Thwaites Market (Methuen, MA)

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site, I’ve got a variety of ways that I discover the places that I review here on Offbeat Eats, and one of them is basically happenstance: I’ll be traveling someplace off my usual beat and notice a place, usually an old, established one, that’s got a long line out the door. That happened to me back in February: I had to drop off some equipment for work in Haverhill, MA, and on the way home to NH, the usual route, the “Loop Connector” between I-495 and I-93, was closed due to an accident, and my GPS directed me on a detour through downtown Methuen (which I’d hadn’t explored in a few years). My detour took me down Oakland Avenue, and as I approached Railroad Street, I was stuck at the traffic light for a cycle. My eye got drawn first to a small sign “Parking here for meat pies only,” followed by seeing a modest line of people waiting outside the door. Heck, I like meat pies, so I turned into the parking lot, parked, and got in line at Thwaites Market.

Thwaites Market is one of those little Mom and Pop style grocery stores that most older New England towns seem to have, with a selection of light groceries, snacks, beverages, and a few prepared food. But they’ve also got a handful of other attractions that make them stand out from other small markets. First, they’ve got a decent selection of British groceries, so if you find yourself needing to stock up on, say, Colman’s Mustard, Walker’s Shortbread, or HP Sauce, they’ve got you covered. Next, they’ve got a really good butcher case in the back, with an nice selection of steaks, roasts, marinated meats… and sausages. Lots of different sausages, ranging from Italian, Polish, and German, to, consistent with the grocery selection, all sorts of British sausages. My first visit, I ended up walking out with some great pork bangers and tomato bangers, the latter being a fairly rare find around here.

But next to the butcher case was the main attraction, and my reason for pulling into check out Thwaites in the first place: the meat pies: They’ve got two large heated cases just filled with old-fashioned, English-style meat pies, and they do a land-office business in them (and I allowed to use an Americanism like that for describing English pies?). The main specialty is the old fashioned English pork pies, and they sell several hundred of them a day: nice little pies, running about 4″ in diameter, with nice upper and lower crusts that are firm while still being flaky and tender, with a nicely-spiced minced pork filling, each pie pressed together in an old-fashioned English pie press before the final baking. New England has a lot of great meat pies (and several places where I can score a particularly good Tourtiere, the French-Canadian pork pie), but the pork pies here hold their own: moist, flavorful filling, good crust, and, perhaps most importantly, these aren’t gigantic meat pies (although they do sell some larger ones if you ask, or look in the refrigerator case). These are nice, smaller pies perfect for a snack (I’d love to be able to grab a few of these on the way to a hike), or in a pair or trio for a full meal. The price on these is attractive as well, with most of the pies selling for just $2.99 (a few specialty pies will run a bit more, up to $3.99).

I mentioned specialty pies, and while the mainstay at Thwaites is definitely the pork pie, they’ve got a wide variety of other pie flavors as well. Many of the special varieties are standard English variants (minced beef, minced chicken, chicken pot pie, spiced lamb, pork and apple). A few interesting meat varieties as well, like teriyaki chicken, General Chou’s chicken, and Reuben being available on my visit. And they’ve got few vegetarian ones as well, and I particularly like the “Tomato Job”, which is basically a Caprese Salad in a pie, with cheese, basil, and tomato (allegedly since one of the earlier Thwaites family members had a hard time pronouncing “Caprese”). Indeed, along with the classic pork pie, the Tomato Job is probably one of my favorites at Thwaites.

Since discovering Thwaites, I’ve had a few more trips down to the area, and stopped by for more meat pies and sausages. The food is great and affordable, and the staff friendly; I’m definitely happy for my original detour leading me there. I’ll be making that detour more deliberately in the future.

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