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Trax Bar & Cafe: rollicking towards Wellington Central

Di and the pies

Matarawa: Train’s coming.
Matarawa: Train’s coming.

Purple gives way to pink gives way to blue. Dawn is cracking late here in the Southern Hemisphere. We’re at a tiny country railroad station at seven on this winter’s morning, waiting for the train. It comes, ten minutes later, out of the gloom. “All aboard!” shouts the guard. And then we’re rollicking towards the capital: Wellington. Hennie, the friendly guard, has an idea for where we can find some breakfast when we get there. Because, with all this early rising, my hunger goes up a notch with every inch that Huey (aka the sun) climbs up over the horizon.

“Well,” says Hennie, “you could do worse than Trax. It’s really the station’s bar and eatery.” Can’t hear any more, because now we’re in what Hennie indicates with his fingers is an eight-minute tunnel running through the Remutaka mountains.

You say pie? THAT’s a pie.

Out the other side, in the middle of full-grown native bush, Hennie’s buddy John, the train manager, comes up to join the conversation. “I get scrambled eggs on toast every morning after the trip, at Trax. They give you a fair deal.” But he says Trax’s main claim to fame is its pies. “Steak and cheese pies. Box of birds!”

“Box of…?”

“Birds,” says Di. She’s my meet-again-for-the-first-time girlfriend (it’s a long story).

Oh yeah. I remember now. “Box of birds” means “Can’t be bad.”

Whatever, Diane has this thing about pies. And New Zealand (I’m on the last few days of a quickie trip here) has a reputation for home-made pies at railroad stations. Home-made: that’s the kind of country this still is. Super relaxed. Super no-fuss efficient. Has been making these pies since gold rush days. No changes. No worries.

Half an hour later, we’re rolling in to Wellington Central, For sure, it’s the biggest station in the country. Roman pillars march along its front entrance. So: time for kai (Māori for “food,” and Maori is the in language here). We head for this sign: “Trax.”

John the Train Manager has his scrambled eggs at the end of a long country trip.

“But, uh, pies for brekky?” I say.

“You’re on the edge of Asia now,” Diane says. “Remember the curry pie we had in Kuala Lumpur?” Wow. That goes way back. We had a mad affair. The food was as intense as our thing. We trundle our stuff into the giant concourse of Wellington station, amongst a sea of early commuters.

“So Diane,” I say.

“Deanna, if you don’t mind,” she says. “I’ve changed.”

“Oh well, milady, of course. But we want to see: who’s the pie champion, Wellington or Diego?”

“Don’t want to brag, but our food is just better.”

“Let’s see the proof,” I say. “It’s in the pudding.”

Have to say, I like this station. How clean it all looks, even though it opened way back in 1937. It’s fresh with bright-colored, polished cement floors, art deco touches all around, and of course the usual train announcer’s voice bouncing off the walls, with an accent that’s kind of like a Boston twang, c/w English, c/w Asian.

Hennie, country train’s conductor, had idea for breakfast at Trax.

Diane — okay, Deanna — is staring at the pie cabinet. The pastry looks golden and flaky and delicious. They have half a dozen flavors, like chicken curry, steak and cheese, and one huge one packed with bacon and egg that’s sliced into segments.

“Any table,” says Sophie, the hostess. “Just follow Riria.”

Riria the waitress says her name can mean two things in Māori: “anger” or “lily.”

We sit down. What I like about this eatery is the way it juts out into the platforms. People stream past right outside the windows. You feel like you’re in a glass-sided submarine. The menu’s pretty conventional. For seven bucks (US$5), they’ll bring sourdough or gluten-free toast with peanut butter and marmalade, or for $20 (US$12.65), “Spruce Goose” waffles with maple bacon, banana, and cinnamon cream. Or the “Spruce Goose” mince on toast: translation, ground beef, US$13. The Smashed Beef Burger runs NZ$24 (say US$16).

Looking for the pies, though. Ah. The prices are on the warmer cabinet. But what good prices! They’re each NZ$6.50. Say US$4. Lamb and potato pie, steak and cheese pie, chicken, leek and mushroom pie. Me, I go for the bacon and egg slice, this mobey big tranche in flaky croissant pastry. Costs NZ$9.50 (US$6). It’s way too much for me, but no matter. Ms. D. chooses the steak and cheese pie, loves the big chunks of steak, but not so much the gravy they pool it in.

She’s a kiwi. She expects this stuff. “Good but not exceptional,” is her take. “I like that they make them on the premises, but I would’ve liked more meat chunks and a little less gravy. And I’m not a fan of cheese in meat pies. But it has a rich flavor.”

For me, I get a taste of her pie, and it’s all go. Rich, big chunks of meat, love the gravy, and zai say, flaky pastry to die for. Fast-forward, via 13-hour flight and two short hops, to San Diego, California. Suddenly, it’s spring: warm, and a less harsh kind of sunshine. “Bye, bye Miss American pie,” my neighbor Kevin is singing. “You want American pie? I’ll show you American pie.” And a moment later we’re in his favorite bar, Coronado’s Tavern, ordering two chicken pot pies from Jackson, the barkeep, US$16 each.

Yes, they’re a lot prettier, in stylish white china bowls with lions’ faces growling at you, but, have to say: where’s the taste? I add Worcestershire sauce, and still a flavor deficit. I pull out some pastry. Light, but stretchy. “This is a Midwest dish,” says Kevin. “It’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Whatever, but already my mind is turning back to those country trains, those beef chunks, and that flaky pastry to die for. And, yes, to Diane.

Uh, better make that Deanna.

  • The Place: Trax Bar & Cafe, Wellington Railway Station, Featherston street and Platform No. 1/Bunny Street, Pipitea, Wellington, New Zealand, +64 4 499-2466
  • Hours: 7am - close, Monday to Friday; 9am - close, Saturday. Closing time at manager’s discretion; closed Sunday
  • Prices (in US$): Breakfast toast with peanut butter and marmalade, $5; “Spruce Goose” waffles with maple bacon, banana, and cinnamon cream, $12.65; “Spruce Goose” mince (ground beef) on toast, $13.31; Smashed Beef Burger, $16; savory pies, $4, including lamb and potato pie, steak and cheese pie, chicken, leek and mushroom pie; bacon and egg slice, $6
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Matarawa: Train’s coming.
Matarawa: Train’s coming.

Purple gives way to pink gives way to blue. Dawn is cracking late here in the Southern Hemisphere. We’re at a tiny country railroad station at seven on this winter’s morning, waiting for the train. It comes, ten minutes later, out of the gloom. “All aboard!” shouts the guard. And then we’re rollicking towards the capital: Wellington. Hennie, the friendly guard, has an idea for where we can find some breakfast when we get there. Because, with all this early rising, my hunger goes up a notch with every inch that Huey (aka the sun) climbs up over the horizon.

“Well,” says Hennie, “you could do worse than Trax. It’s really the station’s bar and eatery.” Can’t hear any more, because now we’re in what Hennie indicates with his fingers is an eight-minute tunnel running through the Remutaka mountains.

You say pie? THAT’s a pie.

Out the other side, in the middle of full-grown native bush, Hennie’s buddy John, the train manager, comes up to join the conversation. “I get scrambled eggs on toast every morning after the trip, at Trax. They give you a fair deal.” But he says Trax’s main claim to fame is its pies. “Steak and cheese pies. Box of birds!”

“Box of…?”

“Birds,” says Di. She’s my meet-again-for-the-first-time girlfriend (it’s a long story).

Oh yeah. I remember now. “Box of birds” means “Can’t be bad.”

Whatever, Diane has this thing about pies. And New Zealand (I’m on the last few days of a quickie trip here) has a reputation for home-made pies at railroad stations. Home-made: that’s the kind of country this still is. Super relaxed. Super no-fuss efficient. Has been making these pies since gold rush days. No changes. No worries.

Half an hour later, we’re rolling in to Wellington Central, For sure, it’s the biggest station in the country. Roman pillars march along its front entrance. So: time for kai (Māori for “food,” and Maori is the in language here). We head for this sign: “Trax.”

John the Train Manager has his scrambled eggs at the end of a long country trip.

“But, uh, pies for brekky?” I say.

“You’re on the edge of Asia now,” Diane says. “Remember the curry pie we had in Kuala Lumpur?” Wow. That goes way back. We had a mad affair. The food was as intense as our thing. We trundle our stuff into the giant concourse of Wellington station, amongst a sea of early commuters.

“So Diane,” I say.

“Deanna, if you don’t mind,” she says. “I’ve changed.”

“Oh well, milady, of course. But we want to see: who’s the pie champion, Wellington or Diego?”

“Don’t want to brag, but our food is just better.”

“Let’s see the proof,” I say. “It’s in the pudding.”

Have to say, I like this station. How clean it all looks, even though it opened way back in 1937. It’s fresh with bright-colored, polished cement floors, art deco touches all around, and of course the usual train announcer’s voice bouncing off the walls, with an accent that’s kind of like a Boston twang, c/w English, c/w Asian.

Hennie, country train’s conductor, had idea for breakfast at Trax.

Diane — okay, Deanna — is staring at the pie cabinet. The pastry looks golden and flaky and delicious. They have half a dozen flavors, like chicken curry, steak and cheese, and one huge one packed with bacon and egg that’s sliced into segments.

“Any table,” says Sophie, the hostess. “Just follow Riria.”

Riria the waitress says her name can mean two things in Māori: “anger” or “lily.”

We sit down. What I like about this eatery is the way it juts out into the platforms. People stream past right outside the windows. You feel like you’re in a glass-sided submarine. The menu’s pretty conventional. For seven bucks (US$5), they’ll bring sourdough or gluten-free toast with peanut butter and marmalade, or for $20 (US$12.65), “Spruce Goose” waffles with maple bacon, banana, and cinnamon cream. Or the “Spruce Goose” mince on toast: translation, ground beef, US$13. The Smashed Beef Burger runs NZ$24 (say US$16).

Looking for the pies, though. Ah. The prices are on the warmer cabinet. But what good prices! They’re each NZ$6.50. Say US$4. Lamb and potato pie, steak and cheese pie, chicken, leek and mushroom pie. Me, I go for the bacon and egg slice, this mobey big tranche in flaky croissant pastry. Costs NZ$9.50 (US$6). It’s way too much for me, but no matter. Ms. D. chooses the steak and cheese pie, loves the big chunks of steak, but not so much the gravy they pool it in.

She’s a kiwi. She expects this stuff. “Good but not exceptional,” is her take. “I like that they make them on the premises, but I would’ve liked more meat chunks and a little less gravy. And I’m not a fan of cheese in meat pies. But it has a rich flavor.”

For me, I get a taste of her pie, and it’s all go. Rich, big chunks of meat, love the gravy, and zai say, flaky pastry to die for. Fast-forward, via 13-hour flight and two short hops, to San Diego, California. Suddenly, it’s spring: warm, and a less harsh kind of sunshine. “Bye, bye Miss American pie,” my neighbor Kevin is singing. “You want American pie? I’ll show you American pie.” And a moment later we’re in his favorite bar, Coronado’s Tavern, ordering two chicken pot pies from Jackson, the barkeep, US$16 each.

Yes, they’re a lot prettier, in stylish white china bowls with lions’ faces growling at you, but, have to say: where’s the taste? I add Worcestershire sauce, and still a flavor deficit. I pull out some pastry. Light, but stretchy. “This is a Midwest dish,” says Kevin. “It’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Whatever, but already my mind is turning back to those country trains, those beef chunks, and that flaky pastry to die for. And, yes, to Diane.

Uh, better make that Deanna.

  • The Place: Trax Bar & Cafe, Wellington Railway Station, Featherston street and Platform No. 1/Bunny Street, Pipitea, Wellington, New Zealand, +64 4 499-2466
  • Hours: 7am - close, Monday to Friday; 9am - close, Saturday. Closing time at manager’s discretion; closed Sunday
  • Prices (in US$): Breakfast toast with peanut butter and marmalade, $5; “Spruce Goose” waffles with maple bacon, banana, and cinnamon cream, $12.65; “Spruce Goose” mince (ground beef) on toast, $13.31; Smashed Beef Burger, $16; savory pies, $4, including lamb and potato pie, steak and cheese pie, chicken, leek and mushroom pie; bacon and egg slice, $6
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