Earlier this year my eldest daughter had the opportunity to vacation in Hawaii, go on a school trip to Alaska and spend the summer at a camp in Maine. When a friend of the family jokingly suggested we take her to Florida in order to complete her Four Corners of the USA in One Year Quest, a seed was planted & it started to grow. We figured if she was going to hit all four corners, she needed to do it in style and go to the Southernmost Point in the Southernmost Corner of the USA. So we booked a trip to Key West, the land of Jimmy Buffett, Magical Sunsets & Key Lime Pie. It was that last element, Key Lime Pie, that made up the trip’s sub-plot. So in a tip of the hat to my friend, The Big Dog, let me regale you on search for the best piece of Key Lime Pie that we could find.
Now I make a fairly passable Key Lime Pie myself. At least I thought I did before we landed in Miami and jumped in our rental car for our drive through the Keys to our ultimate destination. We sampled eight different slices of Key Lime Pie over the three days we were in town and only one restaurant we ate in did not serve that quintessential dessert. They served crepes instead and while they had Lime as the main ingedient, it didn’t say Key Lime so we didn’t order them.
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen – Key Largo – just past Mile Marker 99 if you are coming south
This was our first stop along the way. It had been an early flight with no real meals so when we got here, we were hungry. After devouring an assortment of Conch Fritters, Grilled Mahi, Fried Chicken & Fried Shrimp (along with a Key Lime Freeze – more to come on that later) it was time for the pie. Every order at every restaurant was the same, one slice & five forks (though our son had no interest in any of the eight slices we would try). It was a very classic presentation with just a few squirts of whipped cream as adornment. The pie itself had a mild Key Lime Flavor to it and a very homemade, possibly the most homemade, graham cracker crust to it that could be eaten alone. It was a great piece of Key Lime Pie with which to start the adventure.
El Meson de Pepe – Key West – just off Mallory Square
You can’t go to southern Florida without trying Cuban food so our first night in town we found a great restaurant in an old Cigar Factory. The piece of Key Lime Pie that came to the table at the end of the meal was probably the prettiest piece of pie we would get the entire trip. Unfortunately it’s very mild Key Lime flavoring got absolutely lost in the huge amount of whipped cream that adorned/covered the pie. The graham cracker crust was basic and most likely was not homemade.
Key West Key Lime Pie Factory – Key West – Greene Street down the block from Sloppy Joes.
In case you didn’t know, you have seen them on Throwdown with Bobby Flay (they lost) and on The Profit on CNBC. You also see signs in every little food/souvenir store for their Frozen & Dipped in Dark Chocolate slices. This is probably the most well-known slice of Key Lime Pie in the Keys thanks to all of that television exposure. Unfortunately, I think all that popularity went to their head. We went to the Flagship location and got a slice of their plain Key Lime Pie. It was on the small side but it also had the heaviest dose of Key Lime flavoring. It was almost acidic. To me, it tasted “Factory Made” and for my wife, it tasted “boozy”. The crust was non-descript in a “I can’t remember it now” kind of way. In any case, this was not a family favorite.
Now I mentioned the Frozen & Dipped in Dark Chocolate earlier and it was probably the most anticipated piece of the whole trip. Unfortunately for us, it was a complete letdown. The dark chocolate was so heavy that it overpowered the rest of the pie. Knowing that we had a piece of pie under the chocolate that we hadn’t really liked in its non-frozen state didn’t help either. The acidity of the pie was covered by the chocolate but so was the Key Lime flavoring. The graham cracker crust was there but it wasn’t. We ate it quickly due to the heat, not because we wanted to.
Sunset Pier – Key West – Mallory Square
There are few places better to watch for the fabled flash of green during the sunset in Key West than in Mallory Square and the Sunset Pier at the very end of Duval Street is always crowded. The food is good, they have live music, the sunset cruise boats all float by while the revelers aboard wave to the people on the pier. Too bad the Key Lime Pie didn’t live up to the rest of the atmosphere. The pie itself is served with a Cashew Graham Cracker Crust which was okay but the filling tasted more lemon than lime to all of us. There seemed to be a very thin coating of Key Lime on the top of the pie but that was it. It was also served with a blackberry & strawberry but with no whipped cream. Good thing we had a beautiful sunset and yes, I missed the Flash of Green.
Conch Republic Seafood Co. – Key West – Greene Street away from Duval
This place was right on the water and the type of bar I probably would have lived in during my drinking days oh so long ago. They also had great food & live music but they also had the Key Lime Pie to back it all up. It was a very pretty presentation that had alternating stripes of raspberry & lime on top with a spritz of whipped cream and another cashew graham cracker crust. It was a thin pie but it was a very flavorful pie. The key lime flavoring was the best we had had to that point and the custard was smooth. The pigeon’s cruising around the legs of the outdoor tables got no crumbs from us. As we left the restaurant, we were already starting to fit the gold crown for their chef’s head.
Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe – Key West – directly across the street from Conch Republic Seafood Co.
Despite having just eaten a slice of pie minutes earlier, we boldly crossed the street, said Hello to Kermit in his Key Lime Green Chef’s jacket & toque out front and went into the shoppe for another piece of pie. Kermit may be famous for his pie but he also sold every other kind of key lime edible you could think of from jams to jelly beans to cookies to coffee (I think). They also had several different flavors of Key Lime Pie and the mango Key Lime almost called my name but we had to be fair and try the same slice everywhere. It’s a good thing that Kermit’s single slices are so small because we really were full from our earlier lunch. It almost looked like a toy piece of pie in its little plastic shell. It had a nice key lime flavor but it didn’t quite measure up to the slice we had just eaten. I wish the piece had been a little bigger so I could have sampled more of it but I don’t think that size would have mattered this time around.
Roof Top Café – Key West – just off Mallory Square
For our final meal in town we went to the Roof Top Café just off of Mallory Square. It was a spur of the moment decision as the other place we were thinking of was still some blocks away and no one wanted to keep walking in the heat & humidity that is Key West. Dinner was excellent and during the meal we all shared a Key Lime Virgin Colada (more on that later). At the end of the meal we were presented with our favorite piece of Key Lime Pie. It was thicker than most and the custard was very smooth. The key lime flavoring was strong but not overbearing or acidic like an earlier slice. The graham cracker crust was definitely homemade and it was the only slice we had that was served with an actual slice of lime on the plate. One bite in and we had family consensus on the winner.
Now I also mentioned the Key Lime Freeze at Mrs. Mac’s which was a cross between a milkshake & an ice cream float that was so good I ordered it again when we stopped there on our way back to the airport. I really wish I could have ordered another of the Key Lime Virgin Coladas from the Roof Top Café. Slip some rum into that drink and I don’t think I would have ever gotten out of the 1980’s alive. We also stopped at Robert Is Here, an amazing fruit stand, zoo & milkshake place in Homestead where I had a Cherry Key Lime Milkshake that was great but I never tasted the key lime for all of the cherry flavoring.
We had so much fun that we are already thinking about another change in our latitude as we change our attitude in search of more slices of Key Lime goodness. Any suggestions ?