San Francisco Chronicle

Hands down, the best savory pies in town

- By Anna Roth Anna Roth is a freelance writer in San Francisco. E-mail: food@sfchronicl­ Twitter: @annaroth

It took nine months for Nicholas Lee to be happy with his pastry recipe. The proprietor of Sage Bakehouse, a savory hand pie stand at the Clement Street Farmers’ Market, knew that the crust, more than filling, makes or breaks a pie. So he spent months testing options, using friends and family as guinea pigs, before settling on a two pastry combo: On the bottom, he used a short crust, like a regular pie, and on top, a “rough puff,” a variation of puff pastry. Together they give his pies a sturdy base with a wonderfull­y flaky exterior.

I was turned on to Sage Bakehouse by a pair of homesick Aussies who said that the pies reminded them of the ones back home, more than any others they’d encountere­d in the Bay Area. Handheld meat pies are popular in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, where they fuel everything from a takeaway breakfast to a late-night snack on the way home from the pub. Once you develop a taste for them, it never quite goes away; I spent a year in Edinburgh back in college and still regularly mourn America’s lack of sausage rolls and macaroni pies.

Lee isn’t really confident in his macaroni pie recipe yet, unfortunat­ely, though he’s made some prototypes. But he makes plenty of other worthy pies to satiate a craving. My Australian friends were right: Sage Bakehouse is making some of the best hand pies in the Bay Area.

Their buttery pastry grabbed my attention first. It has the kind of admirable flake that will end up all over your shirt no matter how careful you are. Then I gained appreciati­on for the fillings, many made from Clement Street Farmers’ Market vendor ingredient­s.

These local products make all the difference in pies like the mushroom, which pairs al dente criminis from Mushroom Adventures with nutty Nicasio Valley Reserve cheese and woodsy spices. It all makes for a far better mushroom pie than any other I’ve had. You can taste the quality of the Fallon Hills Ranch beef in the pot roast pie, and the panoply of market produce in the seasonal veggie offering, which right now includes sweet potato, kale and Tokyo turnips in a savory gravy.

Lee is neither an expat nor a trained pastry chef. He grew up on a ranch near Temecula (Riverside County) and worked in tech until he was laid off from his business developmen­t job at Trulia in 2015. Instead of going to work for another company, he decided to open a small business. His mind kept going back to the hand pies he had loved on a monthlong trip through New Zealand a year earlier. With his severance pay and some financial help from his family, Sage Bakehouse was born.

The name comes from the area where his family’s ranch is located, and influences from that upbringing show up in most aspects of the business. Lee used to help his mother sell honey at local farmers’ markets growing up, and so when it came time to find a distributi­on channel for his pies, the market seemed like a natural choice.

A childhood on the ranch also leads to his insistence on local ingredient­s, no matter the cost — one of his impending challenges will be to scale the business without having to charge more than the already-steepish $7 per pie.

Right now, Sage Bakehouse fits right into the lively Clement Street Farmers’ Market, which brings the whole Inner Richmond out on Sunday mornings for shopping and breakfast. The stand has a prime spot at Third and Clement, and offers a varying range of pies every week, either warmed up to eat right away, or cold to take home and heat up later. On a good day, they’ll sell about 20 dozen.

The breakfast pies are popular, stuffed with Pasture 42 eggs and bacon or pork belly, though I wanted more salt in them to bring out the flavors. Same for the bone broth at the booth, from the San Rafael’s Osso Good (though you can always request more sodium to be added).

Most of the fillings, however, were exactly what they should be, like the simple chicken pot pie, or the minced beef and cheddar with a hint of heat. Some are Lee’s own creations, like a pie filled with bulgogi beef; the flavor of the Korean chile paste is subtle, but it’s there, especially as you get through the buttery pastry and into the center of the pie. In the future, Lee hopes to offer sausage rolls (yes) as well as sweet pies made with summer fruit.

And in the process, of course, keep the expat community buzzing about the pies they love. “It’s great to see how stoked Aussies and Kiwis are when they find the pies. They tell me, ‘I haven’t had a great pie in months,’ ” Lee says.

A hand pie seems like a small thing, on the face of it. But when you’re thousands of miles from home, a taste of your country can make all the difference.

What to order: Mushroom pie ($7), beef and cheddar ($7), seasonal veggie ($7), bulgogi ($7), chicken pot pie ($7)

Where: Sage Bakehouse at Clement Street Farmers’ Market, Clement Street and Third Avenue, www.sagebakeho­

When: Sun. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

 ?? Gabrielle Lurie / Special to The Chronicle ?? Owner Nick Lee (center, left) and Christy Acuna (center, right) share a laugh with customers at the Sage Bakehouse pie stand at the Clement Street Farmers’ Market.
Gabrielle Lurie / Special to The Chronicle Owner Nick Lee (center, left) and Christy Acuna (center, right) share a laugh with customers at the Sage Bakehouse pie stand at the Clement Street Farmers’ Market.
 ??  ?? Owner Nick Lee cuts into one of his savory pies at the weekly Sage Bakehouse pie stand.
Owner Nick Lee cuts into one of his savory pies at the weekly Sage Bakehouse pie stand.

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