story & photos by Bakery Boy
You wouldn’t think to go to Georgia to hear Australian slang. Southern slang, yes, though not from quite that far south. Well, say g’day mate (hello, friend) to the fair dinkum (genuine) Aussies (Australians) making dinky di (honest to goodness) Down Under specialties at the Australian Bakery Café in Marietta. You’ll hear those phrases and more while having a cultural experience at this bakeshop northwest of Atlanta. When you leave with a belly full of meat pies and a box full of more for later, you’ll be saying good on ya (thanks) and righteo (yes).
“This might be the only Australian bakery in the United States and for sure the oldest,” says Mark Allen, co-owner along with Neville Steel of the bakeshop they’ve run since 2001 facing downtown’s Marietta Square. They make a variety of sweet Australian goodies—such as crunchy oatmeal cookies they call Anzac Biscuits, walnut-laced chocolate desserts known as Hedgehog Slices, and pillow-y discs of meringue topped with strawberries and whipped cream—but they are best known for meat pies.
MEAT PIES? “Righteo, meat pies, that’s what it’s all about here, mate,” Neville says while rolling out enough pie-crust pastry dough to go under and over more than 200 of the 4-inch-square pies he’s making during an interview for the Bakery Boy Blog. “Meat pies are an Australian tradition we introduced here.”
Picture a flaky, oven-browned square the length of a deck of cards and twice as thick as one. It fits in hand like a sandwich, but keep it over a plate to catch the delicious sauce that oozes out after you bite in. Australian Bakery Cafe makes more than two dozen varieties.
The original meat pie involves chopped beef sirloin in seasoned gravy. Options include steak and cheese, steak and onions, steak and mushrooms, steak and kidney, steak and peppers, chicken and vegetables, curry chicken, curry lamb, spinach and feta, shepherds pie, and others. There’s a Ned Kelly Pie named for an historical Aussie figure, a mid-1800s bushranger seen by some as a violent outlaw and by others as a Robin Hood-style folk hero for his defiance of colonial authority. “The Ned Kelly is a outback tough man’s pie stuffed with eggs, cheese, and ham,” Neville says, “with an egg on top too.”
With so many choices, Neville and Mark created a Pie Identification Chart to remember which is which. For example the basic Australian meat pie has a single hole on top, steak and kidney pie is sprinkled with black poppy seeds, buffalo-chicken pie has paprika and four holes. “Without that chart we’d just be guessing what’s inside and so would our employees,” Neville says. “Of course we’d enjoy them anyway, because they’re all good.” They make a separate line of sausage rolls, meat-filled pasties, and pork pies, which are easier to ID because they’re different shapes.
WHAT’S THE SECRET? The crust can make or break a good meat pie. That goes double for what’s inside. “It’s no secret, really. The trick is to have a good, flaky, buttery pastry (what you Americans call crust) and a thick, tasty gravy,” Neville says. “We perfected the pastry long ago, so now we focus on getting the best possible meats, veggies, spices, and other ingredients.”
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES Besides local customers, regulars include the Australian Embassy and the Australian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington D.C. “They order hundreds of meat pies when they want to impress visitors with some genuine Australian food,” Mark says. “We also supply a lot of famous Aussies living in America. Keith Urban the country singer, Mel Gibson the actor, Olivia Newton-John the singer and actress, Stuart Appleby and Wendy Doolan the professional golfers, Graham Russell of the rock band Air Supply, and others have placed orders. We ship frozen pies overnight anywhere in the country, and all people have to do is warm them and serve. For Australians, what we’re really delivering is a little taste of home.”
CHILDHOOD FRIENDS Neville and Mark, now 50, have known each other since preschool. “We’re both from bakery families in the city of Boort, about 250 miles northwest of Melbourne,” Neville says. “We went our separate ways and then met up again while attending the bakery school at William Angliss Institute in Melbourne. We each worked in several bakeries in Australia. Mark moved to the States in 1991, I followed in 1999, and we opened our Marietta bakery in 2001.
LOVING IT “I love baking every day and experimenting with new meat pies,” Neville says. “Today I’m messing around with barbecued pork and different spices for the gravy just to see what I get. The good ones go on the menu. The not-so-good ones we eat anyway but don’t make again.”
BLUEGRASS IN THE BAKERY This is not an Australian tradition, if you were wondering. Mark explains: “My ex-wife Wendy, who is our business partner, has a new husband, Greg, who plays bluegrass banjo. He started hanging out here with his music friends, and the crowd of people playing and listening kept growing. So every Tuesday we hold an Open Bluegrass Jam. Anyone can bring an instrument and join in, whether they’re already seasoned players or just beginning to learn. We keep the bakery open until 9 o’clock to feed them meat pies when they get hungry from all that pickin’.” For more information about the Bluegrass Jam visit http://aussiejam.wordpress.com
HOURS Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tue ‘til 9 p.m. for Open Bluegrass Jam); Sat-Sun 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
INFO www.australianbakery.com or 678-797-6222