Country of Origin: Australia
Locations Worldwide: 70 in Australia and one in the US
NYC Locations: One, in midtown
Midwest transplant Steak 'n Shake may have initially stole the thunder from down under meat pie chain, Pie Face, just two storefronts over. But the Australian café is having the last laugh—at least that's the impression given by the animated faces piped onto the pastry tops. Taking its name literally, each variety of pie has a unique identifying expression (there's a code to crack: for instance, a squiggly S mouth means steak) so cute you'd be forgiven for mistaking the 24-hour takeout counter for a Japanese import.
Available in regular or mini ($5.95 or $2.95) the portable meals are meant to be eaten out of hand (there's no harm done if you use a fork). So far, the most popular flavor in Australia has proven successful in the US too: chunky steak, pure and simple. The Thai chicken curry tastes more like the homey pot pies we're accustomed to than anything you'd find in Bangkok, but the mild green curry flavor, barely spicy, a little herbal, adds a fun twist to the cubes of poultry, potatoes and carrots.
Snackers can also order pastry-encased sausage rolls--which reportedly outsell the pies in their homeland--that also come in two sizes ($2.95 or $3.95). All-American ketchup would be the condiment of choice; ignore the plastic to-go containers of barbecue sauce. The stack ($7.95), which piles mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and gravy atop a meat pie, is also available for a more substantial meal.
Covering all bases, the list of sweets is actually longer than the savories. Sure, they have lamingtons, the classic coconut-dusted Australian sponge cake squares, but also flourless chocolate cakes, lemon tarts, croissants and assorted French pastries. My favorite was the chocolate pie ($3.25) with a thin layer of cherry preserves hidden at the bottom.
While you might imagine washing down your meat pie with a cold Foster's, Pie Face is very serious about coffee, a predilection Italian immigrants brought to Australia. Less serious are the cheeky names given to the blends from the mildest Open My Eyes! to the extra strong Kick My Arse!
Drip coffee was a concession for this first international branch--what are we, weaklings?--as well as a few other regional tweaks. We might not get to sample the lamb and rosemary or beef and peppercorn pies, but we do get a few specials of our own: the Mexican pie that incorporates beans and jalapeños and a still seasonally appropriate pumpkin pie for dessert.
Pie Face opened on Monday but is holding a grand opening today, Australia Day; according to their PR team, you can get a free mini-pie or free cup of coffee all day.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and reformed librarian. Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.