Meat pies have been around since medieval times. It’s a meal so pervasive that no one country can lay claim to its origin — though some places still try. Melton Mowbray Pork Pies (from the town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, England) are protected by EU law, and as my good friend Laura says, when it comes to meat pies in her native Australia, “a meat pie is more than just a delicious meaty pasty, it’s a bloody Aussie icon.”
I remember that from my short stint living in Brisbane in 2007, where I met Laura. You can get the little flaky (or greasy) bites anywhere from 7-Eleven to the poshest silver-service restaurant. Eaten out of a bag with a squirt of ketchup (er, tomato sauce), or topped with gravy and sliced with a knife and fork, the meat pie is king. I asked my husband what he remembered about eating meat pies and he said, “It didn’t matter if it was cheap or expensive, I loved every one.”
Well, we’re pretty far away from Australia, but the meat pie is becoming more pervasive around Seattle. You can get a knife-and-fork version at Ballard’s Kangaroo & Kiwi Pub, but I was after something that mimicked the low-fi, on-the-go pocket of yumminess we ate in Brisbane.
It’s been a while, so I asked Laura what makes a good Aussie meat pie. According to her, there are three things: 1. A flaky/buttery/crispy pastry. “If it’s not all down you then it’s not right.” 2. The meat needs to be tender so you can bite through it with ease. 3. The gravy. “We’re looking for a dark and flavoursome gravy but not too runny consistency.” (Aussie/British spelling on “flavorsome” intentional, of course.)
First stop on my Aussie meat-pie expedition was Jesters. Located in Bellevue Square, the first Jesters originated in Western Australia in 1997. The pies there are small enough to be easily handheld, and served in a paper bag. There are traditional meat pies; minced beef and cheese, and steak and mushroom, as well as butter chicken, chicken tinga, and spinach and feta. There are also breakfast pies, and mini sweet pies; adzuki bean, chocolate and custard. The day we were there you got a free coffee with the purchase of any pie. The minced-beef deluxe had the addition of mashed potatoes inside the pie ($5.95) and met the criteria of a flaky, crisp crust that definitely got everywhere. The gravy was a bit runny, but it was still easy to eat out of hand. We also got the butter chicken ($5.95). Same great flaky crust, not as successful on the tender meat part, and strangely sweet? Overall, quite successful in scratching that Aussie pie itch.
On the other hand, Premier Meat Pies bills itself as a Scottish pie place. There are now two locations to visit, one in Seattle Center and the other right on the waterfront on Pier 54. The new waterfront location is industrial chic; all exposed duct work, shiny black tables and an electronic menu board. There’s an extensive list of meat pies as well as sides and toppings — everything from chili and mashed potatoes to broccoli slaw or a minted pea salad. There are also sweet pies, ice cream, and beer and wine.
We got the steak-and-mushroom pie ($8.49) and the shepherd’s pie ($7.99) with a gravy topping (99 cents). These pies have a much different crust. Instead of flaky puff pastry, it’s a hot water crust, meaning it’s more like a traditional pie or potpie than a handheld pastry, and much firmer. Something you can cut with a knife and fork. However, the steak and mushroom had a puff-pastry lid, which created a nice contrast from the firm base crust. The meat in both was tender, but I preferred the consistency of the steak and mushroom, which didn’t also have mashed potatoes. However, the gravy add-on proved to be the way to go on the shepherd’s pie, lending a nice richness and more flavor.
Last stop on this very informal meat-pie crawl was Burien’s Australian Pie Co. In this no-frills spot you’ll find meat pies as well as lamingtons, an Aussie dessert specialty consisting of chocolate cake rolled in finely shredded coconut. You can get pies fresh and hot, or frozen to reheat at home. As with Jesters, pies here are served in a paper bag. Flavors skew traditional; beef, beef and mushroom, chicken, or chicken and asparagus. I got the beef and mushroom ($4.75) and the chicken ($4.50). These were, for me, the closest thing I can remember to those indulgent meat pies I had in Brisbane. The pastry shattered all over the place, the filling was pleasantly gooey, and both the chicken and beef were incredibly tender.
Am I still yearning to hop a plane back to Australia to go on a meat-pie tour with Laura? Definitely. But I’m happy to know there are three wonderful options around Seattle to get a meat-pie fix.
Jesters, 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday; 160 Bellevue Square, Bellevue; 425-454-8341, jesterspies.com
Premier Meat Pies, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 1001 Alaskan Way, #105, Seattle; 206-485-7431, premiermeatpies.com
The Australian Pie Co., 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; 425 S.W. 152nd St., Burien; 206-243-4138, australianpieco.com