A Pie Baker in Key West

What does a pie baker do while on vacation in Key West? Eat Key Lime Pie, of course! My husband and I just spent four wonderful days in Key West. We got sunburned and were bitten by mosquitoes and didn’t even care because it was still winter at home. We ocean kayaked and took long walks everyday. We slept in every morning and stayed up late every night. A seafood lover, I ate fresh catch at every lunch and dinner followed by Key Lime Pie for dessert.

The Key Lime Pie tasting experiment started with a short blurb in a travel magazine about Key West and Key Lime Pie. Key limes are not even grown in the Florida Keys anymore but Key Lime Pie certainly flourishes. The travel magazine described the recipe as “quite simple with only a few basic  ingredients, but each restaurant in the Keys puts their own spin on the classic pie.” Okay then, game on! We would eat key lime pie in as many places as possible and determine just which “spin” we liked best.

Day One, Lunch: Wreck and Salvage Cafe, Marathon Key – where I ate a Grouper Fish sandwich with a Caribbean sauce (a little on the sweet side). Then with my belly already full, my eyes went wide when I saw this piece of Key Lime Pie placed in front of me.

The baseline is established.

The baseline is established.

It was huge! And thick! And gooooood! The filling was baked to a cheesecake consistency – this restaurant definitely put a unique twist to their pie recipe. Scraping the final crumbs of graham cracker crust from the plate, I had my Key Lime Pie baseline established. It was good, but was there another one that was better?

Lunch – day two: Rooftop Cafe, Mallory Square – The lunch special was “A Taste of Key West” with a Cuban sandwich, black bean soup, conch shell fritters, and a mini Key Lime Tart for dessert.

Key Lime tartlet - a taste of Key West

Key Lime tartlet – a taste of Key West

The sandwich, good, the conch shell fritters, chewy, the crab cake appetizer, good, the black bean soup, excellent, the Key Lime Pie?

Look at that creamy filling!

Look at that creamy filling!

Creamy filling inside, not quite as thick as the Wreck and Salvage version. I wished it was bigger. I ate every last bit, savoring the tangy tart flavor of that beautiful filling. Rooftop Cafe’ tart moves to first place with it’s lighter filling.

Day two dinner was at sunset from the deck of the Sunset Lounge on the Navy Base. Fish and Chips for dinner. Dale had a Corona, I had a margarita. We shared dessert.

The juice from a Key Lime is yellow, not green. Visitors are cautioned, if the Key Lime Pie is green it’s NOT made with Key Limes. Got it, but what if it comes in the shape of an adorable dessert that is called “Key Lime Pie”? Like this cutey:

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge's spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge’s spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Part sponge cake, part vanilla cookie, part cheesecake, part chocolate, with a layer of tangy Key Lime Pie filling and a shocking, bright green glaze topping. All I can say is, who cares that it was not made with Real Key Lime Juice! It was as beautiful and delicious as any other dessert I’ve known (and there have been many!).  I was sorry I agreed to share with Dale because I sort of wanted it all to myself. Maybe it’s not traditional Key Lime Pie but this beauty moved into first place in my taste test.

Lunch day three: Garbos Food Truck, as seen on Diner, Drive Ins, and Dives. Shrimp burritos with Caribbean Sauce, “That will be 25 minutes”. 25 minutes? No problem, let’s have dessert first. Across the street, a half a block away, stands Kermit’s Key Lime Pie shop.

It’s all about marketing, right? Cute key lime pie tables in the garden, Kermit himself decked out in his very own version of Key Lime chef-wear, and a whole store filled with Key Lime this and Key Lime that.

But how is the pie? Famous for being the first one to put Key Lime Pie on a stick we gave Kermit the benefit of the doubt and bought a traditional slice and one “on a stick”.

Kermit's Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

Kermit’s Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

I took a bite of the traditional pie. Oh my! I took a bite of the chocolate covered pie on the stick. OH MY! Chocolate and Key Lime? Oh yes! It’s a match made in Key West.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

I liked them both but I am going with the traditional version as Kermit’s pie moves into first place. (The 25 minute Shrimp Burritos were also awesome!)

Sarah and Lauren arrived for the weekend. I told them about the beautiful dessert at the Sunset Lounge. They wanted to see for themselves, so off we went for Mahi Mahi quesidilla, a margarita, and Key Lime Pie/dessert. This time, lesson learned, I ordered one for each of us.

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

I can’t not love it. But Kermit’s was so good. What to do? How about if I just create a new category: Key Lime Desserts. There. Sunset Lounge Key Lime Dessert, is in first place. Kermit’s maintains first in the pie category.

And we walked. And walked. Somewhere, someone, handed us a little paper cup with a taste of key lime pie. It was sweet. It was melty. It was green. We ate our sample but didn’t want more. It’s in last place.

Pie before lunch, so Sarah and Lauren could get it on the taste testing and try Kermit’s. They agree and Dale and I re-confirm, Kermit’s maintains the lead.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Kermit's pie on a stick. Warning - don't read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the taste test.

Kermit’s pie on a stick. Warning – don’t read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the experiment.

Lunch at a wonky place that looked fun. I had butterflied shrimp and salad. No pie here.

Dinner at the Stoned Crab where I had the stoned crab appetizer. Just one claw.

Fully sustainable, the crabs are caught, one claw is removed, and then the live animal is released back into the sea. Within a season it will have grown a new claw. That’s like having your crab and eating it too.

Dinner was lobster ravioli in a sherry cream sauce – sounds better than it tasted. Everyone else at our table were land lubbers for the night with beef and chicken. Then came the pie.

Stoned Crab's take on the classic Key Lime Pie

Stoned Crab’s take on the classic Key Lime Pie

But what’s that green stuff? It’s NOT made with real Key Lime Juice! I hesitated before taking a tentative taste expecting it to taste like a Sour Apple Jolly Rancher. But no, it tasted lime-ish. It was a nice pie but Kermit’s pie holds on to the lead.

Then vacation is over and it’s time to go home but there may be a chance for another taste or two on the Overseas Highway through the Keys back to mainland Florida.

Just in case we haven't had enough Key Lime Pie.

Just in case we haven’t had enough Key Lime Pie.

And we might as well eat lunch too. Fish Tacos with Key Lime sauce. My  favorite eat of the trip. If I close my eyes I can still taste the crunchy coating on the tender, flaky, white fish drizzled with that tangy key lime sauce, the cook’s own concoction. And then there was pie.

Last place. Doesn't it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

Doesn’t it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

The biggest disappointment of them all. Was it from the freezer case at the local grocery? It was sour, and frozen, and a faint green, and fake. I took one taste and let Dale eat the rest while I went back to the counter and ordered a Key Lime Bar. Not pie, but much better than freezer pie.

Check back for a follow up post when I try my hand at the classic Key Lime Pie. Maybe I’ll find a way to put a spin on it.

Lime green is a popular color all over Key West even though Key Limes are not green!

Lime green and  Key West go together.