There’s no denying it: Key lime pie is an essential staple of the Florida Keys. With a local fruit as its primary ingredient — yes, Key limes are different than the more widely known, larger Persian lime typically found in grocery stores — this tart dessert is a source of pride for natives of the Keys, or “Conchs” as they’re nicknamed.
The origins of the pie go back to the 1800s and are a source of controversy. One story claims that sailors off the coast of the Keys created a recipe for a dessert using condensed milk because they could not keep fresh milk (which needs refrigeration) on board. The sailors mixed the condensed milk with Key lime juice and egg yolks — both of which they believed would prevent scurvy — sat it in the sun to thicken, and poured the mixture over bread. A conflicting story, however, says that a woman named Aunt Sally, the cook for Key West's first millionaire, made the first Key lime pie.
Whichever origin story you choose to believe, or whether you prefer your Key lime pie topped with whipped cream or meringue (a heated debate if brought up in front of any Keys native), here are a few spots that need to be on your Key lime pie tour of the Florida Keys.
With its signature sky-high mountain of meringue on top of every slice, Blue Heaven’s Key lime pie is a favorite of meringue lovers. If you can’t commit to a whole slice, the restaurant also offers mini Key lime pies that resemble cupcakes. It's located in a space that was once home to Ernest Hemingway’s personal boxing ring and make sure to take your slice of pie out into the courtyard, where you can pay your respects at the “Rooster Cemetery,” the resting place of the ancestors of the many roosters who roam the Keys today.
Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe
Kermit Carpenter is a local Keys celebrity, and you can usually find him dressed in a bright green chef uniform, greeting passersby in front of his namesake pie shop. At Kermit’s, you can find a creamy slice of Key lime pie made with their signature Key lime juice and topped with whipped cream. Additionally, Kermit’s chocolate-dipped pie slices have a loyal following and are worth a try.
This Islamorada standby is known for its elevated seafood dishes but their version of a Key lime pie is a necessary addition to a meal. Their pie is served cheesecake-style: thick and creamy with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Reservations are required.
Old Town Bakery
This small shop on Key West’s Eaton Street is take-out only, but has a loyal following that often leads to long lines. It’s certainly worth the wait, though, and you won’t want to leave town without trying a slice of their unique Key lime pie; it has a spiced gingerbread crust and homemade whipped cream on top.
The Fish House
Pull up to Key Largo’s Fish House and you’ll immediately be greeted by a giant pirate statue at the door, followed by an indoor dining area with Christmas lights hanging across every square inch of its ceilings. This 30-years-and running quirky mainstay serves a Key lime pie comprised of a thick, tart layer of custard topped by a thinner layer of meringue.
This bakery on Duval Street is run by French pastry chef Babbette Odou. Odou has adopted her new hometown’s famous pie, serving up a tart version with a light and airy crust and whipped cream on the side. Take your slice onto the restaurant’s serene back patio and kick back, Parisian style.
Moondog Cafe & Bakery
This downtown Key West cafe is the perfect place to stop for a slice of pie after visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum next door. Their slice of pie has a thick, tart filling with a hearty helping of meringue on top.
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
Serving Key Largo since the 1970’s, this small family-owned eatery serves a rich and tart slice of Key lime pie, with a generous portion of whipped cream on top. Mrs. Mac’s expanded with a second Key Largo location in 2011.