Key lime pie is more than just the official dessert of the Florida Keys; it's the official dessert of summer. No matter where you are, the combination of sweet and tangy and creamy and cool filling on a buttery, crumbly, maybe even spiced or salty crust is a vacation for your mouth. But it is essential to the Keys in more ways than one. Naturally, Key limes are native to the area; they're smaller, more delicate, tangy-er, and more aromatic than Persian limes, making them perfect for inclusion in a dessert.
The nature of pie itself could only come from the Keys as well. What many accept to be the first mention of Key lime pie comes from a ship salvager (and Key West's first millionaire), a man named William Curry; his cook, "Aunt Sally" made it for him. But Aunt Sally was probably not the inventor of the pie... the recipe was probably floating around the Keys for years before that. One theory? The pie was invented by sponge fishermen in the Keys; the main ingredients (limes, eggs, and canned milk) were things that fishermen would have had in their boats on long trips. Plus, the original recipe wasn't cooked (a reaction between the eggs' and milk's protein and the acidic limes caused the filling to thicken and set) and there definitely weren't ovens on board the sponge fishing boats of the olden days.
The traditional recipe has evolved since its early days; the pie is generally cooked for a short amount of time because eggs, the meringue topping is often swapped for whipped cream, inventive crusts are always being experimented with... but no matter what you do to it, nothing can change the fact that it is sunshine, sandy shores, and ocean breezes in dessert form. If you're in Key West, there's no shortage of places serving Key lime pie (and Key lime pie-inspired everything, let's be honest)... so you have to have at least one slice while you're visiting. Or maybe 14.
Any place that has a "Lunch Dessert" menu and a "Dinner Dessert" menu is okay by me. It shows a certain commitment to after-meal sweets that few really embrace. In addition to other fruity treats (lemon cheesecake with blueberry compote, rhubarb pie with strawberry sauce) and indulgent sweets (chocolate brownie creme brulee, mmm...), they make an incredible key lime pie. It uses a gingersnap-inspired pie crust base, and comes served next to a big ol' pile of whipped cream and berries.
If you're looking for dinner or apps to go with the dessert, this place knows seafood. Go wild with conch, or classic with their great tuna tartare.
Camille's might be best known for their breakfast, but their key lime pie is a knockout. If you're looking for fresh and homemade, this pie fits the bill. It's tart, got loads of flavorful and a crumbly crust, and comes decorated with ribbons of whipped cream to balance the tangy lime. You'll definitely want to come back for breakfast, though... their French toast is to die for, and they make the best eggs Benny on the whole island, loaded with all kinds of seafood and house-made hollandaise. The kitschy decor here is an added bonus.
Key lime pie is sexy, no doubt, but the pie at Better Than Sex is next level. The so-called "Kinky Key Lime Pie" is massively tall and comes dusted in crushed macadamia nuts and lime zest. It comes with a spoon of caramel for drizzling. Basically it, like everything else here, is a bit over-the-top, but Better Than Sex makes it work. Plus, you'll have fun giggling at the names of the various drinks and desserts (let me put it this way... calling their Key lime pie "kinky" is probably the tamest thing on the menu).
Croissants de France does a stellar job of melding tropical and Florida-y vibes with classic French dishes. Think, Key lime crepes filled with Key lime cream, fresh strawberries and toasted coconut shavings. They also make Key lime pies, Key lime mini tarts, and the occasional other random baked good filled with Key lime goodness. The pie is especially mouthwatering, with perfectly browned marshmallowy meringue on top. Grab your treats to go, or enjoy in their super relaxing bistro setting. Whatever you order, it'll probably pair well with a cup of coffee.
Kermit's is probably the most famous and prolific purveyor of Key lime pie on the island. This is where fanatics should go to worship at the altar of the Key lime. Their menu serves basic American fare, and some items have a lime twist (Key lime salad dressing, Key lime syrup on pancakes, etc.) They also sell fudge, sauces, juices, candies, jams even dog treats flavored with the fruit. One location also makes Key lime ice cream. But the pie is the heart and soul of Kermit's. It's rich, smooth, and tangy, and comes on a perfect cookie crust. They're also famous for their chocolate-dipped Key lime pie on a stick, which works surprisingly well. And not many places will make blueberry or strawberry Key lime pie like Kermit's. The hype is very real.
Blue Heaven feels like a hidden gem, with its funky, artsy secluded patio (that has roosters and kitties wandering around). It's a bit further off the main drag (but well within walking distance) and it gets crowded at breakfast and lunch for a good reason; the food is some of the best in town. And their Key lime pie? It's no exception. It features "a buttery graham cracker crust, freshly squeezed lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and lots of meringue." They're not kidding when they say "lots of meringue"... it's an enormous, cloud-like pile. They use limes in some of their other dishes (like their hollandaise), and other local ingredients (like shrimp) whenever possible.
Mattheessen's will have even the grouchiest old person feeling like a kid again. They're known for their half-pound cookies (it sounds like a lot, but once you taste say, one of their white chocolate macadamia nuts, a half-pound won't feel like that much) and homemade fudge. They also make their own ice cream; unique flavors include turtle crunch, dulce de leche, Cuban coffee, and, of course, Key lime. But we're not just here to talk about cookies and fudge. Mattheessen's makes a killer Key lime pie. Their secret? The thick graham cracker crust that holds in and balances out that mouth-puckering Key lime filling. They also serve it frozen and dipped in Belgian dark chocolate on a stick!
The name here says it all. The Key Lime Pie Bakery bakes Key lime pie. Really good Key lime pie, as it turns out. The crumbly crust and rich filling mean even a small slice will satisfy. Eat it in the cafe or grab it to go! Eating it in the cafe means you can spend some time relaxing in the AC after exploring the island... and perusing the kitschy key lime souvenirs and goodies they sell. They also have ice cream, coffee, and the ever-popular frozen, dark chocolate-dipped "Key lime pie on a stick".
Rooftop Cafe is a nice, breezy dining experience, perfect for relaxing after a long day of exploring the island. Like most places, they make Caribbean-inspired fare.. but unlike most places, they offer a Key lime colada. The frozen, creamy, tart drink is perfection in cocktail form. They also make a delightful Key lime tart, a Key lime pie, and even a Key lime martini. You know, in case you haven't had enough Key lime yet.
Two Friends has long been a Key West institution. There's been a bar on this location since the 1800s, and it ushered in many firsts for the island: first female bartender, first bar to have beer on draft... it's iconic. Their Key lime colada is one of many delicious tiki-inspired drinks on their cocktail menu. Oh, and their brunch menu features Key lime-stuffed French toast. For lunch, you'll find seafood, salads, and burgers, and for dinner, you can nosh on pasta and steak as well. Whatever you order, finish your meal with their homemade Key lime pie. If you like more pie filling than crust, this is the pie for you. It's totally indulgent and tastes perfectly fresh.
The Key West Key Lime Pie Co. makes your favorite dessert experiential with their Key lime pie baking classes, where each student makes their own mini pie. KWKLPC also has a toddler class, if you're with little ones. If you're just here to eat pie, they sell mini pies, whole pies, slices, and chocolate-dipped Key lime pie bars. Get weird with their Key lime fruit pies (which mix lime juice with pineapple-coconut, strawberry, or mango fillings), try their limeade, or indulge in a Key lime milkshake, which is basically pie in liquid form.
If all of these fancy seafood joints are starting to blend together, get back to basics at Pepe's Cafe and Steakhouse. It's been open since 1909, making it the oldest restaurant on Key West, so there has to be something there, right? Anyways, Pepe's is the kind of place whose breakfast menu proudly features creamed chip beef on toast and Chock-Full-O'-Nuts coffee. Try their local smoked fish dip, baked oysters, wedge salads, and smothered pork chops to get a taste of the old school. They also make fresh-squeezed margaritas if you're not an old fashioned drinker. But, of course, if you're thinking an institution like this has to have a solid, back-to-basics Key lime pie, you'd be correct. In fact, it's easy to find their recipe online. They use cinnamon in the graham crust and whip the egg whites for an extra-light filling. It's topped with a load of whipped cream. It's not the prettiest, but it is quite good. In fact, it's a favorite of Key lime pie historian David L. Sloan.
If you're looking for a break from massive amounts of rich, sweet, creamy, delicious Key lime pie... Old Town Bakery could be that place for you. The bakery makes sandwiches on fresh-baked breads, and they also sell artisan cheeses, cured meats, and fresh salads. They also make lots of pastries, including Key lime pie. The filling is dense and heavy on the lime, and the crust is an extra flavorful gingersnap base, which is unique and works well with the creamy lime.
Café Solé is Europe meets Florida realness. Gazpacho de Madrid, duck a l'orange, and Key lime pie make a surprisingly satisfying and cohesive meal. Actually, their whole dessert menu is outstanding; their Key lime pie comes with marshmallow meringue AND chantilly cream, but they also make creme brulee, bananas foster, and chocolate souffle cake, and their other specialty is zabaglione, a delicious warm white wine mousse. You can order a trio, which includes fresh berries and grand marnier with a small bowl of creme brulee and sliver of Key lime pie, or a quatro, with has mini Key lime pies, creme brulees, and white and dark chocolate zabagliones.
Banner Photo Credit: Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash
Just a Civil War beard enthusiast, writer at Roadtrippers, and aspiring astronaut reaching for the stars.