Unless I find myself at a Hemingway look-alike contest, I never order key lime pie from a dessert menu. It’s one of those ubiquitous treats that I suppose is a classic for a reason, but I feel like I’ve had just about every version—and really, it’s so 2003. Instead, I swoon over flavors of ice cream, cautiously choosing as though I were thumbing through a 1,000-page wine list.
On a recent Sunday I found myself wandering through the far reaches of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. Toward the end of a cobblestone street sat a large warehouse with a sign: “Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie.” I’ve heard of Steve’s before. Many have, but as an outsider to the cult of all things key-limey, I’ve never made the trek out to try the place.
I found myself rolling my eyes, but then thought, What would Hemingway do? He said it clearly with, “All things truly wicked start from an innocence.” So I figured what the hell and stepped inside.
To no surprise at all, I found a counter selling key lime pie. A menu listed pies by inch diameter: 8-inch, 10-inch…yawn. I scrolled down to something called “Swingles” and inquired.
I learned that Swingle is part of the scientific name for a key lime. At Steve’s it is also the name of a frozen wündertreat: a 4-inch key lime pie dipped in chocolate and served on a stick. And since it is frozen, the lime custard develops the texture of…ice cream! For the first time ever, I felt that I didn’t have to choose the flavor—the flavor chose me.
As Steve’s Swingle melted in my mouth I became grateful for all those mediocre diner pies. The ones that have kept this classic alive long enough for someone to figure out how to make it really, really good.
Key lime pie is not made for defeat. Key lime pie is made to be frozen.