The venerable pasty. The only, the immaculate. You know I’m not the type to proselytize, but the Calumet Pasty Company down the street from my house has me preaching the pasty gospel to the unwashed masses with Jesus-like fervor. Indeed, it might be the only time you’ll eat your rutabagas without grandma brandishing her rolling pin first.
Yes, a traditional meat pasty is that good.
The secret, my friend, lies somewhere within its beautiful simplicity. Wrap onions, carrots, potato, rutabagas, and hearty chunks of beef in pastry dough, crimp the edges, and bake. And that’s it. You’re done. So long as your ingredients are fresh and true, you really can’t go wrong.
A Cornish delicacy turned working man’s salvation, pasties made their delicious way to Michigan in the late 1800s when unemployed miners from sunny, temperate Cornwall immigrated to the cold gray expanses of the Upper Peninsula to find work in the region’s then booming mining industry. Though the subsequent waves of immigrants to the “UP” tended to be Scandinavian, all appreciated a good pasty when they ate it, and the pasty’s place as a culinary institution in the region was secured. Towns like Calumet may regrettably have seen better days, but the same doesn’t hold true for pasties. They get better with each bite.
In contemporary terms, I suppose a pasty is best described as a cross between a hot pocket and a pot pie, served with a side of homemade gravy. Unlike most forms of magic, you can literally hold it in your hands; it’s a classic begging for a comeback, for hipster-infused fillings inspired by semiliterate interpretations of international cuisine. It leaves me asking: where the hell is my Amy’s Kitchen frozen gluten-free quinoa and red curry pasty already?
Of course, Calumet Pasty Company’s menu couldn’t be further from that image. Actually, considering the owner, David – a Red Green doppelganger if I ever saw one – has spent most of his life in Metro Detroit and not Calumet, the authenticity of his little shop is a little mind-blowing. Replete with a Big Mouth Billy Bass, Buck the Singing Deer Head, Tigers 1984 World Series pennant, and Calumet Pasty Co baseball caps in military fatigue, you’ve got all the accouterments of UP life in a single, convenient location. When Buck belts out ZZ Top against a backdrop of toque-toting Milano Bistro Cafe wallpaper trim as David places your meat pasty on the front counter, you know you’ve done done it, man.
(David hard at work.)
This is it.
It almost goes without explanation that Calumet Pasty’s pasties are excellent. A golden, buttery crust filled with steak and vegetables stewed in their own juices – wow. And the gravy, dripping with beef fat and more butter. Sweet Lord Almighty! Some yoopers (as UP residents are affectionately referred to locally) apparently prefer ketchup on their pasties, but for the life of me I can’t see how Heinz tomato-flavored corn syrup could be the (lake) superior choice.
Calumet Pasty is one of those classic American family operations, and – surprise, surprise – there it is in a strip mall right off I-94, next to a door showroom, a dog groomer, embroiderer, fitness center, hair salon, and ice cream shop. Truth be told, you’d be hard-pressed to find a place this genuine in today’s trendy, expensive downtowns. With crêpe purveyors popping up in big city business districts like untreated acne, Calumet Pasty’s unpretentious pasty floated down from the sky onto my plate as if it was the long promised anti-crêpe of yore.