Eat This Now

Lauretta Jean’s Grapefruit Saltine Pie Is Bonkers Good

It’s salty, sweet, and fiercely tart. How Portland’s iconic pie shop blew our mind with grapefruit curd and a saltine crust.

By Karen Brooks March 9, 2023

The salty grapefruit pie from Lauretta Jean's

The search for great pie is a life’s quest. You know it when you see it—that mighty marionberry slice latticed in golden crust, the towering vision of custard heaped with fresh bananas. But every once in a while, a pie vaults into another space. It defies expectations, crust to filling, audaciously, with its own heartbeat and groove. And that, my friends, is the Lauretta Jean’s salty grapefruit, a winter wonder from Portland’s iconic pie shop on SE Division.  

Imagine a lemon pie but from a planet ruled by pink grapefruits and in thrall to sweet-salty crumb crusts fashioned from saltine crackers. And consider this: it’s bonkers good, as bracing as two cups of double espresso.  

When I say grapefruit, I mean grapefruit—bright, screaming, fresh-squeezed, and transformed into a beautiful curd, cooked with egg yolks on a stovetop until it wobbles like custard. The crust is walloped with saltines in all their crispy, yeasty, nostalgic glory—roughly three sleeves of cracker per pie, crushed into crumbs. A big dose of soft butter holds it together, along with just enough sugar to create a tightrope of sweet-salty tension throughout. Fluffy whipped cream lounges on top along with shreds of pink grapefruit zest, just to emphasize the point.

Lauretta Jean's storefront—now open for indoor dining

Have it by the slice ($6) or whole ($41), and take it to go or eat inside. Lauretta Jean’s sweet indie-vintage shop reopened for indoor dining in November, with dozens of pies and cakes calling from the pastry case or floating by on merry-go-round shelves, as Whitney Houston belts overhead. The sign at the cash register captures the house spirit: “Smoke weed. Listen to Neil Young. Eat pie.”

That’s the good news. The bad: the salty grapefruit pie is only available through the end of March.

The idea jumped off a story owner Kate McMillen heard on NPR years ago about North Carolina’s famed lemon pies, made with a saltine crust. Lauretta Jean’s went in its own direction with a fresh grapefruit curd. “Salty and sweet just go so well together,” says McMillen. “Ritz are the most buttery crackers, but saltines lend themselves to loving butter. They just absorb it. The saltiness is so much deeper. Lots of pie crusts use cookies, but this turns a basic one into something unique and cool.”

The salty grapefruit debuted last year on March 14, a.k.a. Pi Day, the annual celebration of the irrational number pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter), seized upon by pie lovers an excuse to eat something circular. “I had no idea Pi Day was a thing,” confesses McMillen, whose pies lit up Portland when her shop opened in 2011. “Oh my god, people bombard us. Every year, we celebrate by making tons of different pies and a few wacky ones.”

Now, the salty grapefruit is part of January–March rotation, alongside other winter citrus specials. That includes a lovely Meyer lemon chiffon pie imagined with McMillen’s twist: two crusts in one pie, one a flaky shell, the other a cheesecake-like crumb crust pressed inside, made from the kitchen’s ginger molasses cookies.

Six pies are coming for Pi Day, among them the banoffee in a walnut graham crust, a grasshopper that pops mint chiffon into a chocolate cookie crust, and a riff on a Monster cookie with butterscotch, peanuts, oats and chocolate.

I’ve got my eye on the Pi Day exclusive honey black sesame, which promises layers of sweet honey and toasted black sesame seeds. Maybe it will be the next salty grapefruit? In these times, we need hope.

Lauretta Jean’s, 3402 SE Division St,, Instagram @laurettajeans