Cornish Pasty Company mines culinary success

Dean Thomas, owner of the Cornish Pasty Company, has uncovered success in pasties (pronounced pass-tees), the comfort food of the miners in his native England. Looking like jumbo turnovers, traditional pasties are filled with steak, onion, rutabaga and potato, and are referred to as Oggies (rhymes with doggies). “Oggie, oggie, oggie” is what the miners chanted when they wanted food.

The lovely crimped crust around the edge of the hold-in-your-hands potpie is not there as visual delight. Originally it served as a throwaway handhold so that the miners would not consume the arsenic and other toxic substances that coated their hands and bodies. There’s a history of the miners on the menu and haunting photographs of these men and young boys who toiled in the shafts of Cornwall.

That his childhood comfort food is such a hit surprised even Thomas. Previous restaurant experience includes a Mexican restaurant in Bristol and Pita Jungle here in Tempe. In January 2005, Thomas opened the doors to the Cornish Pasty Company not certain it the unpretentious fare would be accepted. In his words, they were “crazy accepted.” He explains that the feedback has been that “real, honest, simple, good food” is what the neighborhood is looking for. These pasties are packed with fresh ingredients with no artificial anything marring the homemade treats.

In addition to the traditional Oggies, the pasties come stuffed with everything from pork with apple to salmon with asparagus and even chicken tikka masala. The bangers and mash, bursting with homemade sage and pork sausage, mashed potatoes, and grilled onions, is one of the most popular choices. There’s a nice selection of vegetarian options such as the Balsamic Portobello. The huge hearty fare comes with red wine gravy on the side for dipping but the rich flavors of the pasties stand alone nicely. Most are priced around $7 with a few of the fancier ones, like the salmon, at $9.

Thomas says he eats a couple of day, and has since childhood. His favorite is the traditional Oggie because you just don’t mess with a Cornish man’s pasty.

There’s also a selection of meal salads from $5.50 to $8 including Greek and salmon Caesar. Recommended is a big side order of Mushy Peas ($3). Although limited by kitchen space, Thomas says he is looking to add homemade soups, appetizers and more salads to the summer menu.

While the food is a major draw, the pub atmosphere is equally appealing. This isn’t some corporate vision of an English pub, it’s the real deal. Although modern in décor, the dark and narrow café is anything but fancy. Using the black-and-white color palette of the Cornish flag, Thomas has built in seating for two along one wall with a long bar down the other. There is one table for three and one for four plus a coveted table in the back that seats six to eight. A steady stream of take-out orders keeps the kitchen busy. Lots of good food for little money has put the pub’s catering business on the fast track.

One note – these handheld pies are made from scratch, one at a time. So if you don’t want to sit and sip your pin for a while, call and order ahead. A full menu is on the Web site.

Although college students frequent the place, there’s an obvious contingent of regulars from around the neighborhood. A constant stream of men at the bar is explained by the big portions and low prices combined with reasonably priced pints of on-tap Guinness, Stella Artois, Boddingtions, Rogue Nut Brown and the usual American beers. Like a true pub, the women also are made to feel at home by the friendly service.

Thomas says that starting in June, the doors to the pub will be open from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday though Saturday and until 10 p.m. Sunday. Find the Cornish Pasty Company tucked away on the shopping strip just north of University facing Hardy. There is parking in front but lots more spaces around the back and there is an entrance into the café from either side.  For more information, call 480-332-7596 or visit www.cornishpastyco.com.

By Joan Westlake for Tempe Town News, June 2009