Tuesday Means Pot Pie at Coyote Roadhouse

One of the first lessons future journalists learned at J-School at the University of Missouri many decades ago was: “Keep yourself out of the story. It’s not about you.” I’m still old school, but – just this once – I’m going to make an exception.

On a Tuesday night in Oct. 2013, I was at my computer (probably, according to my assignment list, working on a story about Les Berns, the 95-year-old piano player at the Nightingale Supper Club) when the phone rang. “Hello,” said an unfamiliar male voice, “I’d like to reserve six pot pies for tonight.” I told him he obviously had the wrong number, as I didn’t have pot pies or, at the moment, anything else cooking for dinner. “But, I said, ‘I love pot pies. Where were you hoping to get them?’”

We soon figured out that he meant to call the Coyote Roadhouse, at the west end of the causeway across Kangaroo Lake, whose phone number is just one digit different from ours. I hope he got his six pot pies that night. My husband and I certainly enjoyed ours.

The history of the Coyote’s pot pies unfolded in a recent interview with Carrie Graybill, whose inspiration they were. Carrie’s parents, Carol and Warren Groth, and their friends, Howard and Darlene Bailey, bought the restaurant in early 2000. Warren died in April 2009 and Darlene on Christmas Day that year. Howard was already gone, and Carol couldn’t manage the Coyote by herself.

At that point, Carrie was in the travel business, and her husband, Scott, was with the Chicago Board of Trade. However, both had worked in restaurants when they were younger and the decision to move to Door County and take over the Coyote wasn’t a difficult one.

Several years before Warren died, he started Meatloaf Mondays, with a different stuffing in the meatloaf every week, to perk up the winter menu.

“After our first two summer seasons,” Carrie says, “we wanted to do something different for the locals, too, figuring they must be tired of ordering the same items all summer. It’s hard to change what we offer, because our kitchen is so small. We don’t have a lot of equipment, so we can’t offer things like broasted chicken.

“Tuesday nights were often sort of slow, so by the fall of 2011 we were considering a new special. We’d never served turkey, so we came up with the idea of Turkey Tuesday. The first week, we served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, and that went well. Then we tried turkey tetrazzini, and people liked that, too. The third week, we had turkey pot pie night and people loved them. For another two months or so, we continued featuring different turkey dishes, but people kept asking, ‘When are you going to have those pot pies again?’ We realized we’d hit upon a real comfort food, so we began experimenting with different recipes.

“We have a bunch of regulars who stop in for a beer or two nearly every night on their way home from work, and they became our taste testers. I made tiny little pies for them, trying four or five different recipes with different crusts, and the one ‘the boys at the bar’ liked best is what we’ve been serving ever since, except now we top them with puff pastry.”

Photo by Len Villano.

Photo by Len Villano.

At first, the kitchen staff made 10 or 12 pies a night. The restaurant didn’t advertise them as the Tuesday special right away, but word soon spread. After people were disappointed to find the pies all sold out for a week or two when they arrived at 5:30 or 6 pm, they began calling to reserve them. (You can’t reserve a table at the Coyote, so you may have to wait a bit, but you can ensure that your pie will be hot and ready when you sit down.)

“We weren’t the ones that asked for pot pie reservations,” Carrie says, “but as their popularity increased, it became very helpful to us. In the beginning, we sometimes had a few left over. They can’t be served the next day, so all of us have eaten our share.”

The restaurant now prepares about 50 each Tuesday, always a few more than the reservations that have been made. The most they’ve served on a night is 54. (That’s a big turnover on a weeknight in the winter, when they have only nine tables.) They roast whole turkeys, using both white and dark meat in the pies, along with broth made from the bones. Everything except the puff pastry is made from scratch, then baked for 75 minutes. A new hire recently asked Carrie if a pot pie was something he could have for his employee meal. “Sure,” she said, “if there’s one left.” There wasn’t.

It’s easy to spot first time pot pie eaters. “Oh,” they universally exclaim. “It’s so big!” They’re served, not in round bowls, but in really large china ovals. Some couples – not too many – split one. Others request a doggy bag or, for a $6 deposit, take any left over pie home in the container it was served in, washing and returning it later for a full refund. Carrie jokes that this keeps the crust on top so the pie “keeps its composure.” She also notes that more and more people are buying pies to take home and bake later. “We hope in the future we can make some extra ones to freeze,” she says, “for customers who want to have them on hand.”

Advertising for the pot pie special will end on the Tuesday before Memorial Day, but they’ll be available for the first week or two in June, then discontinued until after Labor Day.

So, the pot pies were born in the fall of 2011, and I wasn’t aware of their existence until two years later. Discounting the winter months we spend in St. Louis, that means I missed more than 30 opportunities to enjoy one of them. Some things you’d just rather not know.

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