The First, Best Time: Stargazy Reviewed

Sam Jacobson really thought what Philly needed was a traditional British pie and mash shop. He was so right.

Who knew we needed a British pie shop? | Photo by Emily Teel

Who knew we needed a British pie shop? | Photo by Emily Teel

The best time I had at Stargazy was on a rainy afternoon when I was going somewhere else. I hadn’t even been thinking about pies (which is odd for me), but then there I was—like a block away, walking through the drizzle—and I thought, You know what would go nicely with this weather? A sausage roll.

I pushed in through the door and watched the cooks in the tiny backroom kitchen squaring pies on sheet pans. The sausage roll cost something like four bucks and was hot and greasy enough to stain the bottom of the brown paper bag it came in. Perfect, in other words. I stepped back out into the gray and ate it walking, in its c-fold wrapping, picking apart the crisp, flaking crust with my fingers. That was a good day.


1838 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk

CUISINE: British pie and mash shop

PRICES: $ (pies range from $4 to $9)

RECOMMENDED: The Traditional with mash and parsley liquor ($9), the sausage rolls ($4), and banoffee tarts ($5) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

SNAP JUDGMENT: Who knew Philly needed a British pie shop so badly? At Stargazy, Sam Jacobson proves once and for all that pies are the ideal delivery vehicle for everything from bananas to cauliflower.

But wait. The best time I had at Stargazy, I wasn’t even there. I was at the office, doing the not-so-fun part of this job (making spreadsheets or something that didn’t involve drinking whiskey and eating tacos), and Art comes back from somewhere, and he’s carrying a bag of pies from Stargazy.

Or, actually, leftovers from Stargazy. But he asks if I want a pie, and I say hell yes I want a pie, but all he has left is, like, cauliflower and cheddar or some bullshit like that. The vegetarian selection—chef Sam Jacobson does one every day. And on the one hand I’m disappointed, because, you know, who has ever had a cauliflower and cheddar pie that’s been anything other than adequate? That’s been anything other than checking the boxes on being a good human: One serving of vegetables, gunked up with cheese and fatty pastry dough. Look at me being healthy!

On the other hand, you know, free pie! It’s not like I’m gonna say no.

I ate it and it was the best cauliflower and cheddar pie I’ve ever had. Which, yes, is a low bar, but still. The crust was excellent, soft and flaky even after sweating for an hour in a brown paper bag. The filling had some spice to it, some heat. I ate it with my hands, and by the time I was done, I was pressing the pads of my fingers onto my desk to pick up the crumbs.

Still, though … the real best time I ever had at Stargazy? It was just the other day. It occurred to me that I’d never actually tried the most basic of Jacobson’s pies—the traditional beef pie with mash and parsley liquor. I’d had the sausage rolls and pasties. I’d had a little brick of the most beautiful savory pie dough stuffed with chicken and rosemary and mushrooms that reminded me of this other pie I’d had, with mushrooms and little chunks of beef in a red wine sauce. But never the 101-level pie.

So I went down to East Passyunk and Mifflin Street, into the bakery-warmth and cramped little space that used to be Ms. Goody Cupcake. A cup of tea is always free if you’re hanging out and waiting for pies at Stargazy. There’s a rack of mugs and a tin of tea bags by the counter, along the wall. You can eat in (there are all of eight chairs at four wood tables, all roughly graffitied with a wood burner), but most people get their stuff to go. It’s what the place is made for and that’s what I do, but I’m not above snacking a little before I leave.

Jacobson (who followed an odd path to this tiny little pie shop, growing up in Norwich, England, sure, then coming here, cooking, running the kitchens at Sycamore and Southwark and Leila’s Bistro in Jenkintown) was behind the counter, like he always is—his bakery cases stuffed with baking books and spare parts. I went for the traditional, with mash and liquor, and a sausage roll (because I figured I’d need something to eat on my way home), and then he talks me into a banoffee tart, too, because while savory is really his thing at Stargazy, he does a little sweet work as well—five-spice apple pies, sticky toffee puddings, that sort of thing.

I ask him what a banoffee tart is, and he answers, but I’m not really paying attention because the cooks in the back are pulling a rack of pies out of the oven and I’m easily distracted. By the time I get my order, I’ve forgotten about that tart entirely.

Back at my desk, I pull out the bags and bowls. I dig into the traditional, hoping for nothing more than big chunks of ground beef and sauce—something simple and plain and filling and un-fucked-with—and like a perfect Christmas, that’s exactly what I get. Jacobson is a genius with pie doughs. His are never anything less than ideal. His fillings are like a master class on how not to get in the way of your ingredients. I dig into the mash (thick and starchy) and run everything through the puddle of slightly bitter, bright green parsley liquor, and it is delicious. I destroy that sausage roll. And then I remember the tart.

Banoffee Tart | Photo by Emily Teel

Banoffee Tart | Photo by Emily Teel

A banoffee tart is like bananas Foster without the pyromaniacal tendencies. It’s (duh) bananas and melted toffee in a tart shell, topped with an excess of homemade sweet whipped cream and nothing more. It’s what I imagine rich people in London must eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner and for midnight snacks, because, seriously, if you have the means, why would you ever eat anything else? I don’t even like bananas that much, and Jacobson’s version is so good and so right-in-the-veins addictive that even after I’m far beyond full and just lolling at my desk like some kind of beached walrus in blue jeans and a button-down, I still keep picking at it.

Look, if you haven’t gone to Stargazy yet, you have to go. I know it’s kind of out of the way if you’re not already on East Passyunk, but it’s worth it. Especially now that the weather is turning, I just can’t imagine anything more comforting on some bruised and rainy afternoon than walking out of Jacobson’s shop with a sausage roll in one hand and a sack full of pies in the other. Or maybe even just sitting at the table in the window and eating until you can’t breathe right.

Because seriously? Every time has been the best time at Stargazy. And I can’t wait to get back there again.

Stars: 3 stars – Worth the trip from anywhere in the city

Stargazy [Foobooz]