The Great Key Lime Pie Taste-Off
The Awesomeness Digest hits southern Florida to investigate the biggest quandary of all: Where can one find the region’s greatest Key Lime Pie?
While much can be said about Florida, most will agree that their Key Lime Pies have achieved a semi-legendary status. The pie was introduced in a 1931 Borden promotional brochure, from which it evolved into the Keys’ ubiquitous dessert. In the fifties, the state promoted it as its “most famous treat” and later dubbed it “the greatest of all regional American desserts.” Florida has doubled down on the Key Lime Pie, and it only made sense to assemble a panel of four discerning tasters to find the region’s best pie.
Of the four spots sampled, Moondog Café and The Café are located in Key West; The Fresh Squeeze in Fort Lauderdale; and the grocery store Publix can be found more or less anywhere in Florida.
And fair warning: These tasting notes are all written by yours truly, and while I try to sum up the panel’s general opinions, my takes were often the outliers.
Maybe it’s a “me problem.”
Moondog’s pie is a well-baked offering by any magnitude, and I was the lone dissenter not ranking it as the top pick. I get it, though: Objectively, it is as pretty as it is tasty. A lightly burned meringue gives it a Baked Alaska vibe, and the sweet and tart flavors are harmoniously balanced. The pie looks and tastes upscale.
And this is where the “me problem” comes into play. I might have to face that Key Lime Pies aren’t entirely my thing. While I appreciate Moondog’s technical prowess, I found this pie to be too sweet. That’s not on Moondog—Key Lime Pies should be sweet, and there’s nothing artificial about this pie’s flavor. Likewise, the lime is as pronounced as freshly squeezed juice.
I yield to the panel’s verdict. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy Moondog—it’s a top-tier bakery. Yet, the heart wants what the heart wants, and this pie was a bit too on the sweet side for my liking.
Located between the scenic Dania Beach and the less scenic Fort Lauderdale International Airport is The Fresh Squeeze, an unplanned stop on the trip. Best known for its smoothies, the strip-mall café also has a small selection of baked goods, which includes a Key Lime Pie.
The panel placed The Fresh Squeeze at a respectable second place—in line with my aforementioned dissent, I put it third.
The pie is just a step or two away from Moondog’s: Instead of a crown of meringue, you get the more traditional dots around the circumference. That’s fine, but it lacks the wow factor. On the plus side—for me—it also means the pie is less sweet. The punch of lime is there, but not quite up to Moondog’s zestiness.
None of that is too critical. The Fresh Squeeze stands on its own two feet. And in lieu of the panel favorite, you can do a lot worse than this Fort Lauderdale spot.
The Café: The point of contention and likely an indictment of my shifty relationship with Key Lime Pies. I get why two panelists placed it at the bottom. For one thing, it’s not actually a proper Key Lime Pie, but rather a Key Lime Pie Cheesecake. It’s also vegan, but that was not a deterrent for anyone on the panel. (Though, according to one: “I’ve had many better vegan pies.” Fair enough.)
The overall complaint was the pie-cake’s lack of a pronounced zestiness, which, again, is an understandable assessment. It doesn’t scream limes, which I actually appreciate. The sweet and tart flavors are well-balanced, and the less pungent palate is more up my alley than anything that will make my teeth sing. We’re back to the “me thing.” Maybe I’m more of a cheesecake—sans cheese—kind of guy.
The Café is my winner and likely a top contender for anyone looking for something more subdued. For the Key Lime Pie purist? Probably not so much.
Address: 509 Southard St, Key West, FL 33040
A close fourth, Publix’s Key Lime Pie holds a surprisingly high quality for being from a grocery store. Granted, it has a sweeter palate than any of the other pies on the tour—there’s a lot of cream involved—and it looks like something from a high-volume production line.
But: It’s tasty without any artificial flavors. The zest is right up front.
Where the pie falls somewhat short, is that it is too much of a good thing. There are few subtleties in this maximalist pie. I get it, though. A grocery store needs to cater to the masses, so piling on the flavors is probably the right decision.
For this panel, it didn’t quite measure up, with two placing it fourth and two third. Not an instant favorite, in other words, but much respect to it all the same.
Address: All over Florida. It’s easier to find one than not to find one.
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Key lime pie. (2022, December 27). In Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_lime_pie
Mrs. Mac—no relation to the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia character—made that claim for their Key Lime Pie. After quickly vetting the establishment, we decided not to sample it in our test.