Go west to score some of the finest savoury pies this side of Down Under.
Off the beaten path is an understatement when it comes to the five-week-old Pie Commission in Etobicoke. The little joint that churns out piping-hot miniature meat pies is located (stay with us here) under a hair salon in the back of a building that’s fronted by a paint shop and bookended by a pair of fireworks stores, one of which doubles as a discount perfume emporium. Frequent customers are neighbouring office workers, residents from the townhouse-occupied block, or drivers who saw the shop’s big white letters while taking a backstreet shortcut to the nearby Costco.
Sure, The Pie Commission is a tad hidden, but even on a thunderous and soaking late-summer afternoon, people continue to pull up to the makeshift gravel parking lot and run down the flight of stairs to the kitchen’s window, where they place their order for these handheld meat pies. When a spot offering scratch-made, affordable lunch and dinner takeaway options opens on a mostly industrial stretch, people naturally take notice.
Co-owners and friends Patrick Blessing and Mike Dahm once had other day jobs—in finance and IT, respectively—but they shared a well-honed passion for meat pies. In his 20s, Blessing lived in Australia, where the savoury snack is a staple; Dahm ate them almost every day while working for CTV during the London Olympics, and he happens to be married to an Aussie. Both men wanted to make the leap into food service, and a year ago, they decided to go for it.
With no kitchen training, the owners decided to enlist Owen Sokoloski, a former cook at Fat Cat Wine Bar. He refined the pie fillings, playing with butter chicken and braised beef rib, although for help with the finicky crust, Sokoloski turned to his wife, Miyuki Adachi, who does double duty at Zucca Trattoria’s pasta station. She managed to hit that golden, flaky sweet spot, where the crust resembles a stack of crinkly tissue paper.
On the other side of the pie window, the kitchen is deceptively large. In fact, Blessing says, “This was supposed to be our production kitchen for a shop downtown, but it took us longer to find a space. So we have this kitchen in a bizarre location, but it lent itself well to a walk-up concept. People seem to like it.”
The space allows for an assembly line, where pie dough is weighed, cut, and then flattened into moulds one at a time with the hiss of a pneumatic pie press. It’s also where Sokoloski makes his fillings for the half-dozen or so options on the chalkboard menu ($6.95 each, $8.50 with a side of fries or salad, or $26.95 in frozen packs of four). For the succulent beef-rib pie, he sears, braises, and cubes 100 pounds of chuck blade before cooking it down in a veal stock and adding roasted onions, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes. The chicken cheddar mash (a less traditional pie) combines buttermilk-marinated breast meat, confit leg pulled into fine threads, and rendered chicken skin with cheesy mashed potatoes for a creamy and decadent dinner. The vegetarian option is crammed with millet, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and carrot in a tomato sauce with goat cheese. There’s also the occasional special, like a Chinese-Canadian spicy ginger beef and broccoli pie.
Customers are already asking for more options: bigger pies, dessert pies, a wholesale pie operation. That may happen in the future, but for now, the chef and owners are directing their attention to keeping the little Etobicoke shop running—and spreading the word on where to find it.
“You’re making somebody’s whole meal in one five-inch encased pastry,” says Sokoloski. “The challenge becomes how to keep it under seven dollars. But it’s nice to be able to focus on making one thing really well, rather than trying to be 50 different things.”
935 The Queensway, 416-848-7424, piecommission.com.