Hope has arrived for the 70-odd Australasians at McGill. No longer must they carry Marmite in their purses to liven up lunches or frantically search Mount Royal for the most dangerous-looking critters to feel at home. Less than two kilometres away from campus, off Jeanne-Mance Park, sits a charming little shop called Ta Pies, with an array of offerings from the lands down under.
A modest terrasse greets customers, with regulars enjoying doughy delicacies in faux-wicker chairs. The small storefront is kitted out with a bold red-and-black colour scheme and a whimsical neon “ouvert” sign featuring a steaming pie. The tiny interior is crammed with homemade and imported Australian and New Zealander products and, puzzlingly, a towering shelf of Hot Ones’ sauces. Jars of appetizing sweets, from Tim Tams to fresh Lamington and Anzac biscuits, top the counter. Facing it is a freezer brimming with frozen shrink-wrapped Australian baked goods and a variety of drinks. For all your pantry needs, a nook nestled by the door holds everything from burger-flavoured chips and Milo powder to candy bars like Peanut Slab. Naturally, there are tubs of Marmite.
But, as this eatery’s name highlights, the real centrepieces are the pies, personally-sized and ready to go from a heated case next to the cash register. Don’t despair if your favourites are gone—the freezer and the case under the side counter have more that can be easily reheated at home. If you shop from the frozen pies, there are tons of additional flavours like Pepper Steak and Thai Curry Chicken, larger sizes, and even a 50-cent discount on each pie.
All pies feature the same blessedly versatile puff pastry dough, holding whatever it must while lending a buttery, flaky component to the flavour and texture profiles. The Classic Beef and Cheese is a concentrated blast of savoury richness, its cheddar and shredded beef combining into a powerful entity within the light-as-air pastry cloud. The Steak, however, can’t match up—chewy strands of meat are stewed to blandness, and adding mushrooms or cheese doesn’t help. Their final beef option is the incredible Ned Kelly (fittingly named after an Australian outlaw). Topped by a crackly layer of sharp cheddar, it consists of ground beef, chewy bacon, a creamy baked egg, a healthy amount of tangy barbecue sauce, and a mess of chopped vegetables for good measure. The pastry struggles, but it ultimately manages to hold together this otherwise lawless expanse of incongruously delicious sustenance.
Their only poultry option is the Butter Chicken, a brick-like mass of curry-tinged dough wasting no time in delivering a burst of warm spices when its crust is pierced. Whole lumps of breast meat and elusive vegetable bits in a thick orange sauce are spiced just enough to warm the palette without requiring liquid intervention. The Sausage Roll could replace a normal pie, a convenient scroll-shaped mound of laminated dough folded around a beautiful melange of spiced pork, beef, vegetables, and a touch of gravy begging to be wolfed down.
If all this talk of meat is tiring you, there are also a few worthwhile vegetarian options. The best is the Spinach, Ricotta, Mushroom, and Roasted Tomato—the classic Mediterranean combo ingeniously upgraded with the earthy bite of mushroom. The Curry Squash is less impressive, with a thick under-spiced layer of pureed gourd atop peppery, crunchy mixed vegetables. At $7-8 per pie, the overall value largely depends on which selections you make.
Rounding off the meal with homemade Australian desserts is essential, especially the dreamy Afghan Biscuit ($4.25)—a decadent lumpy disc redolent of cocoa. Topped by a swirl of rich chocolate icing, garnished with crunchy cornflakes and a walnut crown, its interplay of textures and flavours offset each other to create a rice crispy treat and whoopie pie’s love child. The Anzac Biscuit is simpler, a satisfying thick oat-sprinkled and coconut-filled golden round balancing between snappy and chewy. Just like everything at this gem, it’s warm and comforting, even for a North American like myself.