Mining is a risky and challenging occupation. It also becomes the lifeblood of towns or regions creating legacy employment. In the 1200s, Cornwall England’s men mined tin, and their wives and mothers fed them well. They packed lunchboxes with a meat and vegetable pastry — called a pasty (pah-stee) — crimping the edges to seal it. The nourishing handholds contained a savory and sweet filling on either end with an initial to mark the difference. The miners were covered in arsenic, so the crimped edge provided a safe handle and was discarded afterward, but not wasted. Those edges kept the “knockers” or ghosts of the mines away.
Growing up in Saltash Cornwall, Dean Thomas consumed pasties five days a week, and on Fridays, his Nan (grandmother) indulged him. Pasties are filling and portable, so have retained their appeal. That said, some things can be improved upon, and Thomas set about doing so in 2005.
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With formal culinary training and a decade of U.S. experience, he opened the Cornish Pasty Co. in 2005. Showcasing the classic pasty, the Oggie, he found success from the start. Thomas grew the menu for choice-loving Americans, expanding the brand with five Phoenix-area locations along with restaurants in Flagstaff, Las Vegas and Boston.
The brand champions consistent, superior ingredients and employee-to-partnership careers. Ryan Hays is the Flagstaff example. With an industry background, he began working for Thomas 11 years ago, advancing from server to manager to owner. Workers learn the ropes, respect the brand and are rewarded with company investment.
“Longtime employees keep up the pride and values in prepping the food, and that quality translates to customers,” said Hays of the Flagstaff shop, which opened in 2017.
Word-of-mouth advertising garners local trust and regulars, who Hays credits with keeping the lights on. Name recognition aids the tourist trade and a good measure of hospitality industry referrals.
The scratch kitchen makes dressings, soups, gravies, pastry and bread daily. Meats are roasted in-house.
“The only things in our freezer are ice cream and peas,” Hays joked.
Mushy peas are basic and British. The method soaks marrowfat peas for 24 hours, seasons and simmers them before smushing peas as a standard side.
Quality ingredients hail from local sources, such as Willie Itule Produce, French’s Meat Shoppe and farmer’s market wares. These come together to form a large list of pasties.
“We carry 45 pasties, so there is something for everybody,” Hays said. “It’s a working man’s food with variety and affordability.”
Pasties are handmade in time-consuming batches, so there are no ingredient substitutions. There are plenty of choices with signature, premium and 15 vegan and vegetarian options. Of course, traditional British tastes, such as lamb with mint or bangers and mash, are on offer, but pasties also come in Asian, Indian, Cajun, Mexican and other flavor profiles. Pre-orders are welcome or take home part-baked pasties to heat and eat.
The family operation includes wife, Danielle, who preps pasties. Some fillings are pre-cooked and, in others, raw ingredients stew slow and low in the oven. Cornish Pasty Co. products are hefty and filling — each one weighs a pound.
Start your pasty tour with the Oggie — steak, potato, swede (rutabaga) and onion with red wine gravy — and quickly branch out. The Roast Dinner wraps flaky pastry around braised beef and potatoes, candied carrots, sautéed Brussel sprouts, cheese sauce and swede with horseradish cream. It’s every dish Nan put on the table in every bite.
Or grab the popular Chicken Pot Pie with chicken, red potatoes, carrots, green beans, celery, onions and rosemary with chicken gravy, made from stockpot-boiled bones. Everything is purposed.
Toothsome jackfruit, eggplant or meat-substitute Quorn amps up the protein in creative veggie combos, like spicy asiago with roasted corn, black beans, Hatch chilies and pico de gallo.
Something smaller in mind? Cornish meatballs of finely ground mince are rolled in smoky bacon and covered in rich wine and rosemary gravy. Four soups made fresh daily include cream of mushroom with spinach and walnut for an earthy, nutty spoonful of warmth in winter. Beet salad layers roasted beets on a bed of spinach with chopped mint, fresh mozzarella and toasted pine nuts, dressed in white balsamic vinaigrette for a vivacious autumn feed.
The choice of sweets contains a decadent sticky toffee pudding or an airy Pavlova. A base meringue is piled with fresh cream, strawberry and kiwi slices plus raspberry coulis—delightful.
In 2020, the pandemic’s silver lining refocused attention on Cornish Pasty’s food in the previously bar-centric south side of downtown. It maintains a pubby ambiance with a long, S-curved bar, high tables or church pew seating, antique chandeliers and classic black-and-white photography of the roaring 20s, and of course, miner life. It’s exactly right. Late-night hours plus a new patio with a screen of flowerboxes, heaters and a warming fire to chase the chill are bonuses.
For drinks, a full bar of classy cocktails, seasonal pours and local brews compete with the definitive choice — a creamy-headed Guinness. Come in and tuck in.