Meat Pies, Hotdogs, and Pasta Bread Bowls at Harry's Cafe de Wheels
"I've tried their pies," shares food writer and dapper man-about-town Spanky Enriquez. "They're great!" Apparently, this was back during the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and not in one of the Harry's Cafe de Wheels that have been sprouting up in the fancier malls, first in Nuvali, then in S Maison. It has obviously left quite an imprint on the seasoned foodie, considering the time that has passed and the considerable number of similar meaty delights he has come across.
Luckily, Enriquez was not alone in developing a taste for Harry's savory pies and wieners. Co-owner Emman Uy's wife, Dara, encountered Harry's during her university days at Sydney and longed for their comforting meat pies and hotdogs which were, I assumed, an affordable student staple. Jay made the trip Down Under, met with owner Michael Hannah, and four years later opened the first local franchise in Sta. Rosa, Laguna with siblings Jay and Star.
Meat pies are not exactly a novelty in the Philippines. Filipinos have always been fond of savory pastries like empanadas and even Jamaican patties, and Australian meat pies have penetrated the market in the last couple of years. Starry notes that although Harry's is not nearly as popular as those that have come before them, its joining the already-crowded grab-and-go market might just shake things up. "Besides, Filipinos have become well-traveled over the years and are ready to try something new."
Two things set Harry's meat pies apart: good quality meat and flavorful gravy. Bite into the flaky, buttery crust of a classic beef pie, for example, and notice how the inside is moist from the complex brown sauce which is reminiscent of a hearty stew. While none of pie variants disappoint, the King's Cross Pie—filled with pork tender hickory sauce and topped with cheese and bacon—stands out. The average Pinoy might consider this merienda, but if you top these pies with mushy peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy then that's a full meal. At Harry's they call it a Tiger Pie, or Tiger Chili for fans of their popular chili con carne.
Meat clearly is front and center here, but carbs are just as prized. The original poutine puts that wonderful gravy to good use features not just gravy-soaked crisp fries but also a duo of feta cheese and cheese sauce. Both soups and pasta are served in freshly baked bread bowls, with the clam chowder and ratatouille with angel hair coming out as early favorites. The freshly cut spuds, or chips as they call them in that side of the world, are best accompanied with their chicken poppers and, again, more of that special gravy.
Must-tries: Tiger Pie and Beefy Hotdogs
But, what might just be the biggest draw to the local newcomer are the hotdogs—its all beef filling and sheep casings are imported and made especially for them by a local supplier ("its more economical that way, but using the same recipe of course," says Ewan matter-of-factly). The frankfurters are noticeably garlicky, that casing giving it the snap you would expect from a proper sausage. The bun—baked in-house—is soft and airy, a cross between a dinner roll and a buttery brioche. Starry claims that the Hotdog de Wheels is the bestseller. One of those everything-on-it type of situations, it's not at all difficult to love. Their classic hotdog, however, simply adorned with cheese, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, and what seems to be a sweetish mayo—is all you need.
Starry admits that, as much as they want to stay true to the brand, they had to give in to a few requests. They do offer a fried chicken meal (either with rice or waffles) and breakfast dishes to go with their coffee. I'm happy to report, though, that their brewed iced tea remains true to the original. Just mildly sweetened and with a hint of lemon.
Testament to the brand's growing presence locally, the Uys share that they will be opening Harry's Cafe de Wheels in Greenhills, Alabang, and Makati. Starry is even hoping to spread the love for Aussie pies farther South, perhaps even in Visayas or Mindanao. Who knows? If you asked me a couple of years ago if Filipinos would eat mushy peas, I would say they were crazy. At this point, an Australian pie invasion is not so far-fetched.