Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is a Sydney institution. Australia’s most famous pie cart was originally named “Harry’s” and served ‘pie and peas’ and crumbed sausages near the front gates of the naval dockyard at Woolloomooloo back in 1938. Proprietor and namesake Harry Edwards took a break from his food business to join the army and fight in World War II, and upon his return, reopened for business. Over the years, the pie cart has been replaced, upgraded, modernised and run by different owners, but Harry’s Cafe de Wheels has been operating continuously at Woolloomooloo since 1945, serving up hot tasty food to tourists, visiting celebrities, local workers, taxi drivers and late night revellers.
As a proud pie lover, each time I’ve been to Sydney/New South Wales, a visit to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels has been a must. There are now seven Harry’s Cafe de Wheels locations – I’ve only been to Haymarket and Newcastle. This time, I’m keen to visit the iconic Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (no longer on wheels) at the original location in Woolloomooloo. The first time I heard of Harry’s Cafe de Wheels and laid eyes on this very pie stand was through watching Water Rats, a TV drama series about the Sydney Water Police, set and filmed at locations around Sydney Harbour.
I am here for a Tiger, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels’ signature pie named after founder Harry Edwards, who earned the nickname “Tiger” for his boxing prowess. All the choices sound good and I love a Curry Tiger, but today I want the original Tiger, a beef pie topped with mashed potato and smothered with mushy peas and gravy, served almost too hot to eat.
Brown gravy, lumpy mushy peas and mashed potato all piled on top of a meat pie probably sounds like someone’s late night drunken invention, a nightmarish idea dreamed up during a serious attack of the munchies. It’s a beautiful monster of a pie I’m proud to love, a deceptively substantial savoury combination that brings comfort and pleasure.
There are old milk crates scattered around and a few stools to perch on to eat your pie, but most punters stand to eat, leaning elbows on the counters in the shade of the awning that goes all around the cart. In addition to sauces (Worcestershire, sweet chilli and HP), white vinegar and salt and pepper, there are boxes of tissues readily available. Tiger pies are messy!
The walls are decorated with photographs of famous people who’ve eaten at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels over the years.
This photograph from 1972 of Colonel Harland Sanders biting into a pie at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels never fails to bring a smile to my face. Apparently Colonel Sanders loved Harry’s ‘pie and peas’ so much he ate three!
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is next to Finger Wharf. Constructed in 1915, Finger Wharf operated as a busy commercial shipping centre but was threatened with demolition in 1987. As a result of community outcry, the wharf was allowed to remain, renovated instead of destroyed. It now houses a boutique hotel, restaurant strip, offices and apartments.
The more I eat, the uglier the pie gets. It’s a challenge to devour it quickly before the gravy makes its escape.
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels doesn’t just serve pies. You can get pasties, sausage rolls, hot dogs and other snacks here. The hot dogs were introduced in the 1970s to cater for American sailors. I know quite a few people who will testify to the restorative properties of a Harry’s chilli dog or two at the end of a big night out. It’s fantastic late-night drunk food but it’s good tucker at any time of day.
I’ve only ever been to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in daylight hours. Someday I’ll be back to tuck into my beloved Tiger pie, surrounded by night sky lit up by the glow of neon “Harry’s”. I wish for the trillionth time we had Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Perth. I’d love a Tiger before work. Today. Right now.
You can now see the Harry’s Cafe de Wheels pie cart from 1945 on display at Powerhouse Museum.
If you’re a fan, what’s your favourite Harry’s Cafe de Wheels item?
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – Woolloomooloo
Monday 8.30am to 2.00am (next day)
Tuesday 8.30am to 2.00am (next day)
Wednesday 8.30am to 3.00am (next day)
Thursday 8.30am to 3.00am (next day)
Friday 8.30am to 4.00am (next day)
Saturday 9.00am to 4.00am (next day)
Sunday 9.00am to 1.00am (next day)
Other locations (opening hours vary): Newcastle, Haymarket, Liverpool, Ultimo, Parramatta and Tempe. There used to be a Harry’s Cafe de Wheels at Sydney Airport.
How to spell Woolloomooloo
The secret to learning how to spell Woolloomooloo?
Break it up into four words: Wool, loo, moo and loo… Woolloomooloo.
I went to Sydney with my sister Juji and her fiancé Jay in November 2011.
See the list of posts so far, in reading order. There’s still more to come.