Opening a Cornish pasty shop in suburban Vienna might seem like an odd choice, but Michael Burgess thought it was about time.
"I saw the growth of pasty shops in the United Kingdom and thought the concept would adapt well to the U.S. market," says the 49-year-old Cheshire, England, native and owner of the Pure Pasty Co., who hung out his shingle Oct. 1.
The hand-size, moon-shaped savory pies (pronounced PASS-teas), once a staple of Cornish miners, are as trendy in England as cupcakes are here, according to Burgess. Judging by the specimens he and his American chef, Joshua Andrus, are turning out, he might be on to something.
Burgess and local architect Paul Layer set about designing a shop that appeals to all the senses: natural wood, tiled walls, stainless-steel appliances and a large work table that runs the length of the open kitchen. The pasties are baked in an oven located close to the service counter, so their aroma works its magic on customers waiting in line.
From where diners place their orders, they can watch as large sheets of pastry are rolled out, cut into circles and filled. The pastry is folded to form half-moon shapes, five inches wide. The edges are crimped by hand, a traditional touch: "It's where miners could hold the pasty without dirtying the meat-filled part of the pie," Burgess says.
The shop offers a menu of five pasties ($5.99 each), a daily chef's special pasty, house-made soups (12 ounces, $4.49) and salads ($3.99 to $4.49). And yes, Brit-food lovers, there's also a puff-pastry sausage roll ($3.75), filled with meat ground by an Alexandria butcher to the chef's specifications.
Burgess and Andrus, who has worked in the kitchens of Cafe Atlantico, Gerard's Place and Cheestique, are committed to using high-quality ingredients, organically grown and locally sourced when possible. They worked to develop a pasty crust that is tender and flavorful, yet strong enough to hold a generous serving of filling.
The meat-potato-onion Traditional Style is hearty and perfect for beef lovers, yet Americanized with a little cream cheese. Still more American is the Philly, a combination of chopped, thinly sliced steak, onions, peppers and aged provolone. The delicious combination makes for a particularly good last bite of the juice-soaked pastry, which, Burgess says, is the best part of any good pasty. (We agree.) The Cornish Masala is their take on chicken tikka masala; a gentle primer in Indian flavors. The least successful of the group is the Chicken Provencal, with a somewhat bland combination of boiled chicken, leeks, cream and herbes de Provence.
Vegetarians have the option of the Slowdown Veggie, distinctly British in its mix of potatoes, peas, carrots, celery, onion and mushrooms.
The salads - Caesar, garden and chef's - are large enough to share. Soups vary daily, but a creamy tomato soup is the house staple. A daily $8.49 combo includes one pasty and a choice of soup or salad.
The shop will not be the only outlet for the pies. Burgess has a food cart ready to go and a spot picked out, one block from the Ballston Metro. The cart will be open for lunch only, Mondays through Fridays, with a planned launch date of Nov. 1, depending on permits. (Follow their hours and locations on Twitter: @purepasty.)
Until then, the pies are available only at the Vienna shop, tucked away on a service road between Church Street and Maple Avenue. Bring a friend so you can sample without guilt.
- Stephanie Witt Sedgwick (Good to Go, Oct. 20, 2010)