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March 31, 2006

Get a Life—March 31, 2006

Key lime pie. There’s a certain ring to it. Key lime pie. The tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Key. Lime. Pie. (Lolita, anyone?). So I don’t have quite the same passion for Key lime pie as that of an aging academic for the eponymous nymphet (and I sincerely hope that no one does). But that’s not to say that the dessert does not hold some power over me. Below is a rundown of some of the Key lime pies I’ve had in Chicago—all at places that are fun to go to, even if enjoyed sans Key lime pie (although, why you would want to go sans Key lime pie when you can go avec Key lime pie is beyond me).

Mambo Grill

This is probably the best Key lime pie I’ve had in Chicago. In my research on Key lime pie, I found keylime.com, a website devoted entirely to the Key lime—its history, horticultural information, and recipes. It was started by a man who endearingly says that he “owe[s] a lot to this little fruit.” I learned that the perfect Key lime pie has a very thin (or even non-existent) meringue layer and is best served with just a dollop of whipped cream.

This is how Mambo Grill does it, and it really makes a difference. The subtle sweetness of the whipped cream combined with the tart pie was delicious. Even my sister, a snob for the Heartland Brewery’s Key lime pie in New York, thought it was pretty good. We ordered two slices, and she made me share one with my parents while she had the other all to herself. Bitch.

Anyway…make a reservation at Mambo Grill. It becomes quite a scene on weekend nights. Go for good, reasonably priced food in the River North area, order any of their dishes that contain sweet potatoes, and make sure to save room for the Key lime pie.

Waterhouse Tavern & Grill

My friend Sara and I stumbled upon this place and went in for the advertised Monday special of $2 burgers and beer (check out the website, waterhousechicago.com, for other weekly specials). I would describe Waterhouse as a mix of a sports bar and a brewery, with just a tad of sleazy pick-up joint thrown in. But I only felt the pick-up joint part as I made my way to the bathroom, walking between the TV and a row of booths filled with men in their mid-20s with leather jackets and too much hair gel.

To be fair, though, the Waterhouse felt fun and comfortable, just really dark. Another nugget of information from keylime.com is that a difference—a key difference, one might say (yuk, yuk)—between Key limes and regular limes is that their flesh is yellow instead of green. Thus, any Key lime pie that is green is artificially colored. I think that Waterhouse’s Key lime pie was actually yellow, but the place was so dark I couldn’t tell.

The burgers were good at Waterhouse. We didn’t try the beer (but based on the increasing volume and lasciviousness of the conversations around us, I’m guessing it performs its function). The Key lime pie, as would be expected, left much to be desired. The crust was heartbreakingly thin, the meringue layer too thick, and the pie filling itself a little grainy. It’s not worth the trek out to Waterhouse just for the Key lime pie, but there is another reason to go here. Two words: Tater Tots. No joke. They have Tater Tots. And they’re good. Sara, who is a Tater tot connoisseur, says that they are just the right amount of crunchy.

Caffe Florian

And the dark horse for good Key lime pie is…Caffe Florian. I don’t feel the need to go into great detail about our little café on 57th Street; I’m sure most of you have already been. But I will tell you about the Key lime pie: yet again too much meringue, but a good pie filling and a thick, dark, crumbly crust. Although they’ve shortened their hours (and something about a Key lime pie at midnight is so much more satisfying than at 10 p.m.), the Florian is a good bet when you don’t want to leave Hyde Park for your Key lime pie fix.

Keylime.com warns: “All Key Lime Pies Are Not Created Equal!” I second that sentiment (although perhaps not quite so emphatically). Take the pie filling and whipped cream of Mambo’s, the mealy crust of the Florian’s, maybe the color of Waterhouse’s, and you would have the perfect Key lime pie. Until then, enjoy these pies for what they are. Happy eating.

Mambo Grill

Address: 412 North Clark Street

Phone: (312) 467-9797

Via CTA: Take the Red Line to Grand

Waterhouse Tavern and Grill

Address: 3704 North Paulina Street

Phone: (773) 871-1200

Via CTA: Brown Line to Paulina.

Caffe Florian

Address: 1450 East 57th Street

Phone: (312) 752-4100

Via CTA: Ummm…walk.