The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 20, 2012

‘Five-pound journey’ produces best slices of key lime pie

By Lee Pound
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — You can’t visit the Florida Keys without trying key lime pie. I thought it would be a fun scrapbook memory to have a slice of key lime pie at each spot Mike and I stopped and rate it with a photo. Our 14-year-old daughter, Emma, didn’t seem to think this was the greatest idea, but she played along.

Everyone from Miami moving south on the A1A coastal byway claims to have the best key lime pie, but only a few received a 10 from us.

Key lime pie has two versions of crust: pastry or graham cracker. It has a variety of toppings or sides as well: meringue or no meringue, fresh fruit, fruit puree and/or whipped cream. Some of the fillings are cooked, some uncooked. But the most authentic key lime pie contains no green food coloring and is actually a light yellow. Some say that a true key lime pie must have meringue. The idea back in the 1930s was to use the key limes, sweetened condensed milk (they had no fresh milk) and an entire egg -- yolks for the custard and the whites of the eggs for the meringue.

Our quest for finding the best slice of key lime pie actually started in Miami in South Beach. But truly the best of the best remain in Key West. Every restaurant serves the pie, and there is a version for every palate. So, we went on our five-pound journey for the best slice. One slice is great, but 14 are even better. This is why I call it the five-pound journey.

We tried a slice at every spot. We had it with graham cracker crust and without, with meringue and without, with fruit and with whipped cream, frozen on a stick, chocolate graham cracker crust, graham cracker crust with browned butter and coconut, and even deep-fried.

Because we found three terrific key lime pies that all received a “10” rating, we have separated them into three different categories. Two of them happen to be from a couple of our favorite spots to eat, and another comes from a great spot for a quick cool-down from the Florida heat.

Here are our ratings:

Best pie with no meringue -- The Rooftop CafŽ, 308 Front Street. By far, our favorite slice of pie. This one seems to have browned butter and coconut in the graham cracker crust. It’s perfectly tart and is served with a slice of key lime, then topped with fresh whipped cream. The color of the custard is a perfect yellow-green. There is nothing extra fancy about its presentation, because it doesn’t need it. This delicious key lime pie stands on its own merit.

Best pie with meringue -- Blue Heaven, 729 Thomas Street, in Bahama Village. Supposedly the chef also makes the pies for Salute, at 1000 Atlantic Blvd., which surely would have been rated a “10” if we’d stopped there this year. The custard is tangy, tart and just right. The meringue stands about a mile high and is perfectly browned on top. There is no weeping with this meringue, and the crust is amazing. If you believe you must have meringue for a true key lime pie, then this is the spot for you.

Best pie in different format -- Kermit’s Frozen Key Lime pie, 802 Duvall Street. This pie is frozen on a stick and dipped in chocolate. It probably rates the highest on a hot Key West afternoon. Kermit’s has a variety of locations where you can get this frozen delicacy on a stick. This particular store also has key lime sauces, syrups and barbecue sauces. They will definitely be getting an online order from us soon. Kermit’s also lets you ship home a full key lime pie for about $76, overnighted to you on dry ice.

So that’s our journey through the land of key lime pie. Emma and I decided there were no losers, as they all were great in their own way. Now, my next project with her is to see how many of our own key lime pies we can make before school starts. I figure that is another 10-pound summer journey!