It's been as closely guarded as The Colonel's recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the top-secret ingredient in the South Coast's best pie has finally been revealed.
Is it a special spice? Or perhaps the beef is sourced from a rare breed of cow grazed only on exotic pastures? The award-winning pastry chef has spilled the beans and the answer will surprise you. More on that later.
Welcome to summer, and while the weather may not have come to the party yet, when you think of road trips to the coast, what quintessential Australian culinary delight springs straight to mind?
Pies! Yes, meat pies. Not your fancy gourmet concoctions, but your humble standard meat pie.
In an audacious attempt to settle the age-old question of which bakery dishes up the best pie on the South Coast, self-confessed pie muncher Tim the Yowie Man recently headed down Clyde Mountain, sauce bottle in hand and film crew in tow. Here are his findings.
The Top 3
East Lynne Store (Princes Hwy East Lynne –19km north of Batemans Bay)
Unlike most fuel stops, the pies here aren't of the frozen variety or hastily heated up in the microwave. In fact, as the historic photos on the walls of this servo-cum-bakery demonstrate, the good folk here have been cooking fresh pies on the premises for over a century.
Sure, it began as a providore specialising in apple pies but in recent decades East Lynne's meat pies have also earned a reputation of excellence. Customers travel from far afield just to tuck into one of their fabled pies. One lady even regularly buys a couple of dozen and has them airlifted to her son on an oil rig off the West Australian coast.
A tasty traditional meat pie with real chunks of beef wrapped in golden pastry, that secret ingredient (see below) and cooked to perfection. A clear winner, and definitely worth the drive.
Tim's Tip: Bring the Esky and take some home with you.
Bakehouse Delights, East Nowra (7/100 Kallendar St, East Nowra)
Despite being hidden in a little-known shopping centre, each morning when the doors of this bakehouse are opened, you have to jostle for positions with fellow pie connoisseurs just to get to the counter.
This your classic old-school meat pie with pastry to die for. "The secret to a good pie is good meat, and good seasoning," explains John ''Remmo'' Reminis, owner and award-winning pastry chef, who also believes "a good pie should be tasty by itself and not need sauce".
Off the tourist track, but definitely worth the diversion.
Tim's Tip: The bakery is surrounded by a concrete car park, which is not the most enticing space to appreciate Remmo's pies. Enjoy the pie in your car instead (don't drip the sauce) while continuing your road trip. Alternatively drive to the picturesque nearby Culburra Beach but if you do, beware of the seagulls which have also developed a taste for these bakehouse delights.
Braidwood Bakery (99 Wallace St, Braidwood)
Located about half way to the coast, Braidwood has long been the most popular spot for a pie fix heading up or down the Clyde. Although there are a number of pie peddlers in town, this bakery is by far the busiest and depending on which way you're travelling, you'll be savouring one of these pies all the way to the beach or back to Canberra.
Owner John Woodman reckons "the best two ingredients you can ever put into a pie are local ingredients and love". Woodman loves his bakery's chunky beef pie so much that claims he sinks his teeth into one "for lunch every day".
Tim's Tip: The bakery can get a bit hectic, especially in peak holiday season, so tuck into this tasty tableland's pie at the town's leafy Ryrie Park (next to the swimming pool), where there's also plenty of space for the kids to run around.
The secret to a winning pie
Ok, back to that secret ingredient.
"We actually add a hint of chocolate to the beef," reveals East Lynne Store pastry chef Jamie Rawson.
"It just sweetens it up that little bit", adds Rawson, who falls short of adding exactly what sort of chocolate it is and in what quantities.
"Some secrets have to remain with the chef," says Rawson who has developed such a taste for his own pies that he admits to "scoffing the odd pie or two every day".
"Just don't tell the boss," he laughs.
I'm sure Dean and Sharon Wilkins who own the roadside bakery/fuel stop wouldn't mind Rawson sneaking the odd prize-winning pie.
"This win is fantastic for our business, it's good to put the shop on the map," say the jubilant pair who bought the business in 2013.
"We should pay tribute to the previous owners who passed on the pie recipe to us," say the Wilkins, "but at the end of the day it comes down to the chef and his individual flair."
Chocolate… who'd have thought?
BEST OF THE REST
Hayden's Pies, Ulladulla (2/166 Princes Hwy, Ulladulla)
A cult surf hangout with a loyal following. While their roadside location beside the busy Princes Highway near the top of a hill in Ulladulla isn't as alluring as others, it's the pie that counts.
"Some surfers have even been known to knock back one of our family-sized pies after a big morning hanging ten," says one Hayden's insider.
Tim's Tip: If you can't get to the coast, you can still get your fix of Hayden's pies at various outlets in Canberra, including the Spence Grocer.
Southern Pies, Kangaroo Valley (1/146 Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley)
The quaint hamlet of Kangaroo Valley is an irresistible magnet for day-trippers in search of a country village experience. In between the antique shops dotted along its heritage main street are a number of bakeries that dish up tasty traditional meat pies, including my pick, Southern Pies. If you've had a big night (and hopefully not driving), their ''hangover pie'' – a bloody mary in pie form, with vodka and chilli – is to die for.
Tim's Tip: Eat inside café-style, al fresco on the footpath or picnic under the famous Hampden Bridge.
Old Store at Barrengarry (2167 Moss Vale Rd, Barrengarry)
Set among fields grazed by cows so fat you'd think they'd been feasting on nothing but a feedlot of pies, while their claim as the ''world's best pie'' is a tad ambitious, it is a meal in itself.
Earlier this year Richard Wilkins of The Today Show fame was snapped on camera chowing down on one of these hearty pies while en route to the celebrity wedding of Channel Nine presenters Peter Stefanovic and Sylvia Jeffreys.
They are made fresh every day, and apparently without any colourings or flavourings.
Tim's Tip: Park right outside the front door of this quaint 1880 wooden cottage and chomp into your pie while enjoying the stunning rural views from its veranda.
Heritage Bakery, Milton (197 Princes Hwy, Milton)
Taking pride of place in the centre of this village, just inland from Mollymook, is a two-storey landmark building, which for many years housed the popular Packett Restaurant.
They bake a mean loaf of bread but it's their fabled meat pie with quality chunks of beef that keeps the tills ringing here.
Tim's Tip: Soak up the sun on the wrap-around veranda. Oh, and beware of the ghost rumoured to haunt upstairs.
The Famous Robertson Pie Shop (4400 Illawarra Highway, Robertson)
Perched atop the Illawarra escarpment is the Robertson Pie Shop. It's a popular spot for motorcyclists on their way down to the coast. 15,000 bikers a year can't be wrong, can they?
While locals agree that "the pies were even better 10 years ago", they still churn out a great pie.
Tim's Tip: There is lots of room inside if the fabled Robbo mist rolls in. Otherwise grab an outdoor table and enjoy your highland's pie while watching the passing parade of Y plates head down the coast.
Note: Scores for all pies and judging criteria are outlined in the video at the top of this story