tricky lime pai
the first time i went to KEY WEST, i had just lost my father. and, however painful it was, that trip - with my brother and my mother - helped me start to heal.
the sunset at FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR was, without a doubt, the most beautiful natural spectacle i've seen - and, while i have returned other times, i never saw a sky as pretty as that one, a sunset so sublime. that moment was indescribable. there was a bit of everything there: light, shadow, pain, mourning, celebration, love, party, tears.
and that's how key west became a place i love to visit. whenever someone is in town, i suggest a quick getaway to key west. a little under 4 hours from miami; it's worth every second.
my cousin gabriel said yes to that proposition and there we went for 2 days under the sun.
while there is a lot of great fish and seafood, key west's gastronomic star is the KEY LIME PIE. that's because this traditional desert was born there, in the tropical archipelago connected by an almost infinite bridge surrounded by the most colorful blue.
so every time i go to key west, i always order the key lime pie wherever i go to eat. it's a way to honor the treat's history and caress with care my palate - which is normally drawn to light and citric deserts.
we wound up leaving saturday around 10am, which obligated us to stop on the road for lunch. we usually do that at the wonderful MORADA BAY in ISLAMORADA, but we decided to go to one that we always drive by and think “oh, this is so the keys”: the WAHOOS BAR AND GRILL.
we sat at the best table of the house, on the balcony’s corner, surrounded by the ocean view. it’s as if it doesn’t matter how crappy the weather is in miami; it’s always sunny in they keys. gigantic fish swam a few feet underneath us, that wellness anthem “don’t worry, be happy” playing on the radio and a chilenian salt-of-the-earth waiter set the tone for a nice experience that was concluded with a good key lime pie. the crust was nice and crunchy. the filling well-served, acid in the right measure.
but the best, no doubt, was the meringue. yes, while i’m not one with a sweet tooth - and this meringue was sweet as hell - it reminisced the “suspiro” candy, which transported me back in time and into the kitchen, where i would dig my finger into the bowl to steal some meringue in between batter sessions.
as i was going to my second scoop, a hearty laugh calls my attention to the side. is my father. non-judgmental of my crime (because he’d do the same).
but this sweet part-memory part-imagination quickly vanishes when my husband asks “so, what’s the score on this one?”.
it wasn’t my father. i was never in the kitchen. i’m still in wahoos bar and grill’s balcony; a place my father’s never been even close to.
without skipping a bit, aware of the tricks longing plays on us, i replied:
“a classic lime pie. honest, tasty. no flair, no bullshit. cool.” good to start the key lime pie tour, well-suited intro to the keys’ vibe that was to come.
later, it’s night and we’re finally in key west. after canvasing DUVAL ST top to bottom, we decided to pick the first place we could find to eat because the hunger was real, the feet were hurting and the humidity was killing us.
if every time we’d stop in a place as good as this one with no plans, tripadvisor and yelp! would go out of business. NINE ONE FIVE is one of those restaurants that just exhales key west. in an old southern US house, with “frenchiana” (that’s france + louisiana) accent, divine food was served. my lobster ravioli bathed in squid ink was without a doubt an unforgettable dish - one of those flavors that stubbornly stays in your mouth and your mind and your heart, even if years go by and things change. such a remarkable taste that you get prematurely afraid of not feeling the same the next time you taste it (because i’m definitely trying that again sometime soon).
but we didn’t come here for the ravioli, right? key lime pie.
well, here’s the tricky thing, this one can’t even be called that.
nine one five’s key lime pie is called “key lime bar”. and when it arrived at our table, we even asked ourselves if that one would count for our evaluation. it didn’t come in a slice shape. it came in a “bar” shape. but with this one, just like with my dad’s food, looks weren’t the most important thing.
not that its presentation was ugly. on the contrary: it’s an exquisite high-gastronomy composition. so well composed in the dish, it looks like a work of art. and it is.
but… it’s one of those things that you think “key lime pies are supposed to be bada-bing-bada-boom! why so different? is it to mask a lack of flavor?”. no no no. that key lime whatever-you-want-to-call-it is - if not the best - definitely in the top 3 desserts i’ve ever eaten in my life.
the crunchy biscuit crust, the jello-wy lime filling brulléd(!), the lemon ice cream (dudu thinks it was orange) and those other fruits that came with it… oh my god.
a dessert like that for 3 is not enough. not for the quantity - it’s fairly well served - but because you just want to keep eating, one scoop after another, only stopping to laugh, chat and breathe. just like it was on any given sunday when my family (and whoever else would drop by would sit around the table and watch the time go by, treated by my father’s culinary talents.
certainly, we couldn’t do that at nine one five, though. however fair the price was, our pockets don’t run that deep, so we went back to our hotel, tired and happy. a magical experience.
on the next day, we had reservations at LATITUDES, a restaurant in a tiny tiny island resort 3-minute away (by boat) to the shore. to get there, you need to hop on a boat at the key west port. fancy.
we sat to eat inside because the heat was unbearable, and was served by MAX, a super sweet guy from UZBEKISTAN. lunch was delicious - easy menu, light, tasty, with a much more reasonable price than we’d anticipated. especially if you consider the unbelievable blue setting surrounding the place.
the key lime pie was nice. it was just right. everything in place. her only “problem” was the fact that we ate it after the key lime “bar”. which made me think about how it’s hard to classify stuff. what if i had eaten the first one now; maybe i would say it’s really not that good? memory is a tricky thing. does it influence the way we perceive things in the moment or is it the other way around?
also, i have a thing with key lime pies that come with berries. i don’t feel like they go together. but i LOVED that this one came with a side of extra meringue. of course.
the best part was yet to come.
we couldn’t go back to the shore without taking a dip at that paradisiac beach. being in the US for so long, i second-guessed myself - “should i? can i? is this resort guests only?” - but my brazilian side is still stronger: we left our things near a bush and *SPLASH*
the water was so transparent that even though we were shoulder-deep, we could see our toenails.
at some point, i dove my whole body trying to refresh myself. but the water was so hot, it was actually even more unpleasant. i was better off half dry, half wet. as i resurface and try to rub my eyes from the salty water, i feel a presence. but it’s just my imagination. probably provoked by the nearby talk between my husband and my cousin about how cuba was so far, yet so near (metaphorically or literally) from where we were.
that’s the tricky thing about this whole story.
while my father has never been to key west in his lifetime, every time i’m there, i feel he’s with me. so close, yet so far. if i close my eyes, i can see him. but whenever i open, it’s just my imagination. i can feel him closing the car door, playfully turning the key-ring around his fingers, crossing the street. right there, at a perpendicular street to duval, near the old cinema turned into a walgreens.
that cinema isn’t there anymore, but it kinda is.
it’s rough when the absence becomes a presence. it’s sort of like a key lime pie. bittersweet.