On the eve of moving to Newcastle from Sydney four years ago, I was at a formal corporate dinner making small talk with the manager of an engineering firm seated next to me when the subject of pies was raised. I had just mentioned I was in the middle of packing up our Bondi home for the move north and he asked me which Newcastle suburb I was heading to. When I mentioned Mayfield, never for a moment expecting him to know the area, his eyes lit up. ‘‘Lucky you,’’ he replied enthusiastically. ‘‘There’s a pie shop there that makes the best in the business.’’
He then continued to describe the location and bright blue facade of the pie shop – he had come across it during work trips – and gushed about the non-flaky pastry and chunky filling. I was bemused, to say the least, and even more so a few days later when we arrived and I realised our home was one street away from Blakeney’s Pies. A hot pie went straight to the top of our to-do list and we weren’t disappointed.
Forget flaky pastry, runny gravy and mince meat, a Blakeney’s pie is a neat pastry pouch filled with steak and a viscous, flavoursome sauce. I had never had a pie like it and instantly understood why navy and fluro-clad tradies start dropping in for their fix before sunrise.
‘‘We’ve always used chuck steak, which means our pies are easy to eat,’’ says Linda Pichardo (nee Blakeney), who owns the Mayfield pie shop with her Mexican-born husband Rene (the couple met in Playa Del Carmen in 2001 and returned there three years later to marry).
‘‘Tradies will tap on the door after 5am when they’re on their way to work, or knocking off from night shift. We start baking at about four, so they get them fresh out of the oven.’’
Linda’s 79-year-old grandmother Margaret opened the family’s first pie shop in Kurri Kurri more than 30 years ago and is known to pop in and help out. ‘‘She is still going strong and has a fair bit to do with the shop,’’ says Linda, whose mother, Mary, runs the third store in East Maitland.
Rene’s Mexican heritage has influenced the menu in Mayfield and a new favourite of mine is the chicken pie with chipotle and vegies, though the perennial pick is the steak, chilli and cheese. The pie menu also includes steak, pea and bacon and steak, egg, bacon and cheese. The chunky sausage rolls and spinach and ricotta pasties are a meal on their own. Sweet tooths are catered for with apple and pineapple turnovers. Prices range from $3.80 to $4.20.
Fans don’t flock to the Mayfield store for the nondescript decor, which consists of white floor tiles, a small counter, two fridges stocked with drinks and a large preparation area dominated by stainless steel tables and benches.
It is all about the pies.
Utes and trucks often line both sides of busy Maitland Road come mid-morning, but suits and sleek cars are as frequently spotted at the corner shop.
A Blakeney’s Pies van delivers to Newcastle businesses and hungry workers, with the addition of burritos and fruit salad.
Business is swift in the colder months, but Linda says demand for the pies is constant, even in summer.
‘‘We will make a few extra trays depending on the weather,’’ she says.
‘‘When it’s cold and miserable, we can sell out.’’
This is one local fixture I never take for granted, especially come lunchtime on a wet and windy Saturday – then it’s simply a matter of deciding who will venture out.
Blakeney’s Pies is located at 235 Maitland Road, Mayfield, and is open from 5.30am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, and 5.30am to 1pm on Saturday. Stores are also located at 52Melbourne Street, East Maitland, and 166Lang Street, Kurri Kurri.