Like many restaurants representing specific countries or regions, the Great Australian Bite was created out of a need — in this case, a need for authentic Australian food. And no, Outback Steakhouse doesn't count, any more than Del Taco would satisfy Mexican immigrants' longings for the food of their childhood.
When Leanne Roth moved from Australia to the U.S. fifteen years ago, she couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a single place to get a decent meat pie — a staple sold on nearly every Aussie corner — anywhere in Colorado. So she began making them at home. “I was making meat pies for my family almost every week when we first moved here and my girls were little and missing home," Roth recalls. "We started talking to other Aussies in the area and found that they too missed the Australian staple. We couldn’t find any restaurants in Colorado that served the meat pies, so we started our own place two years ago, and it’s been a huge hit.”
Australian meat pies evolved from their European antecedents, which have been baked for hundreds of years as a way to keep meats hot over a long period of time. Cooks made hardened, inedible dough bowls, filled them with boiling-hot meat stews, and sealed them up to keep the filling hot and portable. The layer of insulating crust still proves effective today, as pie eaters continue to singe their tastebuds on that first lava-hot bite.
Over the centuries, the crust was refined, so that modern Australian meat pie shells are typically made with a form of puff pastry (as opposed to the flatter crust of American pot pies). According to Roth, Australian meat pies are made for handheld eating. “People eat them on the go all the time in Australia," she explains. "Meat pies are like hamburgers in America; you can get them everywhere, slather them in ketchup — and you don’t need utensils. You simply peel back the foil and eat them while you walk to your destination. Unlike the American pot pie version, Australian meat pies are more solid; they’re not drippy inside and are meant for travel.”
Roth also points out that, when not on the go, Aussies sometimes dump their mushy peas or mashed potatoes and gravy (both of which are on her restaurant's menu) on top of their meat pies. I may be a bit of a dingbat (or wombat, perhaps), but I’ll admit that I found it hard to eat even the naked pie with my hands, so I grabbed a fork when no one was looking.
The traditional filling of beef, onion, seasonings and gravy is the Bite's best-selling pie, but Roth also makes versions filled with curry chicken, chicken and vegetables (the closest to an American pot pie), beef and cheese (containing melty Velveeta and ground beef in a tangy, sloppy-Joe-style sauce), steak and onion, vegetarian, beef and tomato, and beef and mushroom. You can also opt for a tempting sausage roll wrapped in the same flaky puff-pastry crust as the pies, which are wonderful dipped in the mashed potato gravy.
The pie shop’s second-biggest seller was until recently the kangaroo meat pie, although it's currently off the menu because of a temporary import ban. And if you’re wondering why an Australian would turn the country's cutest national symbol into a pie, Roth explains that “there are two kangaroos to every one person in Australia,” so there are plenty of ’roos to go ’round.
Roth describes the taste of kangaroo as “a lot like buffalo meat, in that it’s very lean and tastes less gamey than venison or lamb," and she hopes to have the meat back on the menu soon once the ban is lifted. Roth bakes the pies fresh daily; you can buy them frozen, as a take-and-bake option, or as a ready-to-eat pie that’s already piping hot and waiting for you to take that first dangerous bite. The owner points out that, in addition to her countrymen, South Africans and Brits living in Colorado travel from all over the state to get a taste of her savory street food, including one family of Aussies that drives up from Pueblo every few months to have dinner and load up on take-and-bake pies for their freezer to tame those cravings that only an authentic meat pie can satisfy.
Sides and desserts, all made from scratch, should not be seen as an optional part of the menu. Roth's mashed potatoes, for example, rival those of any American grandmother: They're creamy, fluffy and exploding with buttery taste — I couldn’t stop dunking everything on my plate into them. The rich, meaty gravy gave them even more moxie, and if I’d known at the time that dolloping them onto my meat pie was standard practice, I certainly would have done it. Custard tarts contain an energetic lemon custard with the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Light, airy Lamington cakes sport a layer of chocolate and coconut and were tasty, if a little dry. The chocolate caramel slice has layers of Cadbury chocolate, smooth homemade caramel and a crumbly cookie bottom crust holding it all together; my kids and I fought over the last bite. The eatery also serves an assortment of Australian wine and canned beers, as well as Foster's beer on tap.
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Like many other restaurant owners around town, Roth has had trouble finding restaurant staff and kitchen help. She's had to close early or not open at all quite a few times in the past few months because of labor shortages. “I work ninety hours a week quite often just making the pies and trying to run the restaurant," she notes. “I only have one employee, and it’s been hard finding reliable help outside of her, and I can’t keep her on the schedule all the time.”
Hopefully this is only a temporary problem. In the meantime, you can visit the restaurant’s Facebook page, which Roth updates with any temporary closings, before dropping in.
The Great Australian Bite is located at 6710 South Cornerstar Way in Aurora and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call 303-699-2700 for more details.