Southern California was the mid-century proving ground of fast service food concepts. The Pasty Kitchen is an attempt to introduce flavors from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the United States in drive-up diner fashion. Michigan pasty aficionados will immediately notice the peculiar shape of the pasties on offer here. Rather than fold them over, they form the fold on top. This leaves no pinched sides without filling.
When you first walk by, you see an open window full of pies being assembled for the oven. The cooks stretch dough over softball sized mounds of filling and weave an intricate star pattern to seal them on top. This stretchy dough and continuous baking of fresh pasties are what makes The Pasty Kitchen the best in the West.
There are some differences between Michigan pasties and this unique Orange County variant. The crust here isn’t flaky at all. It doesn’t attempt to be. It’s more like a shortening-laced calzone dough, but it’s not particularly buttery or short. Rutabaga is a traditional ingredient, but there is none inside these. Some say they’re not as good as what they make in Michigan or Britain. We think they are, and some proof of that is line-ups of Michigan transplants and English expats who buy frozen pasties by the dozens for at home take and bake.
The quality of the pasties is very high. We doubted ourselves as we kept going back for more. How could a humble, not particularly famous stand thousands of miles from the hand-pie homeland in the Midwest be this good? Well, it is. A nice choice if you want more California flavor are veggie pasties. The broccoli and red pepper filling is bound with vegetarian refried beans. If you do eat meat, these veg pies take well to both the chicken and beef gravies on offer.
When it comes to pasties, there are ketchup people and there are gravy people. We like gravy. What’s served here is thick, industrial grade stuff, which goes well with the pies. Being in Southern California, you’ll see people who use Tapatio hot sauce instead of ketchup, which makes for a fun local twist. We found sauces weren’t even necessary for these as their looser, less flaky dough makes for a moister finished product.
The Pasty Kitchen offers a few cookie-cutter sides like macaroni salad. Skip them, and save room for dessert. Freshly baked chocolate cookies are tasty, made with Toll House dough. Even better are turnovers made with pasty dough and generic pie filling. They’re homey and satisfying.
The pasty never caught on in the U.S beyond northernmost Michigan, but a trip to the Pasty Kitchen presents an alternate reality where our nation eats inexpensive, hearty hand pies instead of burgers.