Aussie baker brings comfort food to Fort Collins
Steve Phillips arrives at Waltzing Kangaroo by 5 a.m. most mornings.
While he's 8,000 miles from his Australian hometown, Phillips feels at home inside the bakery in Fort Collins' Campus West neighborhood — especially after his daily dose of eight espresso shots kicks in.
“My dad owned his first bakery when he was 21,” Phillips said in his thick Australian accent. “So that meant sometimes I was in a cot or a crib in the back of the store.
“Not only is my father a baker and pastry cook, but so is my brother and so am I."
After several years of running his family’s Pie in the Sky shop in a coastal town 90 miles north of Sydney, Phillips sold the family business in favor of an American adventure. He now prepares the same Aussie and Kiwi comfort food — homemade meat and veggie-stuffed pies are the specialty — for an American audience.
“I used to gain so much weight whenever I went back home because I would eat so many meat pies,” joked Summer Henderson, a New Zealand native and one of several Waltzing Kangaroo employees with Oceania ties. “Now I can get them here. It has been a lot of fun to see what people like compared to what is popular back home.”
Australia natives have flocked from other states to snack on the pies that can be difficult to find elsewhere in the U.S. Phillips also estimates there are about 150 Australian natives living in the Fort Collins area.
“The first day we opened, the parking lot was full with local Australian natives by 7 a.m.,” said Phillips, whose father, Mike, and mother, Robyn, flew in to help with the opening. "There was a line out the door. You could tell many of them couldn't wait to get their hands on a meat pie again."
While popular with expats, Waltzing Kangaroo also has a growing core of American who tend to prefer meat pies for lunch or dinner instead of a traditional Australian breakfast. Newcomers have brought plenty of questions about Aussie cuisine.
“A lot of people will ask if we have kangaroo meat or Vegemite,” Henderson said. The establishment serves neither.
Instead, the restaurant’s rosemary lamb meat pie has been the most popular. There’s also a variety of beef, chicken and veggie stuffing options, traditionally what you would find in Australia.
A pork and green chile version was created specifically for the Colorado palate.
Waltzing Kangaroo also offers egg-, meat- and veggie-stuffed pastries, and serves up mushy peas, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes and salads as sides.
“We had to change a few of the (original) names,” Phillips said. “A lot of people here didn’t know what ‘Mornay’ was, so I had to change it to ‘white cheese sauce.’ Or ‘satay’ had to be ‘chicken and Thai peanut.’
“As soon as those names changed, people started buying them.”
Along with making homemade pie and pastry dough, Phillips is a perfectionist about his stuffings.
Waltzing Kangaroo slow roasts its meats with onion bulbs for four hours before stewing them in homemade stocks — which Phillips refers to as his “secret sauce” — for an additional three hours.
“Steve never does anything halfway. He’s an all or nothing person,” said his wife Aimee, a Louisiana native. “You see that when he is in the kitchen.
“When I first moved to Australia I was a vegetarian. But there’s no way I could resist his meat pies now.”
Steve and Aimee met in Colorado, where they had moved to Keystone for the skiing. They later got married in Australia where they were lived together for about a decade as Steve resumed the family business. Their children — 5-year-old Lincoln and 1-year-old Wald — were born there.
While they initially set their sites on Lake Tahoe for their return to the U.S., they ended up renting a house on Airbnb in Denver for a few weeks before falling in love with Fort Collins.
Their store is a few units down from an Aussie-owned tanning shop.
"In Denver we found little pockets of areas we liked," Aimee said. "But they were all like one to two blocks long. When we arrived in Fort Collins, it seemed the whole town was that little pocket."
All along their adventure, the Phillips family believed their food would translate to the American palate.
“It’s comfort food, basically,” Aimee said. “It is so nice to be around a college. When I was in college, soul food was my comfort food. We are glad to bring Australian-style comfort food here.”
Adds Steve: “At football games (in Australia) you would have a beer in one hand and a meat pie in the other … It’s fun to see someone here eat a pie for the first time.”
At a glance: Waltzing Kangaroo
What: Australian-style pastries and meat pies
Where: 1109 W. Elizabeth St.
When: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Contact: waltzingkangaroo.com, 970-568-8817