Meat Up

The sausage roll, the pasty and the meat pie are staples of the British diet – and could become a fixture of the Central Coast diet, if early crowds are any indication.

“I think we’re going to run out.”

That troubling forecast came just before 10:30am on Monday, Aug. 1 as Chris Swainson struggled to keep pace with a constant flow of orders. As grand openings go, it was both triumph and trial.

The Great British Bake Shop, which had previously existed as a Sunday pop-up at Sweet Reba’s in Carmel, was welcoming guests to their permanent storefront in Salinas for the first time. Well before 10am, a crowd had gathered at the door. By opening time, the line stretched down the block.

It took perhaps half an hour to creep step by step from the end of the line to the door. Yet guests were all smiles as they approached the counter.

“We’re glad you’re here,” one person told Lesley Everett, who owns the shop with Swainson. “We need variety.”

The shop specializes in meat pies – yes, there is a vegetarian option with a warm curry savor – and other treats, such as proper shortbread and butterfly cakes. The ham and egg pie is a staple, and it’s what Swainson and Everett began selling under the PG Pyes banner in 2021. The sturdy pie offers the warm coziness of breakfast at grandma’s house in handheld form.

Steak and ale pie compares earthy-sweet pops of carrots and peas with the husky tone of beef, while the ale delivers a nutty, bittersweet bite. It’s as if they contained your favorite stew in a buttery, flaky crust. And indeed they treat it like a stew, simmering the meat in stout – preferably Guinness – for about three hours.

Such pies are an English obsession. “In each town, there will be several pie shops,” Swainson explains. “And each could have a variation of the same pie.” While there are really no fixed recipes, some pies carry regional associations, such as the Cornish pasty or the jellied eel pie of Cockney lore. There is artistry in the gala pie, with its hard-boiled egg surrounded by a pork filling. The stargazy pie, on the other hand, is a whimsical feast of whole fish, their heads and tails poking out from the crust.

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The Great British Bake Shop offers three pie options. Their kitchen also turns out a beef pasty that covets a dip in brown gravy, bringing an earthy depth to sturdy meat sparked by pepper. There is more of an assist from vegetables in the pasty recipe, one that Everett recalls from her home territory of Suffolk – a sweet, grassy bite from onion, celery, peas and carrots.

Sausage rolls do not fall into the pie category, either. Yet they are as much a staple in England as the savory pie, and perhaps a more guarded treasure. Swainson recalls sausage rolls being a feature of “every wedding, every funeral, every christening, every holiday party – you name it.” The reason for this is clear once you try the Bake Shop’s offering – flavor gushes from the mellow, crackly crust, at once opulent and guttural, with pops of pepper and a gentle herbal hum.

It’s no wonder that Trader Joe’s was bombarded by snarky barbs when they launched the puff dog – a sausage wrapped in pastry – in 2017, calling it a twist on the hot dog and reasoning on its website that the idea was “pretty genius.”

“We know it’s genius, that’s why we’ve been eating them for centuries,” was the response of News.com in Australia, where the English sausage roll is also quite the rage. “People in the UK are furious… The U.S. has already butchered television shows like The Inbetweeners and Fawlty Towers and now they are doing it to the beloved sausage roll.”

Swainson, Everett and their small crew bake five days a week. The pies, pasties and sausage rolls are meant to be taken home and finished in the oven, although they may have a few sausage rolls warmed and ready to go.

The response has been strong, and thankfully not as hectic as opening day, when orders continued at a friendly but relentless pace until shelves were bare.

“We quite like Oldtown Salinas,” Swainson explains. “It has a community feel and there are a lot of very good businesses here.” The pair find themselves in a fortunate space, in line with Dubber’s and standout additions like Amapola Kitchen & Wine Merchant and Tacos Don Beto to create a culinary strip.

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