It’s just after noon on a broiling hot early summer day in Grand Rapids. There’s a fan blowing across the kitchen at Pasties Plus and not a customer in sight. I figure that, in this heat, I’m the only one crazy enough to have a hankering for nearly a pound of meat and potatoes wrapped in heavy pastry. But Jeani Bumgarner, who’s behind the counter, assures me that I’ve just missed the lunch rush. And more people will be by later in the afternoon to pick up a half dozen pasties for dinner.
Summer, in fact, is a busy time at Pasties Plus, what with the cabin traffic up north. “And a lot of our customers are snowbirds,” Bumgarner says. “Some of them even say, ‘We just got home today, we couldn’t wait to get our pasties.’”
All year round, Pasties Plus turns out about 100 pasties a day, sometimes as many as 140. The regular (beef, potatoes, and carrots), rutabaga, and beef-and-kraut varieties are made fresh every day, and the breakfast, all-vegetable, and sausage varieties as needed. Customers get them hot to go or frozen to heat up in the oven.
In the homely pantheon of handheld peasant meals, the pasty is perhaps the homeliest. (Starting with its name: rhymes with “nasty,” not “hasty.”) Chopped beef, soft-cooked vegetables, and minimal seasoning make up the filling, heaped so high the finished pie is bigger than two fists put together.
But there are plenty of hand pies out there, so what makes a pasty a pasty? “That’s a strange question,” Bumgarner says. “It’s the crust, I guess.” A Pasties Plus crust is much thicker than your average pie crust, softened on the inside by the meat and vegetable juices and slightly crispy on the outside. It is made up of just flour, lard, salt, and water, and Bumgarner herself mixes up a batch almost daily. There are no conditioners or preservatives like there are in … well, Bumgarner demurs when prompted to name the competition, available in the grocery freezer cases. But she assures me it’s nowhere near as good.
“We were told by our health inspector we’re the only people in Itasca County who make everything from scratch,” she says.
You can thank the Finns for bringing the pasty to Grand Rapids, but it’s not a Finnish dish. The Finns, although they aren’t exactly strangers to pastry-wrapped savory dishes, got hooked on the Cornish version of this easy to-go meal as miners in Cornwall, England, and brought it across the ocean to the Iron Range when they immigrated again.
Pasties Plus has been in Grand Rapids for 15 years, run for most of that time by Ruth Kutz. Kutz’s dad had a pasty shop called Pasty King in the Upper Peninsula through the 1960s. After he moved to Grand Rapids, he decided the local hand pies weren’t up to snuff (although they were far from unknown in the area) so he opened his own shop. Sadly, he died shortly afterward and his daughter took over.
One more mystery remains. I ask Bumgarner, what’s the “plus” in Pasties Plus? It turns out it’s mostly there for alliteration. You can get pasties, gravy if you want it, and, sometimes, a freshly baked cookie, and that’s it. But, since a pasty is one of the original all-in-one meals, you really don’t need anything else.
Pasty shop in Grand Rapids
1405 NW 4th St
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
CHEF / OWNER: Jeani Bumgarner / Ruth Kutz
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No (the vegetable pasty crust is made with lard)
ENTREE RANGE: $4.50 / pasty