For St. Patrick's Day, skip the corned beef and cabbage and embrace Irish meat pies. Think of the savory goodness of Irish beef and potato stew wrapped in a flaky, delectable crust - what's not to love?

Before getting started, it's important to understand that not all Irish meat pies are created equal. We learned this from Matt Campbell, who with his wife, Tara Quisenberry, owns Mountain Pie Co. in Colorado Springs.

"We specialize in authentic Commonwealth meat pies," Campbell said, referring to the land Down Under. "It's our thing. I grew up eating meat pies in New Zealand and Australia, and that's also where I learned to perfect them."

What he's talking about are hand pies, the kind you can pick up out of the pie tin and eat. They're hot and eaten by hand.

A hand pie also is known as a pastie or pasty (pronounced PASS-tee), and generally is believed to have evolved from Cornish tin miners who, unable to return to the surface at lunchtime, developed the hearty, easy-to-hold dish.

With their hands often dirty from a morning's work, miners could hold the pasty by the thick crust without contaminating the contents. The crust also insulated the contents and kept the stew warm for several hours.

"The crust was called hot water pastry, and it became almost like clay," Campbell said. "It was almost inedible. But it kept meat from spoiling."

Campbell uses a Scottish-style pie pastry recipe that calls for curing the dough for several days to soften.

This month, he is offering several Irish hand pie options. Steak and ale pie will be there, of course.

"We've even taken it a step further and added an Irish steak & Dubliner cheese pie," he said. "Think steak and ale, only more Irish and more decadent, rich and creamy."

He also will have shepherd's pie as well as corned beef hash and cabbage pie.

"The corned beef pie will take you straight back to the motherland," he said, adding that it should be eaten with a "hot English mustard."

Another place to get into the Irish mindset is 3.14 Sweet & amp; Savory Pi Bar and Wine.

"We have a Guinness Sakes Pi on our menu," said Carma Barr, the shop's owner. "It's different from steak and ale pie. It's made with ground beef. We'll be doing a proper shepherd's pie too, and we'll be featuring Irish fare like bangers n' mash the entire weekend of St. Patrick's Day."

Americans recognize shepherd's pie as being made with steak, onions and potatoes braised in dark Irish beer and topped with mashed potatoes. A "proper" shepherd's pie uses lamb.

"I had a lamb shepherd's pie for a special one weekend," Barr said, "and a customer from Ireland said, 'Oh ... you have a proper shepherd's pie,' indicating not made with beef like we do it in the U.S."

By the way, Campbell obtained a display cabinet at the new Ranch Foods Direct store where he sells an assortment of savory and sweet hand pies all the time. In the summer, he can be found at farmers markets. And during the winter, he's a part of the Ivywild School monthly farmers market. So you won't be limited to only the month of March to experience a taste of St. Paddy's Day.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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