It’s a 13-hour drive from Florida’s northwestern state line to the southernmost city, Key West. But from where I live in Cocoa Beach, it’s about six hours, and with three carefree travel companions, it promises to be a great destination for a weekend getaway.
After cruising at breakneck speed past Miami the highway bottlenecks into a narrow two-lane highway funneling traffic through the Southern Glades Wildlife Preserves. Bumper to bumper vehicles inch south, well below the posted speed limit. I imagine that most travelers are like us, anxious to get off the mainland and onto the northernmost Key (Largo), which makes this traffic jam even more stressful and slightly irritating. But just about when I think I’ve had enough the bridge to the island is in sight and within minutes we’re in Key Largo. Ahhh, I hear the Beach Boys and feel the southern tropical winds blowing.
Here we stop to decompress, enjoy a leisurely dinner, spend the night and wake refreshed for our short 97-mile cruise to our destination tomorrow.
We pass on the restaurants the hotel staff recommends and eat at Snapper’s where the fish is fresh and our patio table is right at the water’s edge. When dessert is offered I order a piece of Key Lime pie. And, caught up in the Islanders’ easy-going spirit, I suspend my calorie-counting habit and declare this to be a Key Lime Pie Challenge Weekend.
I’m intrigued by this pie. Such an odd combination of tart fruit in a creamy substance. As a foodie, I’m curious how the lime mixes with the cream without curdling it. And I’m never quite satisfied with the amount of pucker I get out of a bite. I always want more. I hope the Challenge will finally satisfy my desire.
Months ago I purchased a bottle of Key Lime Juice from a Florida citrus grower so I could make the pie at home, but after researching the ingredients and the calorie count per slice (a whopping 553!) I decided against it. The juice is still in my refrigerator, used to freshen a gin and tonic when a real lime is not readily available.
Snapper’s Key Lime pie is average. The lime flavor is sufficient, the graham cracker crust adequate and the garnish (a dot of whipped cream) is imitation. I’m hoping the next pie will be worth the calories.
The next morning we hit the road again. I’m grateful that I’m a back-seat passenger. Driving is tedious and slow through the small towns on each island. But the scenery between the islands is stunning. We cruise through Plantation Key, Windley Key, Islamorada, Long Key, Duck Key and Marathon Island after which we reach the Seven-Mile Bridge. Seven miles long. Views from the bridge are like the finale of a fireworks display — unexpected and ever-changing colors spilling across the shallow sea on either side of us. Dotted with mangrove islands and hemmed in with a century-old defunct railroad bridge that parallels the highway the waters are clear blue, turquoise, and gilded-gold by the shallow sandbars off the islands’ coast.
After passing through several more small Keys we arrive at our destination, the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria Resort. It’s the only hotel on Key West Island with its own private beach — and what a beautiful beach it is! Eyeing it from the resort’s lobby I’m tempted to lounge there all day, but we have plans. (There’s a Pie Challenge happening and I’m the judge!)
We quickly drop our bags in our rooms and head downtown to walk Duval Street (the main drag) from one end to the other. Key West feels like a smaller and slightly calmer version of New Orleans. We do the normal tourists things — window shop, pick up a few souvenirs, and eat dinner at a recommended seafood restaurant. They entice us to try their Key Lime pie but we opt to return to the Resort where we can enjoy dessert at a comfortable table…by candlelight…on the beach.
Casa Marina Key Lime Pie is made with a pistachio crust and served a la mode, with Key Lime ice cream. I taste the ice cream first. Delightful! My mouth puckers. It’s the tartness I’ve been looking. But when I follow that spoonful with a spoonful of pie I’m disappointed again. The filling falls flat. The pistachio crust is unique but doesn’t enhance the pie’s flavor enough to warrant it’s expense. Another average Key Lime Pie, but with really good ice cream! That’s a plus. We turn in for the night with visions of a better Key Lime pie in our travels tomorrow.
The next morning we’re running on a schedule. We’re tripping to the famous landmarks — the Southernmost Point on the island, the Route One Marker, and Hemmingway’s House. But first breakfast. Rumor has it that Blue Heaven has the best Key Lime Pie of all the islands. We’re hoping to find our winner.
Our benedicts are delicious and the Key Lime pie is exceptionally delicious. Topped with inches of meringue (most likely for presentation and perceived value), the pie is as tart as I’d been dreaming a pie could be. In addition to naming it a winner, I’m elated to put an end to consuming the excessive calories in each piece we’ve tasted.
Now, time for some walking, starting with the 3 blocks to Hemmingway’s House where we encounter 6-toed cats, an old urinal converted to the cats’ watering dish and a “wall of wives”. No wonder he was such a great story teller!
p.s. Each link in this blog is worth clicking. The Florida Keys are rich with natural beauty and fascinating personal histories.