For sustenance, large parts of the wine community do not down tools at noon to lunch on dishes of high dining incorporating slivers of free-range beef flank, sustainability sourced flakes of hand-caught Cape salmon and carefully arranged cuts of organic vegetables. The mid-day meal more often than not consists of a take-away item wolfed down next to your bakkie while sorting out a distribution issue or dictating back-label copy on the phone.
Here, humble pie is eaten. And the roadside pie is King.
Under extreme duress and with true commitment to clarity in reporting, this writer did the rounds. Travelled the winelands to check-out the status of the Cape Wineland Pie.
So, we bring to you, in ascending order, the findings of the first ever Pie Report, sponsored by Milk of Magnesia, Gaviscon and All Gold Tomato Sauce:
- Pieman’s Chicken
This is one of the few pies still sold in a retro wrapper of wax paper. Once ordered, the item is placed in the microwave often by a shop-assistant who has been watching the acclaimed television series Chernobyl. Intent on her creating nuclear reaction within the pie, the thing leaves the microwave at the temperature of just-erupted lava, any residue of bacteria at least having been obliterated.
The pastry on the Pieman’s Chicken is surprisingly pleasant, a warm doughy cloak holding a filling of chicken shreds lodged in a beige gravy the colour of yellowed Ideal Milk. It is soft to the bite, instantly squirting a river of pus-hued sauce onto your shirt-front, but the chew of the warm, tender pastry is surprisingly satisfying. Despite the cheap look and the dodgy provenance, Pieman’s Chicken is an old-school, gobble-and-go pie that ensures the competent filling of a hollow.
- Houw Hoek Pepper Steak
Fresh-baked at the eponymous farm-stall out between Elgin and Bot River, the Houw Hoek pies have over the past decade gained legendary status, especially loved by those persons heading back to Cape Town from a week-end of debauchery in Hermanus with an empty stomach and slight tinge of hangover nausea. The pie is gorgeously golden brown, the flaky pastry carrying a delectable burn-bake note. Filling wise, the pepper steak depends more on the gravy than the meat. And a fantastic gravy it is, with hints of roasted marrow-bone, beef-stock, all-spice and ground pepper. The gravy and classy pastry alone make this a good pie, with the uninspired chunks of beef being a mere sideshow.
- Ou Meul Steak and Kidney
Once again, crust is king here. The pastry is the colour of burnt gold with the odd speck of charred, dark dough and has a truly home-baked look and aroma. Once bitten into, the expertise of the baker is evident as the flakes drift delicately over your hands revealing a tender doughy wrap encasing the meat. The balance between meat and pastry is almost perfect, the filling being generously fleshy. Personally, though, I would have preferred a bit more savoury gravy to mop the delectable pastry from the mouth’s interior.
- Fine Pastries Steak
The bakery is in Stellenbosch’s Bosman’s Crossing and bakes daily. It is a popular stop for winemakers en route to nearby Vinlab, and the pies are sold-out around 11:00 am every morning. Come see why.
A short-crust pastry provides a perfect casing to expertly cooked cubes of slow-braised beef in a thick, rich and expertly spiced gravy. The sauce presents notes of sage, bay-leaf, warm biltong, grilled steak fat and desert salt, all silky textured and enveloping gently braised steak. The ratio between sauce, crust and meat is perfect, enabling you to hold the bitten pie between your teeth while gripping a cell-phone to one ear and jotting wine-tasting notes onto a paper pad. Soft to the bite, joyful to the taste and a pleasure to eat.
- Potbelly Pantry Mutton Curry
This is the Elvis Presley of Cape Wineland Pies, and not caught in the fat. Potbelly is on the R44 outside Klapmuts and the pies lie in a glass heater like Greek goddesses tanning under an Aegean sun.
The mutton curry is shaped like a pillow for a well-fed Barbie doll and its presence in the hand affirms the substance of the pie-offering. Pastry is flaky, with a fragile layer of well-baked dough lovingly encasing the contents. This turns out to be a mild, sweet curry of turmeric, Malay spices and mouth-coating animal juices holding fall-apart tender slabs of sheep meat. The pie is substantial enough to concuss a potential car-thief with one throw to the neck, and not suggested for those of sensitive dietary requirements. But it is big, it is tasty, bringing together that heavenly combination of refined flour, baking prowess and savoury, fatty dead animal.