Is it weird to cry over a pie? I can report that yes, it is, but here we are.
The first: never get famous, it looks like a horrible way to live. The second: never drive on King St in Sydney’s Newtown (if you know you know). And the third: it is unconscionable to go on an Aussie road trip without stopping at a bakery for a pie.
Which is why, on a recent drive from Melbourne to The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld with an old school friend, the first thing I did was research to see if there was a good bakery anywhere along the way.
Dunkeld itself has an excellent bakery – and don’t worry, I tried that one out too and wasn’t disappointed – but it’s not a Road Trip Pie if you only eat it when you reach your destination. I needed to dig deeper and find something that would break up our journey.
The answer turned out to be an absolute cracker. I zeroed in on a place called Buddy’s Bakery in a small town called Melton, about 45 minutes west of the Melbourne CBD. The bakery had recently won a gong for their steak and mushroom potato-topped beef pies in the 33rd Official Great Aussie Pie Comp which sounded promising. A cottage pie pie? Sign me up.
We pulled up into a suburban parking lot, and the scene that greeted us made us both hopeful and faintly nervous. Buddy’s Bakery looks like it’s stepped straight out of your parents’ Kodak photo collection circa 1982. The signage out the front is a bright fire engine red, and there are huge pictures of pies, sandwiches and hot dogs plastered on every window. There was even one of those flappy plastic ribbon curtains across the entrance, though it was on the other side of a glass door which meant it was purely decorative rather than a fly deterrent. Incredible.
Then we stepped inside. And what greeted us was a Willy Wonka wonderland of fresh baked goods. There were stacks of pies of all varieties under the heat lamps: plain pies, curry pies, chicken pies and sausage rolls. The ‘gourmet’ pie list included a spinach and ricotta, a steak and pepper pie, a pizza pie and something mysterious called a “New Zealand pie” (perhaps it contains kiwis?).
The pastries were neon nostalgia bombs: vanilla slices, green frogs, lamingtons and neenish tarts. There were even fat finger buns lathered in icing and about the size of my head. Even the cut sandos in the fridge looked incredible: overflowing with salad, chicken and curried egg.
The sentimentality synapses started firing in my brain: this took me straight back to Wagga Wagga Turvy Tops shopping village during annual summer holidays with my Grandma Nin as a kid. Is it weird to cry over a pie? I can report that yes, it is, but here we are.
As dazzled as we were by all the options, we stuck to our mission. We were here to taste the pie de la pies: the potato. We bought one – it was filled with steak and mushroom and had a creamy cloud of mashed potato on top – and threw in a vanilla slice (or ‘snot block’ as they’re evocatively known around these parts) for good measure.
We took our loot outside to one of the bakery’s dodgy formica tables, smothering the potato pillow with squeezy packs of tomato sauce: an act so Australian that it should feature on our coat of arms. And we bit in.
Holy good gravy, this was a stunningly good pie. Rich and precisely seasoned. Distinct beef and mushroom chunks. Puffy potato topping lightly browned and as delicate as fairy floss. It dripped down our chins and all over our fingers and we didn’t care a bit.
The snot block wasn’t bad either; filled with so much teeth-tightening sugar that I felt like my eyeballs would burst from my skull. Ten out of ten.
Turns out the Buddy’s folk are pie titans: since sinking our teeth into the generous give of our potatoey pie paradise, they’ve racked up even more awards, this time at Australia’s Best Pies and Pasties Competition, hosted by the Baking Association of Australia (with names like these I get the sense that rivalry between actual pie competitions is excitingly cutthroat).
This year they won a giant-slaying 20 awards for their pies: including gold for their Salmon Breaky Pie, and silver for their Plain Chunky Beef Pie and their intriguingly-named Ned Kelly. I would have happily kept sampling but the beef and potato knocked us out: a girl has but one pie hole. Finishing our goopy goodness, we were back on our way, full and happy.
I know I said I have a rule that you should avoid getting famous but I’ll make an exception for Buddy’s Pies. These guys should be a name you never forget.