Puff pastry steak pie on baking paper on black stone backgroung

I asked over one thousand of my closest Facebook chums the where-abouts of Hawke’s Bay’s best pie.

Pie opinions are not given lightly. They’re akin to opinions on coffee, and physios. Once we’ve found what we like we hold that point of view and state it strongly to anyone who might be swayed. 

Pie recommendations I received were unequivocal: “You need look no further” … “Best pies, no question”… “Have you tried so and so’s?” Predictably – as with coffee and physios – the answers, though given candidly as the incontrovertible truth, were all different. Even though opinions voiced on Facebook are generally very reliable, I decided to shun them all and go it alone. Pie judge and jury.

The pies we really desire are those that motivate us to make a special trip. My mission, which I had eagerly chosen to accept, was to find the Destination-Pies-Of-The-Bay – pies I would leave home for. Abandoning the idea of judging each pie against another in order to find one pie to rule them all, my new plan was to find all the pies good enough for which to make a special trip. 

My second category is Detour-Pies – pies I would go out of my way for (if I was already in the car and fairly close by).

Thirdly, Dependable-Pies – those pies that do the job required, and I would buy again but wouldn’t mention in conversation.

The Don’t-Go-There-Pies bring up the tail – pies that, while hot and food-like, leave a hollow feeling of Pie-er’s remorse.

All categories fall into the overarching Hot- Savoury-Made-In-Hawke’s-Bay-Pie-To-Go genus. 

I’m not going to trouble you with much detail about the pies that didn’t make it to the top three groups. The less said about Don’t-Go-There-Pies the better.

My main beef, or lack of it, with the also-rans was a paucity of enthusiasm, such as ‘enthusiasm to add a good amount of good fillings’. Too many of the Bay’s pies rely on a jelly-like setting substance that holds what few ingredients there are, suspended in a shiny ‘gravy’ that glistens like a patent leather shoe but has less flavour. The taste is of apathy, untroubled by herbs or spices. The ingredient list of this familiar, multinational, cheap-and (insert your choice of descriptor here) ‘booster’ of gravies makes grim reading. The budget end of the pie market is full of this glossy, faux-filling and very little else.

Elizabeth David said, “Never trust a chef who is mean with ingredients or time.”

With that in mind I set off early on a Monday to find out who was filling their pies with good ingredients and some love and passion. What a fantastic task! Full licence given to overindulgence in the name of research.

I cautioned myself with recollections of pies I’d eaten before. Not all of the pies I’ve eaten, obviously (too many pies in so many places), but those that offered a comestible challenge. Shattering pastry that, like confetti, covered clothes and floor. Fillings oozing from split casing, dripping 300 degree lava-like cheese onto bare thighs and then outstretched palms. A painful lesson learned: don’t wear shorts for the mince and cheese magma special. 

Then there are past pies that have lost all sense of what it means to be a pie, their pastry collapsing, the top sliding off, half the filling having to be sucked from the messy bag. A deconstructed pie is just not appropriate for vehicular consumption.

With far too much enthusiasm, and confidence bolstered by recollections of a younger man’s pie eating prowess, I finished the day feeling a mixture of satiety, delight, disappointment, and indigestion. Four pies in a day is a pie-too-far for me, particularly as I was brought up to not waste food but to waist food. There is no doubt about who ate all the pies … I ate ALL the pies.

The highlight of day one was a weighty offering from Hollies Bakery in the Flaxmere shopping centre. A well-crafted balance of fillings encased in good pastry.

The low point was the highly questionable potato-top pie in Mayfair. Surely the potato should be just on top rather than well into the bottom half of the pie where the other fillings should live? I was unimpressed by the mashed potato pie with a thin layer of mince beneath and as for their pork and watercress pie, I was two thirds of the way through the cress before hitting any pork.

I took day two as a rest day, having overestimated my capacity and underestimated the number of pie shops to be visited. 

As word of my endeavour spread, more recommendations were offered. It became clear that a much greater investment of time, money, note taking, and Gaviscon was required. At the time of writing I have tasted about fifteen pies and I have a further ten to try. I will reveal the results in the next issue. 

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