A “Local” Insider’s Guide to the Perfect Key Lime Pie

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A “Local” Insider's Guide to the Perfect Key Lime Pie

By T. Michele Walker

Pi Day may be March 14 (get it, 3.14), and as we all know, National Pie Day is January 23. But in the summer heat in St. Pete, every day is Key Lime Pie Day.

Key Lime Pie in the Sunshine City is as ubiquitous as cheesecake in Manhattan. And to help you navigate the terrain, check out our top ten list of our personal favorite Key Lime Pie bakeries and restaurants listed below. 

Key Lime Pie or “KLP” as I like to call it, is surrounded by a bit of mystery and controversy as tangled as the Lincoln assassination. Well, maybe not that tangled, but the story does zig and zag.

The controversy begins with the claim that the famous dessert wasn’t actually created in Florida, but by the Borden condensed milk company in, wait for it, New York City. 

They claim that thanks to a wave of advertising by the condensed milk company, the recipe for what was known as “Magic Lemon Cream Pie” most likely made its way to Florida sometime in the 1930s and 40s. There canny pie makers modified the recipe, swapping lemons for Key West’s sweet-tart limes (Southern Living).

However, Key West locals say that this is balderdash and blasphemous poppycock, and attribute the dessert origins to a woman named “Aunt Sally,” a cook for the famous William Curry. She allegedly concocted the pie in the kitchens of Key West’s Curry Mansion, where she had access to sweetened condensed milk and a plethora of key limes.

As with so much Florida history, the future of “KLP” was determined by a hurricane.

In 1926, a hurricane destroyed the key lime plantations and growers replanted with Persian limes. Today, the only true, golf ball size key limes found in the Florida Keys are in private backyards. Commercial key limes, originally from Malaysia and brought over by the Spanish in the 1500s, can be found on the mainland in the Miami area (Patch.com).

Key lime versus regular lime. The size is surprising!

In 1994, the Florida Legislature recognized Key Lime Pie as an important symbol of Florida. It wasn’t made official until July 1, 2006, when the legislature named the Key Lime Pie the Official Florida State Pie (eReference Desk).

Here’s what it takes to make Florida’s Key lime pie: 

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • half a cup of key lime juice (for best flavor, use only fresh key lime juice)
  • 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • graham cracker crust (pre-made)

Directions:

  1. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl until light and thick. Blend in the lime juice, then beat the sweetened condensed milk. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.
  2. In a glass or metal (not plastic*) container or bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar until glossy peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie from crust to crust.
  3. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Sit back and enjoy a slice of Florida!

*Chef’s Tips: Never beat egg whites in a plastic bowl or with any plastic utensils. Plastic is porous and may retain drops of oil or grease, which will deflate the egg whites and not allow them to become light and fluffy. Only use glass or metal when whipping egg whites.

By the way, an authentic Key Lime Pie is never green, but yellow.

An Insider “Local” Guide to The Top Key Lime Pies in the ‘Burg

1. Frida’s

9700 Ulmerton Road, Largo

This small cafe located in Largo (just a short drive from downtown) specializes in gourmet coffees, sandwiches, soups, salads and amazing desserts! You can choose from individual desserts or entire cakes and other delicacies.

2. Mazzaro’s

2909 22nd Ave N, St. Pete

You can never go wrong with these Italian Market desserts.

Family owned and operated for more than 20 years, Mazzaro’s is dedicated to connecting with its customers. They listen and react to crowd favorites as well as upholding a family atmosphere.

3. Valhalla Bakery

1113 Central Avenue inside Baum Avenue Market

Some of the greatest hits from Valhalla’s menu include the Chocolate Chunk Cookie, the Cinnamon Roll, the Death Bar and the YOLO. The Death Bar is a brownie smothered in a thick layer of peanut butter crunch filling, topped in candied Oreos, chocolate chips and ganache. The YOLO is two chocolate chunk cookies, filled with a thick layer of smooth bourbon buttercream. This vegan bakery also sells muffins, cupcakes, tarts, pies, scones and more.

Just two varieties of the delectable pie treats Valhalla Bakery carries in-store!
Just two varieties of the delectable pie treats Valhalla Bakery carries in-store!

4. Love Food Central

2057 Central Avenue

The local owned vegan and gluten-free cafe offers delicious bagels, and arguably the best vegan burger in the entire region. But the dessert counter is “the bomb.” The Red Velvet Beet Cake, the peanut butter pie, the exceptional chocolate chip cookies and the exquisite Key Lime Pie are worth the trip. 

5. Funky Sweets

11024 4th Street N., St. Pete

Funky Sweets is home to some of the most wild desserts in the ‘Burg. You want a bucket of donuts? You can get them here. Want funnel cake covered in ice cream? You got it. Fried Oreos? Eat to your heart’s desire. 

6. Yoder’s Amish Bakery 

3434 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota

It’s not located in the ‘Burg, but if you find yourself in Sarasota, the pies at Yoder’s are made fresh from scratch every morning. You can get them by the slice or the whole pie. Yoder’s has become a local tradition and favorite destination for many. Yoder’s Restaurant has established a culture of hearty portions and quality Amish home cooking, served with friendly service in a family atmosphere.

Yoder's Key Lime Pie
Yoder’s Key Lime Pie

7. Pie Factory

12777 Walsingham Rd, Largo

Yes, my friends, Largo is part of St. Pete and it’s worth the short drive to experience the true Key West Tradition. Their Key Lime Pie is made from a recipe handed down for generations. 

8. Trip’s Diner

2339 Martin Luther King Jr St N., St. Pete

Named after the owners’ triplets, Libby, Will and John, they strive to be the perfect neighborhood restaurant that offers a variety of simple food. They have different pies on display every day. 

Pie slices from Trip's Diner
Pie slices from Trip’s Diner

9. Publix

Located on a corner near you

Publix makes the cut, as there is nothing more “Florida” than Publix and they do have the finest desserts in town. You can’t go wrong with a Publix cake or pie.

10. My Granny’s kitchen 

Gulfport, Florida

Not a business, but my actual grandmother’s kitchen. 

Sadly, my granny is no longer with us, but in her day, she made the best fried chicken, fried squirrel (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) and Key Lime Pie that ever walked the face of the ‘Burg.

Now get out there and eat some Key Lime Pie and let us know which is your favorite “KLP” in the ‘Burg.

1 COMMENT

  1. t michele:

    Another surprisingly excellent KLP are the one’s sold at Trader Joe’s. The only problem is that they’re seasonal. Once they arrive, they just fly off the shelves. Sometimes best to get more than one-at-a-time while they’re available.

    Michael B. Wright

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