The key to happiness might be as simple as a slice of key lime pie. But pairing that sweet treat with a trip to the Keys is the proverbial cherry on top. The topping is actually a bit debated: whipped cream or meringue? As is the crust: graham cracker or pastry? Oh, and the color: yellow for Keys denizens, neon green for nonislanders.
Because key lime pie originated in the Keys -- although key limes no longer grow there (thanks, hurricanes!) -- nearly every eatery, shack, and shop at seemingly every mile marker claims to sell "the best" and "the original." Let's not get tangled in that web of origin. Instead, here's a simple countdown our ten favorite slices. Pucker up!
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The first key lime pie was made in Key West, but not at this shop, which opened only a few years ago. However, the Key Lime Pie Factory's $5 slices are rich and creamy like cheesecake, making them a solid contender. The shop is located in the heart of tourist central, so it's convenient and leads everyone to think it's the original spot, thanks to the misleading sign. It stocks a seemingly endless supply of all things key lime -- from extracts to cookies to slices on a stick dipped in chocolate.
9. Hobo's Café
Hobos may not conjure up images of luxurious and decadent desserts, but Hobo's Café in Key Largo will make you change your mind. Real key limes are used in the fillings, a crisp graham cracker crust lies on the bottom, and it's decorated with just the right amount of whipped cream on top of each slice ($4.50). Sometimes the slices come with a green candy foot or sandal candy or a lime wedge on top. It's the ultimate Hobo stamp of approval.
Just before Key West is one of the coolest, locals-only kind of spots. Hogfish Bar & Grill is located on Stock Island, and you would certainly know about it if you know a local or have a friend in the know. The place is like an enormous tiki hut with a full bar, great seafood, and heavenly slices of key lime pie.
Since the '70s, Mrs. Mac's has been delivering the goods with an amazing key lime pie and other treats like the key lime freeze. The pie packs creamy, cold, tangy, and sweet between a homemade graham cracker crust and dollops of whipped cream.
The most over-the-top slice comes from Blue Heaven near the Bahama Village of Key West. Some say meringue is part of the original key lime pie, but this one is some next-level stuff. The meringue is full of body and height, like overteased and overhairsprayed hair in the '80s. It is amazing the first couple of hours and then tends to fall flat. Make sure you get a fresh slice, and it is a real slice of heaven. The cool vibe outside with live reggae music just adds to the experience.
For many years it was Manny and Isa's key lime pie that was the ultimate. Their stand closed, but you can still get their pies -- along with a tasty latte -- at Midway Café in Islamorada. The pie comes frozen, so you can buy a whole one or a thawed-out slice. It may not look pretty, but it is absolutely delicious. The filling can't be beat. And while this one uses a regular pie crust instead of graham cracker, it actually works better on this particular pie -- it's flaky and buttery.
4. Fish House
Everyone has their special Keys traditions. However, for many Miamians a stop at Fish House is a necessity. As you make your way into Key Largo, the most delicious matecumbe-style yellowtail, a giant cocktail, and a delicious slice of key lime pie ($5.99) always beckon. The meringue is slightly browned and features those perfect curls.
3. Pepe's Café
Pepe's has a sign boasting it's the oldest eating house in Key West, and this we actually believe! It was established in 1909, and of all the handmade desserts, the key lime pie is the most notable. It's nice and tart, with a crunchy graham crust and plenty of whipped cream. The charm of this joint adds to the sweetness of this pie.
In Islamorada you'll find the most charming place. You can call it simply Ma's. It is as comforting as home, and the homemade key lime pie ($5) is not to be missed. The graham cracker crust has some crunch, the filling is tangy, and each slice is topped with a mountain of sweet meringue. It is a real treat at Mile Marker 81.5.
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Kermit's has two locations in Key West, so you are never far away from a fantastic slice and baker Kermit Carpenter. He can greet you with a pie, fake you out with a fake pie thrown in your face, or find other ways to lure you in. However, all of that is just the whipped cream on top. When it comes to the pie itself, it truly is the best. It's tart and rich, uses real key limes (not the Persian variety), and the graham cracker crust on the bottom is tops. But when he freezes it, puts it on a stick, and dips it in dark Belgian chocolate, you'll fall in love.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst