Johnny Ballas

Johnny Ballas, owner of the Crystal Grill, holds a slice of his lemon icebox pie in front of the restaurant.

It’s time to add another accolade to the ever-growing list for the Crystal Grill.

People magazine named the restaurant’s lemon icebox pie the best pie in Mississippi.

The distinction comes from the magazine’s list of the best pie in each state.

According to Johnny Ballas, the restaurant’s owner, the pie has been an unchanged part of the menu from the very beginning.

“It’s a cool, light dessert that is tart and sweet at the same time,” said Ballas. “It’s great in winter or summer.”

The restaurant started in 1933 with Ballas’ uncle. Then, in 1952, his father came on board. Coincidentally, Ballas was born that same year. “I grew up in it, basically,” he said.

The pie recipe has been passed down over the years, and several cooks have had the task of maintaining the high standard.

Alize Foreman is the latest chef in that lineage. She took over the reins 10 years ago.  

Holidays can get quite busy for dessert orders. Often one of the previous pie chefs will come in to help out with the volume.

The demand for the pies is highest at Thanksgiving.  Ballas recalled a time when he “filled that room up with probably 150-200 pies.”

“And they all went out in a day,” he added. “It’s an undertaking.”

This isn’t the first time the dessert has been recognized.

In 2010, Cat Cora, a celebrity chef, featured it on her Food Network show “Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Cora grew up in Jackson and had a piece of pie when she visited the restaurant as a kid.

“That impressed on her,” Ballas said. Years later, after achieving culinary fame, “she still remembered the lemon pie.”

When the episode first came out, “we got calls from all over the country about shipping our pies out,” recalled Ballas. But for logistical reasons that was not feasible for the restaurant.

Although national delivery was off the table, the show still brought attention to the Crystal Grill across the country.

“I’ve had a lot of people say they detoured off the interstate and drove 30 minutes to get here and 30 minutes back to the interstate to go wherever they were going,” Ballas said.

That fame has not diminished with time.

“It’s been a pretty consistent cycle of people from out of state dropping in to experience us,” said Ballas.

“The consensus of opinion is that ‘we’ve traveled all over the country and it’s one of the best places we’ve eaten,’” he said. “It’s noteworthy to know that you’ve worked hard and gotten that recognition.”

Ballas hasn’t completely written off starting national delivery. But until then, people will have to keep traveling to Greenwood and the Crystal Grill to try some of the best pie in the country.

Contact Kyle Strobel at 581-7233 or


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