There’s a European joke that uses stereotypes to deride British cooking, the most maligned cuisine in the world culinary stage. As the joke goes, in the European conception of heaven, the French are the chefs, the British are the police, the Germans are the engineers, and so forth, while in the European conception of Hell, the Germans are the police, the French are the engineers and the British are the chefs. Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than British cuisine.
While fish and chips are probably what most Americans would answer if asked what constitutes traditional British food, the truth is British food is as diverse as its many regions. During the three plus years we lived in England, we made the most of our opportunities to explore the mystical land of mystery and lore and experienced not only much of its renown pub grub, but classic high-end cuisine that is as good as any in America. At the pubs, we consumed many a ploughman’s lunch (consisting of crusty bread, various pickles, a wedge or two of local cheese and sometimes salad) and ate steak and kidney pudding (with a suet crust) like locally indigenous personnel (a MASH term that has remained on my lexicon).
During many a weekend sojourn to the appropriately sobriqueted “Land’s End” at the extreme southwestern tip of the British mainland, we dined on Cornish pasties (pronounced pass-tee), a type of pie originating in Cornwall in the 1200s. Baked by wives and mothers of tin miners when tin mining was prosperous, pasties were formed into a semicircular shape with a crimped edge along one side so the miners could hold onto them while eating. One end of the Pasty would usually contain a sweet filling which the wives would mark or initial so the miner wouldn’t eat his dessert first, while the other end would contain meat and vegetables. Today, traditional Cornish Pasties are filled with steak, potatoes, onions and swede (rutabaga).
The concept of a simple miner’s pie served in cosmopolitan Phoenix, Arizona might sound antithetical, but it’s a concept that appears to be taking off well. The Cornish Pasty Company is the brainchild of Dean Thomas, a native of Gunnislake, Cornwall, in England, who came to America five years ago to seek his fortune. His restaurant is situated on University Boulevard not far from Arizona State University, an institute of higher learning in which students want their dollars to stretch far and their meal portions to sate them for a long time. At the Cornish Pasty Company, a hearty and delicious meal can be had for a meager pittance.
The restaurant’s interior, dimly lit during evening hours, is striking with a long bar in which to imbibe imported libations, tiny tables and photographs on the black (or grey) walls of miners plying their arduous trade. Loud rock music (real rock, not the cacophonous noise played on the radio today) blares from a speaker system while the intoxicating aromas of sauces and ingredients waft gently toward incoming patrons who will be challenged to select just which pasty to partake of.
Aside from the traditional pasty (steak, potato, onion and rutabaga), a lengthy listing of options is available for patrons of all persuasions–Italian, Hispanic, Indian, Cajun, Greek, vegetarian and more. Shaped somewhat like a deflated football (the American kind), one pasty will make a meal even for the most robust of eaters. Aside from salads, there are no appetizers or sides on the menu. Several non-pasty sandwiches made on homemade bread and served with chips (the American kind) are available for the meat and potatoes Joes who don’t want to venture out of their sandwich comfort zone.
If “The Porky” is any indication, the Cornish Pasty Company will be the site of many future visits. This picture-perfect pasty featured a baked bread pocket stuffed with pork, sage, onion, apple and potato served with a side of red wine gravy. In true miner tradition, the pasty is meant to be eaten with your hands much as you’d eat a sub sandwich. What makes The Porky so tasty is the pronounced taste of sage which is liberally sprinkled on the other ingredients. The uniquely aromatic and fresh seasoning melds well with the other ingredients to fashion a memorable meal.
The menu also includes two dessert options, one of which you opt for if bananas are your fruit choice of the day and the other for diners who subscribe to the “apple a day” edict. The banana is but one component that makes the Banafee Pie a tantalizing sweet-tooth option. A Graham cracker crust is topped with caramel, sliced banana and whipped cream to create a memorable finish to a remarkable dining experience. The Cornish Pasty Company is here to stay!
Cornish Pasty Company
960 West University
LATEST VISIT: 25 October 2005
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: The Porky; Banafee Pie