I Went on a Key Lime Pie Road Trip with My Dad

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Aura Lewis)

After months of deliberation, my father and I finally settled on the Florida Keys for our long-overdue father-daughter trip. The decision was primarily made due to its neutral proximity for us flying in from opposite coasts. Plus, it was just a place both of us had always wanted to go.

Our route would take us roughly 100 miles from Key Largo to Kew West via US 1, aka the Overseas Highway. This iconic two-lane road with 42 (!!!) bridges is one of the most scenic: Imagine limestone islets, working docks and marinas, and the most beautiful shades of aqua marine water you’ve ever seen.

It is also one of the most delicious — so long as you love key lime pie. It is almost impossible to drive this route and not notice the plethora of signs and stores selling key lime products, every single one of which touts their pie as either “The Best Key Lime Pie,” or “The Original Key Lime Pie.”

My Key Lime Pie Road Trip with My Dad

1. Key Largo: Snappers

On the first night of our trip, a breezy April night, we were sitting at the bar of Snappers, a convivial beachside locale best known for their locally caught seafood. Of course, we had to order the homemade key lime pie — and it definitely lived up to expectations. As we were about to head out, the couple across the bar chimed in.

“If you like that pie, you have to head down to mile marker 92 to The Giraffe,” the woman, whose name we learned was Melanie, told us.

“No, no, Mr. C’s is better, everything’s homemade, even the ice cream,” her husband, Louis, said.

Tasting Notes: Pie was served with whipped cream. Very simple, perfect texture, not too sweet, not too tart.

The next day, heeding our new friend’s advice, our first pit stop was the Blond Giraffe in Tavernier. The owners, Tania Beguinati and Roberto Madeira, use a secret family recipe passed down from Tania’s grandmother in Brazil, and the pie has earned accolades that include “best key lime pie,” by the Key Lime Pie Festival and Florida Monthly Magazine.

So how was it? The filling was creamy and sweet with just a touch of tang, and the cornmeal crust was delicate and flaky. But it was the billowy mound of meringue on top of the pie that was the game-changer. Apparently, meringue is a subject of some debate (with or without is a never-ending feud around these parts), but we were hooked.

Not only that, but we knew we needed to try more pies. Our road trip had officially become a quest to taste the best slice of key lime pie in the Florida Keys.

Tasting Notes: The big difference here is pies are served with meringue on top.

3. Islamorada: The Green Turtle Inn

Eleven miles south, our next stop was The Green Turtle Inn in Islamorada. “The Turtle,” as it’s known locally, has been an Islamorada institution since 1947 and was made even more famous by Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

We ordered a couple cups of turtle chowder (sorry, turtles) and a slice of key lime pie for the road. The macadamia nut Rice Krispies crust was unconventional; the filling was dense and sweet; and it came with a dollop of whipped cream, berry syrup, and a side of strawberries.

Tasting Notes: Good, but didn’t need the strawberry jam.

4. Islamorada: Hungry Tarpon

Only a few miles south, at marker 77 to be exact, we stopped for lunch at the Hungry Tarpon whose local specialties include conch fritters, mahi tacos, and, of course, key lime pie. The real winner here we decided was the conch and tacos, along with the chance to watch eager tourists feed the Goliath-sized tarpons in the adjoining marina.

Tasting Notes: Pie here was good, with graham cracker crust and whipped cream.

5. Duck Key: Angler and Ale

After lunch and a walk around the cute artist village encircling the restaurant, we made a quick pit stop in Duck Key at an attractive little dockside restaurant called Angler & Ale. The pie here, served with a lightly toasted meringue, was worth the stop alone, as were the beautiful harbor views and signature blonde ale.

Tasting Notes: Pie here comes topped with toasted meringue and fresh berries.

6. Summerland Key: Sugarloaf Food Co.

Our next stop wasn’t for another 40 miles, in Summerland Key, where a cute roadside spot called the Sugarloaf Food Co. beckoned. So many pies and desserts to choose from here!

The traditional key lime pies come in individual large or small portions, and there are also “coconut pie bars.” In need of a little caffeine boost, we each got a cup of “nitro” cold brew coffee and, committed to the cause, a key lime pie and coconut pie bar, which we ate outside under one of the tables with an umbrella.

Tasting Notes: They were both delightfully sweet and just the right amount of pie to satiate our key lime craving.

7. Key West: Blue Heaven

Our next and final stop was mile marker 0 — Key West, once home to Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffet, and of course the birthplace of key lime pie. This was key lime mecca and we were there to pay our respects.

We were told by pretty much every person we talked to in the area that breakfast doesn’t get much better than Blue Heaven. We got to take a sneak peek behind the scenes of Blue Heaven’s bakery, where Theresa “T” Paturno was baking up a few of her signature pies, or what we later called her meringue masterpieces.

“The meringue is really what sets our pies apart,” Theresa told us. “That’s really where the artistic part come in.” Masterpieces indeed, the mile-high meringue crown is an impressive feat, and definitely had the most uniquely sweet flavor of all the pies we’d tried. Like taking a bite of a sweet and delicious key lime cloud, the sugary softness was the perfect counterpart to the tartness of the filling.

Tasting Notes: Blue Heaven had the most beautiful meringue key lime pies we’d ever seen.

8. Stock Island: The Perry

After Blue Heaven, it was time for lunch at The Perry, a newly opened hotel on Stock Island, a five-minute drive from Key West. Chef Ryan Fredstrom’s key lime pie creation starts with a coconut macaroon crust that’s baked in a jar. Then, the pie filling — Nellie & Joe’s key lime (a local Key West brand), eggs, and sweetened condensed milk — is added on top.

Tasting Notes: It was textural key lime overload in the best way possible.

The final stop on our key lime pie quest was Kermit’s. It is said to be the holy grail of key lime pie, with two locations in town. We headed to the seaport store on Elizabeth Street.

When we told the girls behind the counter about our journey and all the pies we’d tried, they didn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops. We tried blueberry, strawberry, gluten-free, Belgian chocolate dipped, and of course good-old fashioned traditional served up with a dab of homemade whipped cream. No meringue here!

Tasting Notes: They were good. All of them. We had officially achieved key lime pie nirvana.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Not planning a trip to the Florida Keys? No problem. We got (and tested) the recipe for you.

Michelle Gross gained at least five pounds in the process of writing this story.