In Australia, the gas station (“servo”) meat pie is an age-old, late-night food tradition.
BP Service Station, Missenden Road, 24 January 2015
It was with some trepidation that I left the comfort of my sitting room at midnight and ventured out for a servo pie. A late night meat pie is always a gamble. Usually it ends in a “head-in-the-hands-what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life” brand of a gamble. Not often, the champagne spray of victory; very rarely some sort of culinary truth.
But life is nothing if not adventure.
I’ll admit – I stopped by Seven Eleven before I ventured to the BP at the end of the street. This is, in the scheme of late night pies, something akin to stopping for a drink with a chap with no teeth and a wine bottle in a bag. But still, the hour was late, Seven Eleven was close, and needs must.
I found their pie cooker empty. Next to it, a fridge of Krispy Kremes sat, wrinkled and sweating. No salt. No meat. I shuddered, and walked on into the night.
There’s a certain swagger that comes with wearing a business shirt and basketball shorts to a service station at midnight. It’s a swagger born of twelve or so standard drinks. And it is, I suspect, the product of subjectivity. (A bored and fashion-conscious policeman, taking an objective view, might chalk you up for disturbing the peace). But all great endeavours have risk.
So I lofted down the street in my b-ball shorts, carried onward by the warm night sky, the scent of jasmine, and the hope of baked goods.
I stopped in the dark. I had a moment of self-doubt. “Do I really need a pie?”, I pondered. “It’s hardly in the ‘no carbs after brekkers’ regime…” But then the rational part of me countered “Those seven-ish beers weren’t exactly salad leaves, were they?” And “anyway, it’s morning (just).” So he enjoined me to “fill my boots”. It seemed reasonable. And the Enlightenment taught us, if nothing else, not to piss about with reason.
At the BP entrance I was greeted by fluorescent light and one of her majesty’s constabulary. I stopped for a moment, concerned that my clothing was at fault. But I found the officer engaged with what I hear is called a “hoodlum”. In the screenwriting world, one might say that the police officer and the hoodlum had “conflicting objectives”, and that the hoodlum was about to enter his “dark night of the soul”. I stepped around them and carried on.
The shop was quiet. Empty, save for me and the clerk.
I half-expected BP to be short on pies. Seven Eleven was out. Petrol is cheap (a portent of chaos, if nothing else). And who knows how foreign oil markets affect domestic pie production? I’m not an economist.
But the pies were there.
I breathed the proverbial sigh of relief. There weren’t many: a pepper beef, a beef and mushroom, some sad looking sausage rolls. But they were there. They showed up.
The choice was simple: pepper beef.
“$5.50”, the clerk told me.
“Five *fifty*?!” I rejoindered. And then, to myself: “Apparently the oil markets *don’t* affect pies…” He looked, bored. He had a thousand-yard stare.
“Do you want the pie?”
“Yes,” I grumbled, and handed over my change. Then, under my breath. “Five *fifty*…”
I left the shop. The hoodlum and constable had departed. I shucked my winnings from its paper-bag. It looked like the heat-lamps had got the best of it. But the hour was late and supply was short. Need was great.
For an instant before I ate, I questioned my life-choices.
I found them entirely sound. As I bit, the world shifted into focus. Good. Lord. The pastry was, I’ll grant, a short crust too redolent of university taverns. But the meat! Tender, melting chunks of steak, perfect gravy, a sharp knock of pepper, and all of it the magic temperature. Too often a servo pie will be a greased, congealing thing or something that – no matter how long you leave it to cool, a day, six – something that’d strip the surface from an asbestos wall. (The sort of thing a fat, provincial councilor might use to get rid of a Banksy.) But this, friends, was perfect.
It’s rare to find a late night servo with edible fare. To find one that vends a cracking pie is even rarer. And so I shall be back.
PRICE: 4/10 ($5.50 for a PIE?)
AMBIANCE: 2/10 (But I didn’t get stabbed or see any mice, and let’s be frank – we’re not comparing it with the Savoy Grill. So let’s say a 6).
HANDICAP: 7-ish beers, 3 odd scotches.