Santiago's is off the beaten path, known by locals and return visitors to the island mostly. It is a legend in the SCUBA diving community who return to haunt the reefs of Palancar just off the Cozumel coast.
It all started when I mentioned to a diving guru in Oklahoma that I liked Cozumel but I almost starved to death. There was no good food to be found.
He looked at me like I was an idiot. He held the glare for a few seconds, then grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and stuffing them roughly into my hands, said, "Write this down." There was clearly no room for debate, so I put on my dictation hat and got to writing.
The first thing on the list was, "Santiago's. Have the Key Lime Pie" and it went on from there. He told me, now I'm telling you. The marketing world calls this "buzz" and it's a beautiful thing.
Once you're on the island, two to three dollars US will get you a taxi there, no problem at all. Just say, "Santiago's" and they will smile, nod and take you to pie heaven. Don't misunderstand, the other menu options are quite good as well. The fare is Mexican mostly, but friendly to an American palate and it's delightful. At some point, the owner himself, Santiago... will appear and very loudly welcome you to his place - as he riffs and exchanges bawdy jokes with the locals... and he will tell you to have the pie.
Listen to him.
No really, it's quite good.
If you were some sort of culinary scientist, you might do a Key Lime Pie Study, to verify and prove/disprove my outrageous hypothesis. You might sample the consistency and texture of the pie. The perfect color, toppings, crust and temperature would all be taken into account. You might learn that the forks are balanced by a master forksmith, with just the right curve and heft to serve as pie delivery devices. Your theory might mention the counterpoint of the cool dessert in contrast with the tropical island weather contributing to the effect. You might take into account the indigenous limes (which are the size of canned hams by the way) and measure their delightful fresh lime impact. Your investigation might lead you to re-categorize pie phylum and nomenclature... simply because the pie is so good, it is a pie species unto itself.
It is Apex Predator Pie... ruling the pie pyramid with an iron fist, a dollop of whip cream and a light crumbly crust.
Your pie article would be published and, over time, subjected to intense peer review.
In the end, you would be applauded by the white smocked world as a genius, clearly ahead of your lime, and celebrated in your wisdom, approach and conclusions. For in fact, the pie in question is THE BEST KEY LIME PIE IN THE WORLD.
Or you could just have a slice after a delicious meal and see for yourself. Sometimes an experiential encounter is the best way to go.
My theory is that it isn't the limes, though they are epic and platonic forms of citric goodness. Lime is in Everything served in the area and it's kind of wonderful.
It's not the weather, or the generous portions, or the expectation you have of PIE while making the crossing on the ferry from the Yucatan.
It's not even the man himself, welcoming you like an old friend, whether it's your first time there or not.
The secret to the pie is that it is made with love. It's more explainable with the (pie) charts and graphs and 8x10 color glossy photographs seen in the proper order. But I'm not kidding, the pie is actually made with love.
For behold, it is adoration and Mrs. Santiago who stars as our evil genius behind the pie. She prepares and cooks them herself. And she is the master, supporting her husband's restaurateuring ways with goodness and spousal affection.
Isn't that interesting? Deep in our bones, we can hear the words rumble, "Not good for man to be alone..." and we feel it to be true. That doesn't just mean romantic love, though in that wonderful first case it was. My line is that the best romances are deep friendships at their heart. So many things in life speak to this heartfelt and true community, to a shared experience that heightens the goodness of our joy, and mitigates the heartfelt pain of sorrow. And it's this sort of considerate selflessness that comes through in the pie. She's not doing this for herself, or to somehow be renowned in pie circles. She can make pie, and it helps her fella. But in doing so, she's tapping into a nuanced truth.
It's deep magic and even in the beginning it was true. We are meant to do life together.
That is the key ingredient to the best pie in the world. She's making it in relationship. It springs from a shared life together with her guy... who chose her and she chose him and it speaks of a love that's worth sharing. The heart of the Gospel is love shared... through Incarnation and by extension... through us.
The best way to eat Santiago's Key Lime Pie?
Two pieces... but sharing both of them with someone you love. For shared pie is even sweeter than a piece of your own.
So bring a friend, or a spouse to Santiago's and enjoy the pie in it's native element. You can thank me later! I'm literally salivating remembering the pie.
Or better yet, find your own pie - whatever that may be. And feed the folks around you with something amazing... based on the love you've found and the gifts you bring and the context your "kitchen" is in. There is something unique you have to create, to give and to share that will have people all over the world talking and sharing in it's goodness.