Taff Mayberry: Lucy’s pie guy

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.25.12
A few weeks back, Cecilia Nasti invited me on her radio show “Field and Feast” to talk about pie. We talked about road trips to Marble Falls and Round Top and Manor, but when the conversation turned toward home, it turned to Lucy’s Fried Chicken, where I’d eaten Sweet Tea Pie, dodging forks like swordplay with my kids.
Sweet Tea Pie at Lucy’s is an old-fashioned chess pie, dense and sugary, with a little bite of bitter and a bright spark of lemon, just like its namesake drink. The man behind that pie is Taff Mayberry, the pastry chef for the upscale South Austin bistro Olivia and by extension Lucy’s, which is chef-owner James Holmes’ down-home projection of his brand.
I talked with Mayberry about his career, about the audacity of the $27 pie and translating restaurant recipes for the home cook. He shared the recipe for that Sweet Tea Pie, and I learned a few things about baking as I watched 11 egg yolks from HausBar Farms and three sticks of butter fall apart like a broken heart. But this is Taff Mayberry’s story.
Fed Man Walking: It’s possible that I liked your desserts at Shoreline Grill more than I liked the main courses when I ate there in 2009. You joined Olivia in late 2009. Why move from a 20-year institution to a relatively new place like Olivia?
Taff Mayberry: I had been at Shoreline for four-plus years, which is an eternity in kitchen-speak. I had known about Olivia because of the whole Best New Restaurants 2009 from Bon Appetit. And I’d eaten here before it got hot. The place was gorgeous, great service, the food was amazing and people were talking. I staged over here a couple of times and hoping I could make a move. I’ve been here for over two years now, and it’s been great.
Of course, we got the news that Shoreline was going to close at the end of January.
That’s disappointing. I wish those guys only the best. What’s really tough in this economic climate is there’s going to be 40, 60 people that are going to be looking for jobs, and that’s tough. The Weinbergers and the Weisses are really good folks. I spent four years of my life there. I really grew as a chef and as a cook and as a coordinator of the culinary arts, so it’s tough to hear.
Whose idea was it to do pies at Lucy’s? I mean full, traditional pies and not pie bites or miniatures or fried pies?
I had actually read a few articles about upcoming food trends. Again going back to the economy. It seemed to be matriculating more toward comfort food, more toward soul food and the expanding or boutique-ing of that. Pies are going to be hot. And James turns around and not too long after that says, “I just bought this new spot, and we’re going to be able to have this joint.” He’s been talking about doing a Lucy’s Fried Chicken for years, and we all thought it was pie-in-the-sky (pardon the expression). And sure enough, he pulled the trigger and did it. And anyway, it was like, “Let’s do pies. Let’s do it. It’s going to be hot. They’re going to be great. They’re old-school, and if we take old-school recipes and apply it boutique-style, with boutique ingredients, we can do something really cool.”
You have shoo-fly pie, key lime, sweet-tea, apple. S’mores satisfies the chocolate quota. You could have done pecan or tackled meringue. How do you curate that list?
I gave him a list of 30, 40 or 50 pies or something and he picked a couple of them out and we started going at it. It’s just like any menu, in theory. You want to be able to please most people, but you also want to be recognizable. And you want it to be delicious. To satisfy my old-school craving, shoo-fly was right up there. S’mores is something that I’ve kind of messed around with in the past. I would have leftover Swiss meringue, which is like marshmallow, and I’d just toss it with some graham cracker crumbs and some chocolate and kind of brulee it and serve it as family meal dessert. Apple is very classic. The Sweet Tea is a cool story. James’ mom gave me that recipe. What struck me was the cornmeal. It looked like an old-school classic chess pie.
Seems like the farther out from Austin you go, the taller the meringue gets. Does meringue have an inferiority complex?
I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. I know back home in Georgia, you get a lemon meringue pie and you’re going to have an inch of lemon and three to four inches of meringue. In my eyes, I want everything to be in balance. If there’s too much meringue, back it off.
Is there meringue in Lucy’s future?
The S’mores pie, the topping on that is a twist on Swiss meringue. So it actually is a meringue. I brulee it off and make sure it’s got that consistency of marshmallow and holds its shape. But it technically is a meringue.
Defend the $27.50 pie at Lucy’s. Which is, by the way, not the most expensive pie you can get, even in Austin.
First of all, boutique ingredients. We’re using real butter. We’re using real fruit. We’re not using Cool Whip. There are no corners cut. You’re familiar with restaurants. 33 cents of every dollar goes to food cost. That being said, it’s a 10-inch pie. Not a lot of people do 10-inch pies. Usually you find your eights, your nines. It’s a good offering. It’s well worth it.
(Pie photo by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking. Taff Mayberry photo courtesy of Lucy's/Olivia.)