The “Myles” in the Myles Teddywedgers’ name is gone, and while the shop’s signature pasty is noticeably thinner on cheese, longtime fans of the 38-year-old business are just happy to still be able to enjoy their warm handheld pies.
I know I am grateful that the State Street shop has been able to survive the death of original owner Myles Allen, and the retirement of his successor Raymond Johnson.
In August, brother and sister Anthony Rineer and Karima Berkani stepped in to rescue the Madison institution that seemed destined for the dustbin of local history.
Rineer, 22, is the hands-on partner, while Berkani, 30, advises from Dubai, where she recently became a marketing manager for the ride-share company Uber, which expanded into Dubai last year.
The two are Madison natives who grew up on the pasties (pronounced PASS-tees not PASTE-ies). Berkani told me her memories of Teddywedgers date back to age 5, when her father took her to her mother’s orchestra rehearsals at the then-Civic Center.
She said she remembers “hugging onto” her Teddywedger in the middle of winter as they’d walk back to the theater. “We’d sit in the lobby and open it up and it was the best part of the whole night. Listening to my mom play classical music and eating my Big Cheesy.”
The Big Cheesy is less cheesy these days. On two recent occasions the pasty seemed thin, not overwhelming in its cheesiness as conjured by my own fond memories. The tomato sauce seemed fresh, homemade and appropriately bland. One day the pasty included big chunks of ground beef, and on another day there was pepperoni that wasn’t expected, but was appreciated.
The dough, like a calzone shell, seems unchanged.
Berkani conceded that the Big Cheesy has “a little bit less cheese,” but argues still “enough to warrant its name.”
That’s debatable, but in an email she defended it as “just a bit more balanced (and healthy).”
Pasties are available in whole sizes for $9.75, and half sizes for $5.50. On both of my visits, Rineer, who was working the small counter, wrapped my pasties in foil but didn’t use enough to cover the whole pie, or half pie, as was usually the case. It therefore didn’t keep the pasties as warm as they could have been on my way to the office.
Like any good pasty-lover knows, the pies originated as a mining food because they were hearty and easy for miners to pack for lunch, often staying warm until then.
Strictly takeout, the shop opens early on weekdays, making it convenient to visit on your way to work.
Rineer and Berkani bought the business from Johnson, who owned Myles Teddywedgers for four years, after working there for 15.
A little history: Allen, the original owner, started Teddywedgers with a family recipe his father used when he started making the Cornish beef pies as a once-a-week special at his restaurant in Linden, near Mineral Point.
“In a town of about 400 people, he would sell 50 to 70 every Thursday,’’ Allen told me in 1996. Allen originally opened the shop at East Johnson and Paterson streets in 1976. He moved it to its current location in 1984.
When Rineer and Berkani took over, they closed the shop for three weeks, reopening it Oct. 14.
There are a few new pasties, including a vegan one with black beans, peppers, corn and onions that Berkani said is gaining a following.
A more traditional pasty, the ground beef with potatoes and onions, contained a big wad of seemingly unseasoned meat, almost a hefty hamburger patty stuffed inside the shell. It worked, but in a bland way.
The new Teddywedgers offers two or three breakfast options until noon — usually an egg with cheese and bacon, and an egg with cheese and broccoli. The bacon one seemed a little small and thin for the price, but cut in half it was a lot neater to eat than the Big Cheesy.
Another breakfast option, the corned beef hash pasty, included plenty of hash but was glaringly salty. Egg and cheese were also in the mix and made it palatable.
The new Teddywedgers sells reasonably-priced, homemade cookies ($1.25) and brownies ($1.25), but the best thing about both turned out to be their price. The chocolate chip cookies were dark, thick and crisp, while the brownie was cut narrow with a few chocolate chips buried inside.
Rineer, who worked at EVP Coffee since high school, is still gaining his footing, but is doing a commendable job so far. He’s super friendly, asking about your weekend or week as he calculates what you owe on his cell phone.
He’s a folk hero to the pasty public, and the reason we Madisonians are still able to hug on to our Big Cheesies, even if there is less of it to hug.