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Adventures in Pie Club, Sonoma Edition

As some of you will recall, several of us formed an International Pie Club with members from New Zealand (of course), Australia, Sweden, Venezuela, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. It’s serious. As such, we take our duties very seriously. Though proper savory pie shops are present most prolifically in New Zealand, Australia hosts a bevy of them as well. Outside the Antipodes the pie sources begin to run dry with only a trickle appearing occasionally across a vast pie desert. Gratefully, an oasis appeared in Sonoma County.

A Kiwi family relocated to Windsor, California, in the northern part of Sonoma County just off the 101, and opened a New Zealand inspired shop, BurtoNZ Bakery. In truth that means they make a lot of various baked things you could expect to find at a relatively Anglo-Saxon-descent bakery, but they also fit in a host of savory pies, and this weird Kiwi-Australian dessert I never have liked so don’t recall the name of either. But, as I said, THEY HAVE PIE.

So, a couple of us Pie Club members got together and did a proper tasting in two different visits. For one of the visits potential pie club members were invited to submit their application to pie club and demonstrate their pie club tasting and review skills. They were being vetted for their potential pie tasting prowess. In the other, actual founding members furthered the investigation. Two visits also means more pie, and the time to try a greater range of pie flavors as well.

Following are notes from the tastings.

Notes from Pie Club

BurtoNZ Bakery
9076 Brooks Rd S, Windsor, California

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Cheese, Vegetarian, Steak with Potato Top
Served: White Bag Take-Away, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Good reliable standard crust. Reasonable mince & cheese filling. Cheese well dispersed and integrated. Mince far paler than that seen in a classic Mince & Cheese served in New Zealand. In a proper Kiwi Mince & Cheese pie one would expect the mince to be finely chopped and the details of the ingredients largely unrecognizable as a result, save for the occasional addition of light tomato. No tomato found here. No secrets either. All components of the mince were visibly recognizable due to larger chop size. Even so, solid workable pie. Good enough to cope with being away from New Zealand though no prize winner when back home.

Steak & Cheese. Good reliable standard crust. Cheese a bit more apparent alongside the steak than alongside the mince. Avoids dryness while also going light on the gravy. An okay pie. Mince & Cheese, however, is preferred here to Steak & Cheese.

Vegetarian. It is good and cute and friendly and nicely Californian of them to serve a vegetarian option. Way to integrate quickly into your newly adopted culture! However, as savory pie without meat seems a misnomer it is hard to take this pie too seriously. Nevertheless, one of the potential pie club members less indoctrinated into classic Kiwi pies felt the vegetarian pie was the best of the selections and chose it as his favorite. His application to pie club is unlikely to be accepted.

Steak with Potato Top. This is a damn good pie. Excellent steak filling with just enough gravy. The absence of cheese works to the advantage of this particular pie. Very good use of potato top. As everyone knows, a perfectly delivered potato top makes every one happy. It also offers a beautiful opportunity for alliteration when eaten in the proper location.

Behold!

Potato pie poised in my paw beside the Pacific!

I’ll be back to BurtoNZ for road pie next time I’m heading north. Steak with potato top was the clear winner.

For previous notes from Pie Club, Central Otago Edition:  http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/04/21/adventures-with-pie-club-for-david/

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Pie Club

Pie Club International first official meeting

During our travels through New Zealand in January our group of international wine professionals fell in love with New Zealand pie. We’re all about dessert pies in the United States and there are occasionally savory pies too but in New Zealand savory pies are a full blown, foundational, culturally defining matter of national identity. It’s serious.

The importance of Kiwi pie runs so deep I think New Zealanders almost take it for granted. Australians love their pie too but in New Zealand pie’s crucial. I’ve never had more fun passionately discussing the metaphysical conditions necessary to a thing than I have talking pie with a Kiwi. Every New Zealand citizen seems to have strong views of what pies are the best pies, what fillings are most essential, and how best it should be served. The fascination proves both heartfelt and charming. It led to our forming an informal international pie club.

On January 23, during dinner on the shores of Lake Wanaka, my friend David Keck instigated a conversation about the defining features of quality pie with a proper Kiwi. Two days later in North Canterbury we talked our bus driver into making a stop at his favorite pie shop in Christchurch. We dragged along our wine companions from Sweden, the UK, Australia, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Germany and around the United States and Pie Club was born – first official meeting shown above. We spent the rest of our time in country hunting out pie from coffee shops, airport bakeries, and the occasional gas station.

This last month in Central Otago, International Pie Club reconvened with admittedly far fewer members present but I take my responsibilities as one of the founding members seriously. With that in mind, here are notes from tastings throughout the best spots in Central Otago and a few further afield below. Following those there are also notes from multiple conversations throughout the month with pie loving Kiwis about the necessary and sufficient conditions for pie.

Notes from Pie Club

Arrowtown Bakery, Arrowtown
1 Buckingham St, Arrowtown

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Mushrooms
Served: Brown Bag, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Preferred. Consistency and cooking of pastry really strong. Nice flavor. Long finish. Nice distribution of cheese through the filling and nice consistency of cheese, only just enough to accentuate the flavor of the mince.
Steak & Mushroom tasted second. Pastry a bit too thick on top and a bit dry. Mushrooms geographically challenged, poorly distributed. Steak a bit dry and not enough gravy. Acceptable but not exciting.

Jimmy’s Pie, Queenstown
302 Hawthorne St, Queenstown (available from multiple locations)

Pies Tasted: Mince
Served: Queenstown’s Pak & Save Cold Pie, Heated with a side of tomato sauce on a plate with fork & knife
Tasting Notes:
Solid pie. Kiwi classic. Tomato sauce appropriate though unnecessary. Good consistency and proportion of filling to pastry. Life saver but not a life changer.

The Albie Cafe, Albert Town
20 Alison Ave, Albert Town

Pies Tasted: Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme, Lamb Shank
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb, Rosemary & Thyme eaten first. Good action. Subtle. Nice use of herbs – accent the meat without overpowering the filling. Great pastry to filling balance. Good pastry density and consistency. High quality pie.
Lamb shank tasted second. Good quality pie. An elevated pie experience without being pretentious. This is a chef that respects her pie. Greater loft and a smaller footprint for the same volume. Sprinkled with poppy seeds for pleasing nutty accent. Light tomato element gives a delicate top note to the filling. Excellent design and flourish.

Secret Local-Favorite Pie Spot, Wanaka
Address Protected by Pie Illuminati, Address available upon successful application to Pie Club

Pies Tasted: Half size Lamb Shank, Full size Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Lamb Shank eaten first. Hearty, classic style. A working man’s pie. Ultra savory. Distinctive flavor. Hearty crust. Rustic. Satisfying. Half-size appropriate as the flavor is powerful enough as to turn a full-size into a hell of a lot of pie.
Mince pie eaten second. Shows great respect for the mince pie category. Has taken a classic and treated it seriously. Good integration of onions and a nice use of stock for flavor and moisture. Good flavor. Hearty. No one’s going to throw out that pie.

Visit to Jimmy’s Pie Headquarters, Roxburgh
143 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Not open on weekends. Still worth the pilgrimage. Jimmy’s pie purchased and enjoyed a few doors down at Teviot Tearoom.

Teviot Tearoom, Roxburgh
101 Scotland St, Roxburgh

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Take Away, Cold Pie
Tasting Notes: Solid pie. Cheese adds additional subtlety and complexity to the Mince pie without being above itself or over the top. Category defining pie. Kiwi classic. Subtle use of cheese, well integrated. Totally works cold.

Welcome Swallow, Palmerston
113 Ronaldsway, Palmerston

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: Brown Bag Take Away
Tasting Notes:
Unique presentation. Square shaped pie rather than round. Utterly flakey, butter crust – delicious and in good proportion to the filling though so flakey it must be eaten with care to avoid mess. Delicious, savory and serious filling though avoids being uppity. Just damn good pie. Worth the stop.

Grain & Seed Cafe, Cromwell
Old Cromwell Town Melmore Terrace

Pies Tasted: Mince with Kumera top, Chicken & Cranberry
Served on a plate with a side salad, knife and fork.
Tasting Notes:
Chicken & Cranberry tasted first. Always taste the chicken pie first as it is harder to find good chicken pie. Chicken & cranberry pie turns out to be covered in fluffed egg, not crust. Egg top not visibly obvious due to carmelization from cooking. Egg fluff top clearly not pie but quiche. Not cool.
Mince with kumera top tasted second. Good pie. Savory. Quite flavorful and satisfying mince filling. Kumera top creative variation on traditional potato top. Smart use of kumera variation as the light bit of sweetness accentuates the flavors of the mince. Good bottom crust too. Good contrast after the horror of the egg top in previous pie, which shows a fundamental defining feature of pie – must be topped with carbohydrates/starch, that is crust or a root vegetable top.

The Doughbin 24-hr Walk-up Window, Wanaka
129 Ardmore St, Wanaka

note walkup window discretely placed on the side of the building
(insider secret)

Pies Tasted: Mince Pie
Served: Brown Bag Take Away at 3AM
Tasting Notes:
Well delivered middle of the night option. 24-hr walk up window stroke of genius. Wise move after drinking all the Pinot Noir. Well made pie.

Jimmy’s Pie Mobile Unit, on the move throughout Central Otago

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese
Served: White Bag Cold Pie Heated in the middle of a Rugby Tournament
Tasting Notes:
Testament to the consistency of Jimmy’s Pies. Good from the grocery. Good from the mobile pie truck.

The Metaphysical Conditions of Pie

Bottom crust necessary.

Top crust must be starch based, that is, made of carbohydrates. This is generally either a flour based crust like seen on the bottom, or a potato top. Other root vegetables can be made into a variation of the potato top when treated reasonably (see Kumara top variation at the Grain & Seed mentioned above as example).

Egg fluffed top clearly is not pie but quiche. Do not try to pass off quiche as pie. You will lose friends. Not cool.

Egg cut up and served inside a two crust pie with meat still counts as pie. In such a case the egg serves as a sort of filling rather than a structural component, which is the defining difference here. Even so, this is only desirable in rare cases when the ingredients of the cupboard are dim and one is forced to make it work.

Chicken pie should be approached with caution. Chicken barely counts as meat and so should only be used in pie in rare cases (see previous case of bare cupboards and making it work). Essentially, chicken and eggs serve similar roles in pie – only when necessary. This makes sense as chicken and eggs come from the same source and so have related roles. Which came first will not be considered here. Chicken pie should always be approached with caution not entirely because of issues with the meat itself. Much like Pinot Gris, chicken can be delicious but is often mistreated by people who wish to turn it into inappropriate variants like Chicken & Cranberry, Chicken & Brie, or Chicken Curry. These people usually do not have real jobs and instead fancy themselves writers or artists.

While meat pie such as steak, mince, or lamb are most traditional regional variants are traditional to specific areas. Fish pie, for example, has a long standing history in areas near water.

Fruit does not belong in savory pie. Fruit is for fruit pie.

Vegan pie is an oxymoron. If someone asks for vegan pie they are either taking the piss or they are serious. If they are serious it is time for you to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Gluten-free pie only counts as pie if the crust was made with gluten free flour. See warnings about quiche.

Pie is an appropriate and helpful response to any of the following existential states: heartbreak, depression, hang over, rugby tournament, long hike, road trip, end of work day, after sex, before church.

If the pie available does not fulfill these conditions move along or get a sausage roll instead.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.