The chicken pies had sold out first. “Chicken pie,” ordered the next man in the queue. “I’m sorry, they’ve all gone,” said pie man Jack Norman. “There’s a mystery one left: I know it’s not beef so it could be chicken or cheddar. It’s a one in two chance.”
You’ll find 24 year old Jack, an escapee from Pizza Express, every Thursday in the Pop Up Café on the corner of Union Street. I took a flyer off an A-board on The Moor, followed the directions and got a quid off my lunch when I showed it.
Jack started Pie Eyed 18 months ago and makes the pies at the Century Business Centre in Rotherham, where he’s from. They are proper pies with proper pastry, all butter shortcrust, not bought-in. His meat and vegetables are bought from local suppliers. “No additives. No nonsense. Just proper pies,” is the business’s selling point.
Union Street is a co-working, hot desking workspace with Wi Fi and meeting rooms for hire with a pop up café on the ground floor. At the risk of sounding like the Sixties pop group The Scaffold, Mondays is bagels, Tuesday’s salads, Wednesday is pasta,Thursday’s pies and Friday is waffles.
Jack has been at Union Street for just a year. “I worked at Pizza Express. It’s not cooking, is it, but I learned a lot. But it was not what I really wanted to do with my life,” he said, serving me up a beef brisket and Black Sheep Ale pie (£3.50) with mash, peas and gravy each at 50p a time. You can take away or sit and eat, cutlery and Henderson’s provided, at big chummy tables.
“I’d seen the interest in street food but it was barbecued food and pizzas. Nobody seemed to be doing the British classics, like pies,” he added.
At Union Street, handily sited between Sheffield Hallam University, the Peace Gardens, The Moor and the Millennium Gallery, he sells around 60 pies a day. He makes about a dozen varieties all told and there are always three on offer: the beef is a regular and today there is also chicken, chorizo and butterbean plus a veggie pie, Cheddar and caramelised red onion.
The customer decided to go for the Mystery Pie.
Thursdays at Union Street is not going to make his fortune but it keeps him busy. This lunchtime they are queuing out the door. It’s just him. “Everyone else has two people but Jack does it all himself,” said a Union Street official. The cafe acts as a showcase for Pie Eyed because he also caters for weddings and other celebrations, as well as turning up at events like the Peddler Market on Arundel Street.
My pie is pretty substantial and very tasty, while the crust is admirably short. In fact, it’s so filling I don’t want much tea. After a lifetime of eating pies I’d rate it as seriously good.
And the Mystery Pie? It was chicken.