The simple snack has been a part of daily life in the United Kingdom for generations. So why are sausage rolls still a rare delicacy over here?
With its conservative blue and orange corporate logo hanging above almost two thousand simple shop fronts throughout the United Kingdom, the exterior of your typical Greggs location puts forth all the charm of a financial services agency, or one of those places dealing in pay-as-you-go cellphones. Unless you're actually paying attention, it's not entirely obvious that you're walking past an outpost of what's become Great Britain's largest bakery chain.
As ubiquitous here as Dunkin' Donuts would be in certain parts of the United States, Greggs' shops occupy pride of place in most high streets, and feature outlets next to (and often directly in) many train stations. Greggs, founded in Newcastle back in the 1930's, are pretty much everywhere you want to be. The comforts of a steak bake, dripping with brown gravy (essentially a handheld, stripped down version of a steak pie, sandwiched between squares of puff pastry), a quick and easy bacon sandwich for breakfast, or a puffy, glazed donut are never terribly far from where you're standing, in most English cities. (The prices, even for exchange rate-nervous Americans, are a screaming deal, too.)
In large part, however, what Greggs is about is the humble sausage roll. Recent estimates had them selling roughly 2.5 million of the things every week. Artisanal, no. You can find better. But for this simple, hand-held snack—flaky, puff pastry, concealing a modest amount of pork sausage, afflicted by none of the aggressive seasonings that American sausage makers can't ever seem to get enough of—Greggs is, for plenty of Britons, a primary go-to. Eaten cold or hot, they're the ultimate cheap meal or snack, perfect for eating on the go. So essential, so popular is this humble sausage roll, Greggs caused a nationwide stir when they had to raise prices by five pence this year. (It's still a relative bargain, at just a little over a dollar per.)
At a time when there are so few barriers remaining between the cuisines of our two countries, when English diners have access to top-notch gourmet burger chains, when London boasts great Mexican food at all price points, when an estimated 2,000 fried chicken joints are thriving throughout the British Isles, when trends like gourmet doughnuts, $20 pizzas, and Instagram-ready ice creams are all there and doing gangbusters, it's only fair to ask—at what point is the U.K. going to start giving back?
Or maybe it's just that we're not ready. Maybe we don't deserve the sausage roll. After all, you're talking about a country that can hardly get fish and chips right, even though they're served everywhere. Often, they're very good. Rarely, however, do the American versions come close to meeting the standard of your average chippy in any G.B. coastal town. Never mind sausage rolls, or those other English essentials like Melton Mowbray pork pies, or proper pasties from Cornwall—things that plenty of Americans have never even heard of. It can't be that they're too carby, too rustic, too simple. If that was ever the case, it surely cannot be now, considering that we now live in a time where basic comfort eats like macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy, pimiento cheese, and chicken fried steaks have been very nearly elevated to gourmet status. Is there not now room in this vast and diverse land for at least the simple sausage roll to flourish?
For the time being, these culinary marvels remain something of a novelty on this side of the Atlantic, but they aren't, thank goodness, entirely impossible to come by. Note, please, that we're not talking about the dismal fakes (called Puff Dogs) that Trader Joe's rolled out earlier this year, either. You can't just put a hot dog in puff pastry and call it a day—the whole point of the thing is the sausage meat, and how it's seasoned. (A recipe published by the BBC specifies the addition of chopped mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and black pepper to the sausage meat mix. Nice and gentle.)
If you're lucky enough to live in or around New York, you've long been able to simply pop around to Myers of Keswick, or Tea & Sympathy, both located in Greenwich Village, both dishing up classic sausage rolls—more thoughtfully prepared, if pricier, versions of the ones that many Britons eat on any given day.
For those not able to get to New York, no fear—a mail-order company called Parker's ("A Great British Institution"), based out of Buffalo, New York and founded by two Yorkshire expats, combines imported ingredients with classically-spiced pasture-raised pork, resulting in a spectacular sausage roll that you can have shipped—right to your door. For now, we'll just have to dream of a brighter future, when we can head down to our local baker's each morning to snap up the real article, fresh from the oven. For now, mail order will simply have to do.