The Meat Pies of New Zealand

The meaty delights of the world “down under,” and where to find the best ones.

The mystical New Zealand of contemporary cinema is replete with hobbits and talking trees. But the real New Zealand is rich with leaf-lard crusts containing the unctuous delights of braised mutton, minced beef, and poached fish. It’s a place where a hand-held pie is as likely to show up at breakfast as dinner, stuffed with eggs, bacon, cheese, and tomato. In truth, I take on the characteristics of an omnivorous beast of fantasy, devouring any and all varieties of pie that cross my path and beaming the gravy-stained grin of a lunatic, as I house delectable meaty buys one after the other.

Meat pies are as central to the culinary traditions of Australia and New Zealand as pizza is to ours. To be sure, their heritage is tied to Old Blighty—but unlike their British forbearers, antipodean-style pies are palm-sized, hand-held flavor bombs. And they rule. (To be fair, I suppose I should simply call them “savory pies” from this point on. After all, not everyone partakes in the goodness of animal proteins, and non-meat versions do exist, so now we can all jump in together.)

Sadly, Americans bear almost no ties to this delectable Anglo-Saxon hand-me-down—the closest thing in comparison might be the Birds Eye pot pies found in any grocer’s freezer section. And even though those are nothing to revel over, they still convey a certain sense of comfort, even with all the shrugged shoulders attached. So imagine instead of having to settle for a broken-down Mustang, you’re presented with a fleet of shit-hot MGs, Austin-Healeys, and Spitfires. All at your beck and call, each perfectly tuned (no chance of overheating) and ready for the road. That’s the savory pie down under. Handsome and compact, it’s made to fit in the palm of a hand, thus making it an ideal road food. Fast? Oh my, yes, they go down quicker than you can spell Fiat. They also always run at the right temperature, so there’s little chance of torching the gums. The best ones will have a filling that hits the nail on a solids-to-gravy ratio, the crust working as a crisp and malleable guide through the delicious sprint. Ever had a pasty? Practically the same thing. Ditto to Jamaican patties or the empanada. Same idea, just formed into a dense annulet instead of a crescent or half-moon, a shape known simply in God’s language as: pie.

So what makes a good savory pie? Here’s a better question: What makes a bad one? In the four months I’ve spent in the region over the past twenty years, I’m still batting a thousand. “Impossible,” you say. Under any other circumstances I’d agree, but it’s me I’m talking about, so I know it’s true.

Aussies tend to be hyperbolic about theirs. In 2003, the New South Wales premier called them “our national dish.” There are franchised chains, such as Pie Face. On the flip, Kiwis are demure. Toss out a compliment about one anywhere and you’ll likely get a wry, silent smile in return. It’s not arrogance (okay, maybe a bit) so much as that excellence is a given standard. New Zealanders don’t fuck around.

On my last trip to Port Chalmers, in 2013, I slipped away one Sunday morning super early to grab a breakfast pie. Katie’s Oven, my favorite spot, had sadly gone the way of the buffalo some years prior, and the only place open was a bucolic supermarket. Naturally they had what I wanted, BEC-style. I cannot recall if it was warm, but I distinctly remember hurrying back to the car, removing it from its wax-paper wrapper, and quietly devouring it—sans beverage—in the parking lot. My local friends would probably have been aghast at said purchase at said location, but not surprised—or surprised that the pie was awesome.

I ate a lot of pies on that trip, and it was one from a shop called Who Ate All The Pies in Dunedin that was the most outstanding. It warmed my heart to see selections made with venison and wild hare, meats that weren’t on the map during my two jaunts in the nineties. Yet the one that cleared the bases was a steak-and-kidney pie—which, when you think about it, is like bringing it all back home. If you can deal in the tried and true with such expert ownership, everything else is gonna kill it, right? As Simple Simon as I might be, I’m hip to that.

But when it comes to providing more recommendations, I will happily submit that I’m more of a common sewer than a connoisseur. Which is why I’ve called on some more discerning folks to herald some standouts. Here are the spots that come recommended from my friends down under.

Bluff

Stella’s Café


All of their pies are good, and they produce two of the more exotic varieties of pies: the oyster pie and the mutton-bird pie. The former is superb, while the latter is something of an acquired taste, as its filling is the meat of a seabird which can only be harvested by local Maori. It’s salty, very salty. It would probably go rather well with a dark beer. In fact, this could make a splendid introductory breakfast to New Zealand. —Richard Langston (television director, former editor of NZ music zine Garage)

Dunedin

Godfreys Bakery


This small shop is in the working-class suburb of South Dunedin, and they use one of the cheaper varieties of lamb—mutton—to produce a hearty rich pie oozing with juice and fat. It often runs off the elbows of the eater. —Richard Langston

Wellington

Patrisha’s Original Pie Shop, Island Bay


All of their pies are top-flight: good pastry and stuffed with the best ingredients. Can’t miss. Even their vegetarian pie is good, but a vegetarian pie is sacrilege to most pie lovers. —Richard Langston

Le Moulin, Central Wellington


Sublime pastries made by French-Vietnamese bakers. Steak-and-cheese, chicken, mince—they’re all very good—and if you’re feeling like double carbs, their leek-and-potato pie is hard to pass up. —Richard Langston

Top of the Ridge Bakery & Pie Shop, Berowra


Top of the Ridge Bakery & Pie Shop has won awards and, to be honest, the pies are the best—but it’s just in a little strip mall. I’ve met the man behind the meat and he is serious about his pies. —Julia Wilson (Rice Is Nice Records)

Featherston

Café and Bakery


A real off-the-beaten-track find with a great selection of pies. Their chicken-and-apricot and steak-and-cheese pies are highly recommended. —Richard Langston

Wairoa

Osler’s


A family bakery that’s been going for donkey’s years, and for good reason—their pies are very good. Their bog-standard mince is highly recommended, as is their Scotch pie. —Richard Langston

Tolaga Bay

Cottles Café


This is way out of the way—being, as it is, on the remote East Coast of North Island. But if you happen to be passing by and you love pies, stop! You’ll find great pastry and meat that tastes as if its come from a freshly butchered beast in the back of the shop—which it may well have. It’s a bit wild in these parts. —Richard Langston

Ruatoria

East Coast Pies


Just up the coast from Tolaga Bay, there’s a mobile shop that sells pies. That’s all they sell. It’s all they need to sell. They sell lots of them. They’re so proud of their pies they came in their own brown paper bags, stamped “East Coast Pies.” —Stuart Page (Axemen)

Tauranga

Gold Star Bakery


This shop is in the weirdly named suburb of Bethlehem. Their pies are close to a religious experience, and they’re an example of the superb Asian bakers who’re now making themselves known in the pie trade. They do lots of varieties, and they’re all highly recommended. The pastry is the bomb and the filling always good. —Stuart Page

Palmerston

McGregor’s


I’ll confess to a weakness for the peppery and fat-filled delights of the mutton pie from McGregor’s in Palmerston, North Otago. They have a hard crust in which a lump of mutton filling sloshes atop a pool of liquid mutton fat, which you can tip off if you’re a sissy. I wouldn’t have one every day, as I wish to retain cardiac efficiency for a year or two yet. —Bruce Russell (Dead C, A Handful Of Dust, Xpressway Records/Tapes founder)

Brisbane

Rock ‘n’ Roll Bakery


The best in Brisbane is the lamb-and-rosemary pie from the Rock ‘n’ Roll bakery at Logan Road, Greenslopes. The lamb is a bell-ringing buttery slow-cooked tender and gently peppered, with an exemplary GTMR (gravy-to-meat ratio). The pastry is light and flaky atop, with a great non-doughy consistency beneath, where it counts. You just breathe this pie in. Their beef-and-burgundy pie is also a serious division-one contender, and they compete strongly in the crowded and difficult field of the beef-and-mushy-pea pie. But it’s the lamb-and-rosemary that is the showstopper. Complimentary tomato and barbecue sauce offered, but you wouldn’t sully this pie with condiments. —Leighton Craig (Primitive Motion, The Deadnotes, The Lost Domain, and Kindling House imprint)

Fredo Pies


One of my favorite spots is Fredo Pies, a regular stop for touring bands on the highway from Brisbane to Sydney. In truth, these aren’t the greatest pies; they are intensely greasy, probably to appease all the truckers passing through. Still, when making that nine-hour hungover drive back home, they are the greatest thing in the world. They have a million varieties, but are probably most famous for the crocodile pie. —Daniel Spencer (Blank Realm)

Piefection


Another favorite is Piefection, in the suburbs of Brisbane. This place does a bunch of ridiculous limited-edition creations, but their signature pie is a ribs in Jack Daniel’s sauce. It’s a bogan’s dream. They also do the pie floaters, which is pie covered in mashed potato and peas—should only by consumed when extremely hungover. —Daniel Spencer

Perth

Jester’s Jaffle Pies


Jester’s Jaffle Pie, in Perth, is fantastic. The pies are very different from normal pies, which have a short-crust pastry; these have a thin puff pastry, intensely flaky. Best pie is the spud deluxe, which is meat, bacon, cheese, and mashed potato. —Andrew Murray (Taco Leg, Constant Mongrel)