It’s easy as pie to leave Panbury’s with a happy stomach

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The seventh installment in the series, Around the World on 80 Plates, Britain, Australia, South Africa.

Reilly Blum

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EYES ON THE PIES: Panbury’s steak and stout pie, filled with mushrooms, herbs and fork-tender beef shoulder, had a perfectly crispy shell.

Forget apple, cherry and pecan. Panbury’s savory double-crust pies have quietly become a Sweet Auburn staple. Where other restaurants zig and zag, Panbury’s perfects an English favorite.

Panbury’s occupies a humble space in the back of Sweet Auburn Municipal Market. While other booths draw larger crowds, Panbury’s authentic British, Australian and South African pies remain the go-to for a steady, faithful group of customers who audibly extol the restaurant’s addictive nature.

Upon entering the market, I bypassed a free sample of cheddar-caramel popcorn and made a beeline for Panbury’s cyan banner.

Pies, perfectly browned, sat expectantly behind a glass sneeze-guard. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to sample the steak and stout pie, which is Panbury’s most popular. I also ordered the green thai chicken curry pie, the mashed potatoes and gravy, and the kale salad.

There was virtually no wait. By the time I had paid, my pies were hot and ready to eat. I struggled to find an empty seat in the bustling market, and ended up sitting in the seating space reserved for another booth.

As soon as I plunged my fork into the flaky shell of the steak and stout pie, I knew I was in for a treat. The first bite transported me to a midwinter night. I felt the flickering heat of a fire and the comforting warmth of a blanket draped around my shoulders. I heard wind whistling and rain pounding the roof. Then I swallowed. I blinked. Oh–it’s late March.

The pie tasted like winter. While it was delicious in the spring, it would have been unbearably scrumptious in December.

The beef shoulder was fork tender, and the onions, thyme, rosemary and mushrooms added earthy depth to the meaty flavor. The slightly tangy Guinness sauce rounded off the pie but somehow did not tarnish the crust’s flaky shell. The pie was a pocket of warmth–the ultimate comfort food.

With high hopes, I took a bite of the green thai chicken curry pie. Spice hit me–not enough to make my eyes water, but enough to mask the flavor of the cilantro, lime, lemongrass, green onions, mushrooms and green peas boasted on the menu. The chicken, while tender, hid behind a curtain of spice. The inside of the pie had a weirdly gooey texture: I wasn’t sure whether the coconut-cream sauce made the crust soggy or whether the pie just hadn’t been cooked long enough to make the inside crispy, but I wasn’t impressed. While the chicken pie wasn’t terrible, it paled in comparison to the heavenly steak and stout.

The mashed potatoes and gravy, which my father insisted upon ordering, perplexed me. I have never liked gravy much, or mashed potatoes either, and I expected that my bias against the side would lead it to the same sorry fate as the chicken curry pie. After only one bite, however, the potatoes proved me wrong. The tangy gravy provided the perfect contrast to the peppery potatoes. While the potatoes were divine, I wished that they hadn’t been mashed so uniformly. Personally, I would have prefered a bit of chunkage, which would have given the potatoes a more homemade texture.

Lastly, I plunged my fork into the kale salad. It looked beautiful–the kale could have been harvested just this morning. While the kale itself was perfect, the rest of the salad was not. Part of the problem lies in its existence. A summery kale salad does not pair well with a steak and stout pie. No matter how tasty the salad, braised carrots, parsnips or other more hearty root vegetables would make a more suitable accompaniment. And had the salad been perfect, perhaps I would have forgiven this inconsistency. But the oversweet vinaigrette and dried cranberries made the salad far too sweet for my taste. Grated parmesan counteracted a bit of the cloying sweetness but certainly didn’t save the salad. Almonds tossed in among the kale were a nice touch, but it would take more than that to rectify the flavor imbalance. The salad wasn’t terrible–perhaps it was even good. It just seemed so out of place compared to the rest of my meal–sitting there green and fresh, practically radiating vitamins and minerals.

Panbury’s: stick to what you know. The classics–mashed potatoes and gravy, a steak and stout pie–were phenomenal. But the more daring choices–chicken green curry and the kale salad, which perhaps was a slightly transparent effort to placate health-conscious customers, fell flat. Though I certainly plan to return for another pie, I’ll stick to the less adventurous menu items.