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The Endorsement: Jollibee’s deep-fried peach and mango hand pie

The Endorsement: Jollibee’s deep-fried peach and mango hand pie

If you were to rank the past century’s pop-culinary tragedies by length of mourning and depth of sadness, the killing of McDonald’s deep-fried apple pies would have to turn up near the top. Sure, the soft-drink giants’ switch from real sugar to high-fructose corn syrup rankles many among the modern-day soda lovers. And the sudden exile, some 30 years ago, of beef tallow from McDonalds’ fry-olators might never be forgotten as a moment of infamy; no less a thinker than Malcolm Gladwell has eulogized that change, perhaps just a little hysterically, as the moment the company “turned their backs on everything I once held dear.”

But the deep-fried apple pie, abandoned by the Golden Arches in the early 1990s for its vastly inferior baked ones, still occupies a place of longing in the hearts of many food fanatics: their blond, sweet, fat-bubbled crusts that shattered almost tectonically when your teeth came near; the sweet-tangy, cinnamon-kissed apple chunks that spilled out as if willfully onto tender skin, and always magma-hot.

If you grew up, as I did, in the uncertainty of the 1980s, McDonald’s fried apple hand pies were one of life’s only sure things; even today when I’m presented with a slice of real, Norman Rockwellian apple pie, a part of me still pines for that cardboard tube and the industrial apple-y filling. Thanks a lot for your heritage, hand-picked apples and the lattice crust you crafted yourself from house-churned butter, but, just wondering, did you ever consider flash-cooking it in a deep-fryer instead?

And so while I might always appreciate the savory side of the menu at Jollibee, the Philippines-based fast food giant that’s recently opened locations in Scarborough and, as of last week, Mississauga, the company’s Jolly Spaghetti and Jolly Crispy Chicken Buckets will never have quite the same pull on me as its go-to dessert. Though the company doesn’t announce this specifically, Jollibee’s hand pies are by all indications (the blond, crisp bubbles, the wonton/potato chip lovechild texture) fried instead of baked; better still, in place of soupy diced apple and fake-tasting cinnamon, they’re filled with mango and peach.

The first time I had one, late this spring, I’d already eaten a couple of Jollibee hamburgers. It’s worth pausing here to consider the menu’s savory side. The Aloha Yum burger, with its strips of bacon and tranche of warm pineapple, is pretty good; the basic Yum with Cheese is your standard fast food kids’ burger, but with drier, ever-so-slightly more spice-forward beef. I’d also had an order of the Jolly Crispy Chicken, which comes properly juicy and fatty, and darker-fried than you’ll find, say, at KFC. (One guy in line behind me told his friends it’s better than the fried chicken at Popeyes; while I wouldn’t go quite that far, it wasn’t an entirely preposterous assertion to make.)

I’d had those hamburgers, and a piece of the Jolly Crispy Chicken, and a side order of the Jolly Spaghetti, which you’ll find is as soft (al dente is not a thing here) and as sweet as a can of Alphagetti, but with sugar syrup poured over top of it. It comes studded with sliced hotdog bits and gratings of greasy cheese. Whether sauced with sweet tomato passata or with sweet banana ketchup, soft-cooked spaghetti is a beloved classic of Filipino cooking—as much a part of of the food culture in the Philippines as, oh, apple pie might be around here. So I’m not going to try to judge.

There are standout touches on that savoury menu, too. The spicy fried chicken is actually spicy, for instance. You can get decent kernel corn or mashed potatoes as a side at Jollibee, while the “gravy” is your standard, warm-spiced brown foodservice goop. A definite plus: in addition to the usual fountain soda options, you can specify pineapple juice to drink.

But those deep-fried pies are very much worth saving yourself for; as I packed away my Jolly Spaghetti and Jolly Crispy Chicken and Aloha Yum boxes and pulled out a trio of hand-pies (I couldn’t help myself) the guy sitting next to me nodded approvingly, and said his friends from work often come here and eat nothing but pie for lunch.

You might find, as I did, that their crusts could have a little more flavour (your baker-friends’ cultured, hand-churned butter crusts are always going to come off richer than this); you might find, as I did on another visit, that the pies had been out of the fryer a bit too long. (If a fried pie doesn’t cauterize your tongue to kingdom come, did you even really eat it?)

What I doubt you’ll quibble with, though, is the deliciousness of those pies. The peach and mango taste bright and sunny and strangely fresh, like excellent jarred fruit; against the shattering savoury, fat-bubbled crunch of those deep-fried crusts, they might just remake your idea of the perfect summer pie.

Jollibee

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15 William Kitchen Road, Scarborough

(NB there is also a very new location in Mississauga’s Seafood City and the lines are bound to be looooong.)

Cuisine: Filipino, Fast food

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AtmosphereIt’s fast food, Filipino-style, and with orderly, occasionally lengthy lineups outside. Expect to wait between 15 and 90 minutes at peak times.

What to eatGet some burgers (the Aloha Yum is strangely appealing) and fried chicken and a spaghetti if it grabs you. And definitely get the peach mango pie.

What the symbols mean:

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Vegetarian options available

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Dining and restrooms are wheelchair accessible

Critic's Pick

Critic’s Pick. Our recommendation for a restaurant that doesn’t offer full service.

1 star

One star (out of four). A good restaurant. Recommended.

Two stars (out of four). A very good restaurant.

Three stars (out of four). An excellent restaurant.

Four stars (out of four). An extraordinary restaurant.

Chris Nuttall-Smith is The Taster’s editor-in-chief and founder. He’s worked as food editor, chief critic and dining columnist at Toronto Life, restaurant critic for enRoute (he wrote the magazine’s celebrated Canada’s Best New Restaurant list in 2009), and more recently, national food reporter and Toronto restaurants columnist for The Globe and Mail. Nuttall-Smith’s writing on food, drink and other subjects has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, New York magazine, Toro and Lucky Peach. He’s also a resident judge on Top Chef Canada.