Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What the Jester Had for Dinner: Cornish Pasty Co., Tempe, AZ

Warning: I'm in a linky mood. Click as you wish, just don't be surprised if the link itself is out of context.

I love monsoon season. It's a great break from the constant sun we get here in Arizona, with short but intense thunderstorms rolling across the valley at irregular intervals. Today at my house we had a rare type of storm- most monsoon storms start in the late afternoon, this one hit us just before 2 PM. For much of the day you could see clouds building outside, and the rain lasted just long enough for me to get into a mood to put jazz selections on iTunes. The weather got me into a food mood, too- something suitable for a rainy day. Chili sounded good, but I really didn't feel like taking three hours to make a bowl of (admittedly awesome) red. Then, the idea struck- British food. There are a few places to go in town for chow from across the pond, and my favorite is the Cornish Pasty Co. (and before we get any farther, it's pronounced PASS-tee), tucked away in a little strip mall on the northeast corner of University and Hardy.

As you can imagine, they specialize in Cornish pasties. What is a cornish pasty, you ask? It's a relative to the Italian calzone, the Spanish empanada, and the American Hot Pocket- ingredients of your choice wrapped in pastry and baked. The Cornish pasty has some function designed into its form; as long ago as the 1200s, wives and mothers of Cornish tin miners made them with the folded over edges twisted along one side. This provided a handle for the miners (who were not only covered in dirt from head to toe but arsenic as well) to hold while eating the pasty, ensuring that the meal itself stayed clean. Traditionally, the pasty is filled with a mixture of steak, onion, potato, and rutabaga (known to the Cornish as swede), but the Cornish Pasty Co. offers over 30 variations on the theme, with ones that follow the original closely (the Porky, a mix of pork, sage, potato, onion, and apple) to other popular British fare such as bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, even chicken tikka masala (which you would think is Indian but is indeed British) to things with all manner of international flair such as carne adovada, Greek chicken, even the good ol' American Philly cheesesteak. Every time I get in the mood for a pasty, the one I want is the Oggie, the steak one described above. This time, I branched out a wee bit and got the Porky. It, like the Oggie, is quite delicious. It's seasoned with a heavy dose of sage (enough that if you don't fancy sage much I would recommend trying something else on the menu), and the light sweetness of the apples rounds out the meal nicely. My friend Phil tried out the Philly Cheesesteak pasty, and it hit all of the right cheesesteak-y notes, with one minor quibble: The pasty uses a mild Swiss cheese, while the most common cheeses on a Philly cheesesteak are American, Provolone, or Cheez Whiz. My other dining companion, Anonymous, tried the Meat and Cheese, a combination of house-made sausage with cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella cheeses. I recommended he try HP sauce (a popular Brit condiment that has no equal stateside; A1 comes closest but is still miles away) with it, and the combination worked well... so well that I didn't get a chance to snag any of his. Le sigh. Somehow, both Phil and I had room for dessert (your guess is as good as mine, the main course pasties are HUGE), and both of us opted for a caramel apple pasty. Thank God it wasn't the size of the regular pasties, I would have likely exploded on the spot if I'd managed to eat two full-size pasties in one sitting. The caramel apple pasties are sweet, but not overly so, with a nice hit of cinnamon; the whipped cream and vanilla ice cream add a silky mouthfeel to round out the dish. (Wow, that last bit sounds like something right out of Iron Chef!) The only thing holding this back from being utterly fantastic were the apples themselves, likely because apples are currently nowhere near in season.

I'll definitely go back to Cornish Pasty Co. many more times; it's a place that I want to go through and systematically try every single item on the menu, if I wasn't already so damn hooked on the Oggie. Some great things about the place I haven't had a chance to mention- it's some of the best (and most filling) cheap eats in town (most expensive thing on the menu is 7 dollars, most everything is around 6), they're open til 10 PM every day but Sunday, they have vegan pasties available (just call ahead an hour in advance, they'll be glad to set you up), and if you want, you can take home some par-baked once and heat them up at your convenience I think next time it would be a good idea to get oh, about a dozen Oggies to go...