A Slice of Key West Life

 I have this thing for key lime pie.

I don’t want to discriminate; I love all pies, really. But key lime pie is an outlier – hard to find, even harder to perfect. Earlier this year my husband sent me a photo of him eating a piece at my favorite crab shack in Florida and I had such terrible fomo I booked a flight for the next morning. The tart sweetness, the creamy consistency, the mound of whipped topping. It’s refreshing, it’s satisfying, it’s indulgent. It counts as a serving of fruit! 

You could say there are a couple reasons I’ve always dreamed of seeing Key West, but I’d be lying if I pretended my motivation wasn’t mostly driven around the pie. 

I have a love affair with food, and there’s something special about eating a dish in the place it originated. It gives you a better understanding of it. It’s like seeing your boyfriend’s childhood room for the first time and seeing all the little trophies, posters, and wallpaper that made him.

Surprisingly, most of the items on my food bucket list have already been ticked by now. 

aioli in Provence ✓
cacio e pepe in Rome ✓
brezen in Bavaria ✓
toro in Tokyo ✓
waffles in Belgium ✓
schnitzel in Vienna ✓

I never dreamed I’d make it to Key West to have key lime pie. When I realized it was our first stop on an eighteen-day cruise through the Panama Canal, I took out my calendar and drew a heart around April 16th. It was a big day for me. 

So I began my research. I needed to find the island’s best place, and there are a few non-negotiables when it comes to my perfect slice.

1) Crust: graham cracker or bust. The thicker, the better.

2) Topping : A mound of whip cream is the only acceptable option. I don’t want meringue, I don’t want ice cream, and I certainly don’t want a raspberry drizzle. I wasn’t raised in a barn. 

3)  Consistency : The filling must be creamy and chilled, but not frozen. If there’s a struggle to get my fork through, it’s too firm. 

4) – Flavor : The right balance of tart of sweet. My lips shouldn’t pucker, they should instantly morph into a grin.

You’d be surprised how many slices these criteria rule out. I scanned through Yelp! reviews, Trip Advisor forums, and Menupages like Tinder profiles.

Key Lime Pie Factory – pieces looked too small – swipe right
Blue Heaven Bar & Grill –  three inches of meringue? Not interested – swipe right. 

 I finally came upon a promising match at Two Friends Patio & Bar. All my “deal-breakers” were met. Photos looked fantastic. Their website boasted their pie’s accolades. I decided to make a date. 

I’ve noticed that waitresses at casual seafood spots in Florida are all middle-aged, with a leathery tan and brightly colored eyeshadow.  It’s almost like a seal of approval of the place’s authenticity. I got right to the point as Jan set down our tumblers of ice water. 

I cut the chase; there was no need for niceties or woo-ing. 
“I’m here for one reason, Jan. Key lime pie.”

“You’ve come to the right place” she assured me. “We’ve got the best pie on the island. Award winning!”

I order one slice for my husband and I to share; a strategy I always use in these situations. Like a first-date offer of “let’s grab a drink.” You’re able to suggest dinner if things are going well, but you haven’t invested too much effort and money if the subject is disappointing. 

Moments later, our slice appeared, a mile of key lime custard, piled with fluffy whipped cream, and sprinkled with extra graham cracker crumbs! It was like they could see into my soul. 

My fork slid right through, with just a small struggle at the end to break through the thick foundation of buttery, graham cracker crust. The moment the bite hit my tastebuds, my mouth morphed into a wide smile and I beamed down at my perfect pie. 

“Would you like to get dinner?”