Update: Lester’s Diner (sadly) was sold in July 2011. Read the details here.
One thing’s for sure. June Shape (my mom) loved chess pie. And she especially loved the one they made at Lester’s Diner.
Lester’s Diner was to folks in Bryan, Ohio and the surrounding area what the Whistle Stop Cafe was to folks in Fried Green Tomatoes…an iconic hometown dining institution, coffee shop, gossip stop and place of food worship that makes life in a small town totally worth living.
Don’t know if it’s true or not but according to a post on Alicehyatt.com “Mel’s Diner in Phoenix originally opened in 1963 under the name Lester’s Diner, named for it’s owner Lester Bammesberg. This is the same owner as the restuarants in both Bryan, OH and Fort Lauderdale, FL. This explains the similarities, as Mel’s was a takeoff of the original Lester’s.“
Having grown up in Bryan, June loved her 65 mile Waterville-Bryan treks to visit family, drive by the old haunts, replace grave site flowers and stop at Lester’s Diner for lunch and a piece of Lester’s Diner chess pie. I always had the rhubarb and couldn’t understand why anyone would pick something as “plain” looking as chess pie.
If I had a choice today between winning the lottery and having a day in Bryan and lunch at Lester’s Diner with June, I’d definitely pick the day with June.
I have no idea what year it got published, but many years ago the Toledo Blade published the recipe for Chester’s Diner Chess Pie. I swear they must have done it just for June…she was that much of a fan. She clipped the recipe, added it to her chess pie recipe collection and swore to the chess pie gods it was the best one in the entire world and possibly the universe. She was ecstatic to finally see the holy grail of chess pie recipes in print.
I dug it out last week and made it for the first time. It wasn’t my fault. A chess pie fan at the office has been egging me on to make it for months (It just so happens to be her favorite pie, too). I cut a “sample” slice while it was still warm to see what all the fuss was about and had a total OMG moment. No wonder June loved it so much. It’s a silky, sweet custard confection that makes your mouth feel like it’s somewhere between heaven and paradise.
You’ve absolutely got to try it. Don’t wait as long as I did. And if you’re afraid to make your own crust from scratch, just grab one of those ready made ones from the freezer section. No one will even know the difference. Here’s a more readable (and printable) recipe.