mountain of whipped cream. Truly delicious.
After my first taste of the Red Arrow pie, I embarked on a culinary journey to replicate it at home. Numerous less-than-successful attempts later, and I finally nailed it. Each ingredient was carefully chosen, and every step of the recipe was carefully followed in order to create a dessert truly worth of the time and effort it took to create. (One caveat: The cream topping was not quite as high as the Red Arrow’s but only because too much cream would keep the pie from fitting properly in our Tupperware holder. Still, my version was pretty damn good, and now he’s always thrilled when I make one.)
Yesterday, M had what could arguably be called the worst piece of banana cream pie he’s ever tasted. The crust was so white and flat, it had clearly not been parbaked. The pudding and banana mixture was mealy. And the cream topping was still indented by whatever cover had been placed on it before the whole disaster was frozen. It was still half-frozen when served to him.
As the waitress placed the pie on the table, she proudly proclaimed it to be the last slice in the place — as if it was so outrageously good that all the rest of the slices had been consumed with gusto. I ate one bite and put down my fork. He somehow managed to swallow a few bites more but the entire time, his mouth was turned downward, which made him resemble the Grumpy Cat of meme-fame. This pie was so foul that M left the restaurant and went to both a convenience store and a nearby bakery, looking for something, anything, to take the awful taste out of his mouth.
Needless to say, we won’t be returning to that diner any time soon.