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KEO -- A justly famous piece of pie is well worth a 25-mile road trip. That's about the distance from downtown Little Rock to Keo, where Charlotte's Eats & Sweets purveys its dessert delicacies and other lunch fare.

First-time patrons should be aware of two facts: It's wise to order your pie or cake at the outset with the rest of lunch, because the desserts go fast. And no credit cards are taken, so take cash or a checkbook.

Signs in each of the two decor-packed dining rooms list the pies and cakes available that day, priced at $4.75 per slice. That may seem a bit steep, but it's a splurge well worth making, especially for the delectable pie crusts and fillings.

Flavors vary daily. At 11:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday, the choices included six kinds of pie: caramel, chocolate, coconut, pecan, apple and lemon icebox. There were five cakes: almond chocolate bar, German chocolate, Italian creme, strawberry and cheesecake. By noon or so, the pecan pie and Italian creme cake were already gone.

On display are magazine and newspaper clippings that attest to the restaurant's longstanding allures. A framed Southern Living page from earlier this decade pictures Charlotte Bowls, who opened the eponymous eatery in 1993 in an former pharmacy. She still presides over what has become a local lunching landmark, the more so after Cotham's Mercantile burned down last year in nearby Scott.

Southern Living sized up the meringue atop Charlotte's coconut pie as standing "almost as tall as a 5-pound bag of sugar" -- an odd image, perhaps, but the tasty topping does tower. Bowls described her "pie secret" to the interviewer:

"I use a Crisco-baked crust. When making the recipe that's on the can, never add extra flour -- too much flour toughens the crust. You want it to taste like pie crust, not flour. So, instead of rolling the crust in flour, I roll it between pieces of Saran Wrap. Also, pies are always better when served at room temperature. I don't put mine in the refrigerator before serving them."

The restaurant's decor features an armada of tea pots arrayed in glass-front cabinets in both dining rooms. Pop-culture items of note include a poster from a Patsy Cline concert, a Howdy Doody mannequin and a Charlie McCarthy puppet from the old Edgar Bergen show.

While Charlotte's pies are the headline act, she also serves well regarded sundaes and milkshakes in a number of flavors, costing $3.50 each. The menu's most expensive item, at $11.95, might be seen as a partial antidote to the lip-smacking desserts. It's a fresh fruit plate, which comes with chicken salad, tuna salad or cottage cheese. Oh, there's also a garlic cheese biscuit.

Commendable burgers and grilled-cheese sandwiches top a menu that also includes the Keo Klassic ($8.50), described with a flourish: "Soon to be historic! Smoked turkey, tomato, onion, avocado, Monterey jack on sourdough, dipped in a rich Parmesan garlic cream and grilled to a golden crisp."

In case you wondered, a whole pie ($24.50) can be bought to take home for the holidays. But the pie needs to be ordered at least 24 hours before you plan to pick it up. And don't forget your cash or check.

Charlotte's Eats & Sweets, 290 Main St., Keo, is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. No credit cards are accepted. Call (501) 842-2123.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/ MARCIA SCHNEDLER
A server cuts into one of the day’s desserts at Charlotte’s Eats & Sweets in Keo.

Style on 12/18/2018

Print Headline: ARE WE THERE YET? Short drive from Little Rock rewarded with pie at Charlotte's

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