Finally, the definitive ranking of Aotearoa’s favourite snack – featuring notes of burnt marshmallow, wet undies and duplicitous giraffes.
Pastry-bound parcels of deliciousness have been in the news a bit recently. Earlier in the week, the nation’s best pies were lauded at a (presumably) glittering awards ceremony, which followed hot on the heels of our acting prime minister sharing his two cents on Aussie PM Malcom Turnbull’s controversial pie-eating method.
In support of @TurnbullMalcolm, I don’t give a rat’s derriere what people think I’ll eat a pie with a knife and fork. Some pies are very flaky, and sometimes you want to put sauce on.
— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) July 31, 2018
A glaring omission in this coverage, however, has been the lack of any mention of the spiritual home of the New Zealand pie — the humble petrol station.
The vast majority of us purchase our pies from these glowing beacons of familiarity, whether we’re boozed, hungover, in the midst of a road trip or simply a bit peckish. With petrol prices soaring, we can take comfort in the fact that — gourmet options aside — a simple pie provides comfort and nourishment for less than $4.
As such, The Spinoff Board of Review felt it was high time that petrol station pies were given their due, and we’re pleased to present…
The Spinoff’s Official Petrol Station Pie Rankings
Twelve of The Spinoff’s most experienced pie eaters blind-tasted 11 pies purchased from four different petrol stations in close proximity to our office in Morningside, Auckland. We went for a selection of the classics (mince and cheese, steak and cheese) plus a few more gourmet, dare we say out-there options. We even threw in, god forbid, a couple of vegetarian pies. Talk about PC gone mad! Our critics gave each pie a rating out of 10 and wrote a brief review.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it’s important to point out that eating a pie is a deeply personal journey, and this was reflected in our judges’ scores. No pie was loved or loathed by all, and some tasters had wildly different experiences of the same pie. We took all the ratings and averaged them out to come up with these, the official Spinoff petrol station pie rankings. Here they are, listed from shittiest to best (in order to build the suspense, and because we’re much more eloquent when being scathing than complimentary).
Fix mince and cheese pie from Caltex Balmoral ($4 — or two for $7)
Caveat: this was the final pie tasted, and may have suffered from poor pie-cutting skills (look, you try cutting 11 pies into bite-sized pieces in a quick and orderly fashion, OK?). But facts are facts — this pie came out at the bottom of the heap with a frankly embarrassing 3.2/10.
It was a polarising pie. Alex Casey, who rated it a miserable 1/10, was unequivocal in her hatred: “This pie is an outrage. Why does it taste fishy and smoky and like the worst part of a burnt marshmallow? Never again.”
Madeleine Chapman’s take was thus: “You know when you build a fire and it gets going but then a piece of blackened wood falls out of the flame and you have to pick it up with your bare hands and chuck it back in, then your hands smell like a fire for the rest of the night? That’s what this pie tasted like.”
It wasn’t universally despised, however. Sam Brooks, ever the contrarian, scored it a really rather good 7/10, and was poetic in his praise: “Mince and cheese is the purest and most honest of pies. ‘Mince’ can be literally any meat, as far as I’m concerned, and cheese just needs to have the taste of it, rather than the consistency. This pie perfectly balanced the bland base of mince with the strong overtone of the cheese, and the pastry was just the right consistency to be both part of a meal and a decent serving plate.”
THE SAD & DECEITFUL
Fix beef, bacon and spud pie from Caltex Balmoral ($4 — or two for $7)
Oh, Caltex. Caltex, Caltex, Caltex. The worst two pies came from thee. Shame! We can almost hear Septa Unella’s bell tolling.
All is not lost, however. There was another Caltex pie, and it was much better. Scroll onwards on to find out about the great redeemer…
But first, back to this beef, bacon and spud number, which several of our critics accused of being deceitful. “Fake bacon!” screamed Tina Tiller. “I was drawn in by the mashed potato but let down by the overpowering fake bacon taste, and I didn’t even have bacon or any other meat in the piece I had.”
Casey also claimed to have been deceived. “The top crust of this pie was a warm golden, the pinpricks suggesting the presence of an artisan. Alas. Beneath that welcoming exterior was a scary translucent mashed potato, and the side crust was literally as thick as a water cracker.”
Toby Morris had perhaps the most evocative take: “The saddest pie. Like a sad child who forgot to bring his togs to school swimming so he had to swim in his undies and then was too shy to say that he didn’t have a towel afterwards so had to walk all the way back to school with wet undies and sit in a puddle of sadness for the rest of the day. Pale, sad pastry, too much potato, sad, shy, flavourless meat, soggy bottom.”
Ponsonby Pies mince and cheese pie from Mobil Sandringham ($3.50)
Several members of our panel commented on the disconcertingly pale complexion of this pie, a tell-tale sign that it had been whipped out of the oven prematurely. Things improved a little with the filling, with Simon Day praising the all-important meat-to-gravy ratio.
The pie’s overall cohesion was also noted. “This is a good driving pie, standing its ground in an aggressive bite situation,” noted Casey. “Get this pragmatic pie next time you want to leave your rental car sans the fine fairy dust of pastry and gravy flecks,” she advised.
Chapman, meanwhile, was unimpressed, simply stating that it was “bland as hell”.
Mince and cheese pie from Z Mt Albert ($3.95)
Ra Pomare enjoyed this pie, rating it 7/10. “I like the cheese-to-meat ratio — the cheese isn’t overpowering. It’s an all-round positive experience. I’m having a good time.”
He was the pie’s sole supporter, however. While Day complimented the pastry, he admitted that beyond that, the pie “quickly became a nightmare”.
“The meat was chewy and dry. The cheese was non-existent. The more I chewed, the worse it got as a strong metallic taste permeated through my mouth. I stopped eating. Yuck.”
Tiller added a succinct: “ooooooh girl nooooooo”.
THE POLARISER V2
Ponsonby Pies butter chicken pie from Mobil Sandringham ($3.50)
Day was a big fan of this pie, saying it reminded him of a “white person’s version of a chicken kati roll from the streets of Kolkata”.
“It had a sharp ginger flavour, the Indian flavours were fragrant and strong, and there was a warm spice that lasted long after I finished my quarter pie. The chicken was succulent and juicy. The pastry was firm and crisp.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Casey, who eloquently equated this pie to a “treacherous journey, luring me in with its novelty factor and sesame seeds like a siren on the rocks but then drowning me, a confused pie sailor, in its aromatic depths. It reminded me of my bad homemade butter chicken. Nobody should ever be reminded of my bad cooking when tucking into a lovely pie.”
THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Wild Bean mince and cheese pie from BP Connect Mercury, Mt Albert ($3.70)
Tiller compared this pie to “old baggy skinny jeans — still does the job but needs an upgrade”. Pomare was also underwhelmed. “It’s kind of whack. To be honest, I didn’t like the flavour of the cheese and the pastry wasn’t flaky enough. A very middle-of-the-road service-station pie.”
Morris and Day were more complimentary, with the former calling it a “quality pie”. Both enjoyed the flaky pastry, but Day was ultimately left disappointed by a lack of seasoning.
Chapman said it tasted like “a Campbell’s hearty soup in a can”. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? You be the judge.
THE GOOD PIE
Fix steak and cheese pie from Caltex Balmoral ($4 — or two for $7)
This pie was relatively well liked, though some tasters felt the pastry was too hard and not flaky enough. The red hue of the filling also caused some consternation, but its flavour was praised. “Tasted like beef stew,” said Chapman.
THE FANCY BUT EVIL
Z chicken and chorizo, pie of the week from Z Mt Albert ($4.99)
The final in Z’s limited-edition “flavour of the world” series, this pie was available just this week (there might still be some left if you’re quick). Z will reinstate the most popular pie, as decided through a poll on their Facebook page, and we have it on good authority that the mac n cheese should win if there’s any justice in this cruel world.
Anyhoo. Henry Oliver, clearly a man not easily impressed by flights of fancy, was underwhelmed by the chicken and chorizo, but Chapman praised its “fancy sausage flavour”. Morris enjoyed the pie but couldn’t shake a suspicious feeling that it was cheating: “Like saying a giraffe is the most interesting horse — not really fair on the other horses, is it?”
This pie also received a suspiciously evil score, which is surely more than a coincidence.
THE ‘I’M VEGAN BUT I’M TASTY’
Gourmet Mexican vegan pie from Z Mt Albert ($4.60)
In the clearest indication yet that The Spinoff Food has a secret agenda aimed at destroying the very backbone of this country, the consumption of meat, the two vegetarian pies we tasted shared the number two spot.
The office’s oft-confused pair of Alices, Neville and Webb-Liddall, both enjoyed the golden, flaky pastry and the touch of spice in the bean-based filling, though Neville found it slightly on the gluggy side. Jihee Junn felt the pie was too mushy, but the morsel Chapman tried contained a disconcertingly solid piece of potato. These quibbles aside, it was all in all a thoroughly decent vego pie.
THE ‘THIS IS NACHO PIE’
Gourmet Mexitarian pie from BP Connect Mercury, Mt Albert ($5)
“This one tasted fancy,” said Chapman, and at $5, it bloody well should have. She added that it reminded her of nachos, “which is a good thing”. Obviously. Neville nitpicked that the pastry was a tad undercooked, but enjoyed the rich tomatoey flavour of the filling, and the oozing sour cream-esque substance (there was some dispute over its exact nature) was appreciated by all. Junn, a Mexitarian fan from way back, simply stated that this pie was not messing about.
THE ‘JUST A BLOODY GREAT PIE’
Wild Bean steak & cheese pie from BP Connect Mercury, Mt Albert ($3.70)
Our winning pie was a crowd-pleaser, which perhaps tellingly attracted high scores but minimal commentary. “She cuuuuuute,” said Tiller. “Excellent gravy!” added Mark Kelliher. “Delicious, tender hunks of steak, just the right amount of gravy and pastry that looks like it has had some fun in the sun,” was Casey’s take. “A great pie.”
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.