Pie Thunder From Down Under

When I try a new restaurant or food that captures the affections of my taste buds, I feel the need to spread my joy immediately, via telephone, via text, via departing comments to people in line and passerby near the door.

After all, when you’re in love, you want to sing it from the rooftops, be your l’amour the brooding, surprisingly-muscular-under-all-those-layers-of-black hipster you enjoyed a brief but torrid affair with on the 15 between SW 2nd Avenue and SE 39th Avenue, or be your l’amour a Pie. Yes, a Pie. Pie deserves true love too, or at least a chance at it.

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Dear Pie, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it: "I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you," which is, Full and Happy. PS: You're so much cuter than that hipster on the bus.

Considering this, I was pretty upset when my sis refused to acknowledge my repeated messages about Pacific Pie Company’s new shop and the delicious beef and mushroom pie I was eating there. Then, when I finally tracked her down and demanded an explanation as to why she hadn’t rushed right down to try them, she howled, “BECAUSE SAVORY PIES ARE WEIRD!”

I was crushed, but forced to chalk up her indifference and narrow pie mindedness to cultural differences. Because apparently, while our knowledge of savory pies here in America is largely confined to the supermarket frozen food section and the occasional pot pie on a menu, savory pies are HUGE in Australia, land of Vegemite, Tim Tams, Lamingtons, Shrimp on the Barbie, and perhaps tastiest of the lot, Hugh Jackman.

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My pecs are like two big beef stout pies, Mate!

Pacific Pie Company would like to fill this culinary void with their lovely warm golden baked medallions of  PIE. Beef and stout pie, roast lamb pie, Moroccan chickpea pie, creamy chicken pie, chili con queso pie, spicy lentil and coconut pie, Southwest Buffalo pie. And let me not forget the carefully crimped half-moon shaped spinach and feta pasties (pah-sties), and deliciously savory sausage rolls–a sheet of pastry wrapped around herb-seasoned housemade sausage.

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Pacific Pie Company, which has been catering and selling their pies at the Beaverton and Milwaukie Farmers’ Markets since 2008, just opened their first retail shop less than two weeks ago, at SE 6th and Ankeny, in the same  blessed building that houses not only their commercial kitchen, but the kitchens of Salt, Fire & Time, Abby’s Table, and Fifty Licks.

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Owners Sarah Curtis-Fawley and Chris Powell’s pie dreams became a reality after a long walkabout through careers in custom home furnishings and criminology, the wilds of Australia and Philadelphia, and stacks of dog-eared cookbooks. The two met in Chris’ native Australia, when Sarah moved to Oz to pursue a Fulbright fellowship in criminology. She joined a co-ed footy, (Australian Football) where she met Chris, an Adelaide native with the dreamy accent to match. Fortuitously for the two of them and the Portland pie-loving public, a union was forged and the couple moved to the States, where Sarah decided to brave a big career change and follow her love of food.

Prompted by a stint at Coleman Restaurant outside Philadelphia, the hours upon hours Sarah spent poring over her beloved Nigella Lawson and Rose Levy Beranbaum cookbooks, and the couple’s mutual longing for the savory Aussie pies they left behind, the two decided to throw themselves headlong into pie-making.

They returned to Australia, and headed straight to the epicenter of Australian pie lore, venerable Old Stone Hut Bakery. The bakery, which is housed in a 136-year-old cottage three hours north of Adelaide, deep in the Outback, humbly claims to make the”Best Pies in the Universe,” and had been a favorite stop for the couple following mountain biking expeditions. The bakers generously agreed to share their pie and pastie expertise with Sarah. When the couple returned to the US,  filled with pie zeal, they packed their car up and moved West to Portland.

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“Chris and I decided to move to Portland mainly for the food culture,” Sarah said. “We wanted to live in a region where we’d have access to fantastic local ingredients, both for personal consumption and for the business. We certainly haven’t been disappointed – the food here is phenomenal, and the farming community is so dedicated to quality.”

The couple experimented with a variety of ingredients, fillings, and perhaps most importantly, pie crusts, finally settling on an all-butter version made with McMinnville’s Rose Valley butter  and Sarah’s secret weapon, a bit of cream cheese, which creates the tender, airy, flaky, crispy crust that surrounds the pies.

“I decided that the best way for me to learn how to cook was just to cook  a lot,” Sarah said. “So that’s what I did, baking heaps of pies until I was satisfied that they are super delicious. I researched every single pie crust recipe I could find and just baked batch after batch after batch.”

Both Sarah and Chris have training in Permaculture, and Chris has been certificated in Horticulture and Sustainability, so it was only natural the couple would enthusiastically embrace Portland’s sustainable, seasonal, organic, and local credo, as evidenced by their mission statement.

“We believe that eating great food is one of the true pleasures of life. But beyond serving up old Aussie favorites, we are a values based business that works to promote sustainability, community, and the ethical stewardship of animals and the earth in everything we do.”

When they started selling their pies at local Farmers’ Markets, Sarah and Chris enjoyed unprecedented access to fresh, in-season produce and meat, which shaped their  menu. Since many of the shop’s pies feature a rich meaty filling, sourcing high quality meat was important as well.

“We are extremely dedicated to sourcing our ingredients as locally as possible, and we have relationships with many local farms,” said Sarah, whose vendor lists reads like the Farmers’ Market Who’s Who–Denison, Deep Roots, Heavenly Harvest, Gathering Together, and Sun Gold farms, along with SuDan Farm for lamb, Draper Valley certified free range chicken, Sweet Briar Farms pork for the housemade sausage rolls, and Lonely Lane Farm’s grass-fed beef. ”We are keen advocates of 100% grass fed meat, which is much better for the environment, more humane for the animals, which are meant to eat grass–not corn and soy, and produces superior meat that is naturally low in cholesterol and high in omega-3.”

Now that the Pacific Pie Company shop is open, you can stop in and order an oven-warm pie, pastie, or sausage roll. As Sarah and Chris are constantly inventing new pies, the menu varies from week to week, and the color-coded list hanging over the counter gives you the current week’s selection as well as a tantalizing peek at what’s to come. No kangaroo pie, though.

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For those who’d like to fill their freezer with pies and pasties for a rainy day, a case of fresh frozen goods is standing by.

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Should you opt to eat in, I’d highly recommend a bowl of housemade soup or a salad. This beautiful salad of organic greens, carrot, radicchio and spiced croutons, in a zingy housemade ginger soy vinaigrette, was only $2.50. And I had to buy a Xocolatl de David mini-Raleigh bar, the bacon-caramel version, a supply of which Pacific Pie Company trades for pies.

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“We trade pies for chocolate, vodka, and acupuncture,” Sarah said proudly, adding that they may stock neighboring Fifty Licks’ ice cream come summer. The summer season’s bounty of berries and stone fruit could also prompt the addition of sweet pies to the menu, Sarah said, but for now, dessert options include a few varieties of ”slice,” an Australian dessert favorite that’s something akin to what we know in the United States as bar cookies. Sarah was kind enough to send me home with a Jam & Hazelnut slice, with a delicious thick Oregon Marionberry jam filling and crunchy oat, hazelnut, and coconut streusel topping.

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While the shop is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 3pm, beginning Feb. 5, Sarah and Chris will stay open until 9pm on Fridays for the dinner crowd, and will serve a heap of homemade side dishes like mac & cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, and organic salads alongside the pies and pasties.

This Tuesday, Jan. 26, they will celebrate Australia Day by staying open until 9pm and having local beer, Australian wine, and Portland Roasting Coffee tastings. The couple is also in the process of planning a series of “Meet Your Meat” events, bringing the farmers that supply meat to their kitchen come in for a talk and cooking demonstration. They also plan to continue selling pies at the Beaverton and Milwaukie Farmers’ Market, and hope to gain entry into the PSU Market as well.

As I chatted with Sarah and Chris after lunch, a hungry-looking guy wandered in, telling Sarah, “I was taking a cooking class next door, and I followed my nose in here.” Shortly thereafter, a group of people filed into the restaurant, sniffing the air. “Those guys are from Portland Monthly Magazine,” Chris said. “We sent a bunch of pies to Portland Monthly yesterday.”

It was obviously effective pie-marketing. I would have to try that tactic on my sis, because I’m quite certain when she tries one of these heartily perfumed pies, she’ll change her savory pie-ignorant tune.

“We put a lot of love and passion into our food, and nothing makes us happier than when people really dig our pies,” Sarah said.

609 SE Ankeny St. * www.pacificpieco.com * 503.381.6157 * Tue-Sun 10am-3pm