Just about every city boasts a signature dish â one that local residents love and curious travelers simply HAVE to try. For example, thereâs New Orleansâ jambalaya, Chicagoâs deep-dish pizza and Philadelphiaâs cheese steak sandwich. In the Florida Keys & Key West, that dish is Key lime pie.
Key lime pie is made from the Key lime, a fruit indigenous to the Keys thatâs smaller and rounder than limes typically found in a grocery store. In fact, Key lime pie is the official pie of the entire State of Florida, and millions of slices are savored each year by visitors and locals.
Its exact birthdate and creator are unknown, but the pie was likely created in Key West in the late 19th century â before refrigeration, and before the debut of the Oversea Railway that brought fresh ingredients like milk to the island at high speed.
Recipes for the original Key lime pie donât require refrigeration OR baking. Instead, the acid in the Key lime juice reacts chemically with the other ingredients (a process called souring) and âcooksâ the pie.
The typical ingredients of an authentic Key lime pie are sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, Key lime juice and a crust generally made from butter and graham crackers. The egg yolks give the pie a yellowish coloring (green pies are absolutely NOT authentic).
âI’m always amazed that these simple ingredients can make such a wonderful pie,â said Kermit Carpenter, resident Key lime pie expert and the owner of Kermitâs Key West Key Lime Shoppe.
Key lime pie can be enjoyed with many toppings, but a controversy has raged for decades over whether whipped cream or meringue is better. Each has its devoted supporters, and the two factions never seem to tire of quarrelling.
Today, Key lime pie is found in many forms throughout the Keys â dipped in chocolate and frozen on a stick at Kermitâs, deep-fried at Porkyâs Bayside Restaurant in Marathon or even mixed with multiple flavors.
The pie also has inspired nontraditional Key limeâflavored items: Key lime jerk seasoning from Peppers of Key West, Key Lime Wing Sauce from Kermitâs, homemade Key lime ice cream at Flamingo Crossing in Key West and the milkshake-like Key lime freeze at Mrs. Macâs Kitchen in Key Largo.
A good Key lime pie should be naturally tart and stiff, standing up well on a plate yet still looking and feeling creamy.
Whereâs the best version in the Keys? Take the road less traveled (i.e., Card Sound Road) to Key Largoâs Alabama Jackâs, and youâll find a Key lime pie so smooth and cool it could be mistaken for ice cream.
Marathonâs hidden Key lime treasure can be found at Keys Fisheries, an outdoor counter-service restaurant connected to a world-class fish and seafood exporter. The fish is fresh off the boat and the pie is the perfect blend of sweet and tart deliciousness.
Want to savor Key lime pie in tropical luxury? Then head for the Dining Room at Little Palm Island off the Lower Keys. Little Palmâs offering is a decadent cashew-crusted Key lime pie topped with a whipped cream fruit coulis.
Key West features many restaurants and emporiums that claim to serve the best or most authentic Key lime pie. However, meringue loversâ one-stop shop is the funky Blue Heaven Restaurant in historic Bahama Village. The meringue on Blue Heavenâs pie stands several inches tall â and itâs almost as good to look at as it is to eat.