This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.
Miners’ best friends, edible hand warmers, meals in a pocket: Cornish pasties are a versatile, earthy, nigh-indestructible comfort food. What these empanadalike pastry edibles lack in sexiness, compared with foams or poke bowls (or, well, nearly anything else), they make up for in hearty, savory wholesomeness.
Although the global pasty hearkens back to the late 19th century and the spread of Cornish mining foremen around the world (including the Iron Range and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), the format has seen a mini-boom in the metro area, appearing at restaurants, in food trucks, and even in a couple of brick-and-mortar locations. One such spot, Lands End Pasty Company in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, has been in business since 2014. It’s an uncle-and-nephew shop, and we talked to Pete Jacobson (the nephew and front-of-the-house part of the equation) at some length about the pasties of Lands End.
The engine of a pasty is its crust, and it tends to be on the “structure-only” side of things — tough and resilient, but mostly flavorless. Lands End offers a crust with flavor, some pleasant flakiness, and structural integrity, a combination that Jacobson credits to his uncle’s pre-launch testing regimen.
“My uncle [Jon Earl] was making three batches of pasties a day for six months,” he says. “The main goal was to get the crust right. We go with pastry short crust for the pasties. It’s tough, but not indestructible. It’s an overworked pie crust, basically. It’s not too tough to eat, but it will hold up to handling.”
Even after developing an optimal crust, Earl found himself facing the classic entrepreneurial challenge: scaling up.
“It took about two months after we got our commercial kitchen to work out cooking [the crust] in large batches and getting it the same taste, same quality that we were getting at home,” says Jacobson. “We didn’t realize how tough it would be to ramp up the crust from doing five at a time to doing 35 at a time.”
The shop’s pasties, which retail for $6.50, are packed with a variety of fillings that hew toward a short list of sensible favorites. This is not a menu chockablock with pho-inspired pasties or pasties stuffed with pizza toppings. There’s a lot of chicken, plenty of onions, and a fair bit of mushrooms and/or cheese.
We tried two pasties at Lakewinds with Jacobson. The first was the Traditional Steak (above) — tender pieces of steak, potato, onion, and rutabaga. Even at nine in the morning — our breakfast, effectively — it was compelling, even soothing. Properly seasoned, with a tender texture that played nicely off of the crisp crust, the pasty’s interior was like a comfort-food hug.
The second was the shop’s Chicken & Mushroom & Bacon variety, and it was an umami-driven work of art. Earthy mushrooms, smoky bacon, and delicate chicken played nicely together, no one component overpowering the rest of the ensemble, and all flavors evenly distributed throughout.
Both pasties, it should be noted, packed a bit of a surprise.
“At one point my uncle read somewhere that in Cornwall they’ll put a little bit of apple pie in one corner,” says Jacobson. “He did that once, and then the next batch he made didn’t have that because it was a one-off thing, and [his friends] said, ‘no, you’re doing that.’ So now at our shop each of our pasties has a little bit of apple pie at the end. If we stopped doing it, we would have a riot on our hands.”
The apple pie aspect of the pasties is fantastic. It’s subtly sweet, not sugary, and apples are such a mellow, sweet-tart presence that they pair well or excellently with almost anything savory. The surprise dessert filling is traditional, but in the context of the current food market, it’s also quietly innovative — a nice symbol for the shop itself.
Lands End Pasty Company, 1316 4th St SE, Suite 7, Minneapolis; 612.315.4175