old olde stone

Photo by Elizabeth Thipphawong

Peterborough is a city rich with history. It is also a city known for its food, which is something I was unaware of when I moved here for Trent five years ago.

I lived at the intersection of George and Parkhill, and my first year life was, like many first years before me, a quick meal of pizza and subs.

It was only a matter of time before my housemates and I came out of our comfort zones to explore restaurants that would offer more than the ordinary dining experience.

One such place was a memorable café on George Street called The Ritz Deli North. It is now The Food Forest, but for us (who were all off- res students in our first year) it became a haven for good sandwiches and robust coffee. The interior had been furnished with rich, dark wood and the bathrooms with humorous children’s books about pooping.

For those who miss the Ritz, look no further than East City at 128 Hunter Street. The Ashburnham Ale House has developed quite a reputation for itself, and that is where I met owner Scott Wood over coffee. I had exclaimed at how much the coffee was like the Ritz Deli’s, and he smiled and said that it because it was.

“We kept the best elements of the Ritz when we moved to this location,” Wood said. The lighter-coloured wood gleamed in the sunlight that poured through the windows. There are a handful of restaurants downtown that always had a resemblance of wood, eloquence, and beer. After recently being employed by one of them, I had become curious about that relationship.

“How did Olde Stone and Hot Belly Mama’s come to be?” I asked, referring to the restaurants that were side by side on George Street. Wood established the Olde Stone Brewing Company in 1996. Hot Belly Mama’s was originally on Water Street, where 38 degrees is currently located.

It was not flourishing as well at the time, so when the opportunity came up he purchased it in 2000. He also had a hand in establishing St. Veronus in 2003.

I inquired about the décor they all seemed to have in common and he stated that the “warmth and richness” of the wood was something he wanted in his establishments. When asked what kind of wood, he said, “Pinewood and ash.”

After working at the Olde Stone Brewing Company, I found the chemistry between the two restaurants being side by side was well-balanced. Hot Belly Mama’s is a lively New Orleans-themed restaurant and holds a special place in my heart, as I had my graduation dinner there. The Olde Stone Brewery has an equally warm and inviting atmosphere, but with a laid-back pub setting.

Though the in-house brewed beer is what the place is known for, their menu is surprisingly creative. They offer pub-style grub like fish and chips; burgers, bangers, beans and chips, but also ethnic cuisine like Nasi Goreng, Chicken Curry and Thai Noodles. Both restaurants also serve exciting daily specials and desserts, and for those new to town, they provide a uniquely Peterborough restaurant experience.

One such experience could be an unforgettable one. I mentioned a story to Wood that a customer once told me. One night in 2006, this man was dining at Hot Belly Mamas, which had a live in-house band at the time (featuring artists such as Beau Dixon). Suddenly, the power went out, and the open patio becomes lit with candles on the tables.

The band cleverly switched to acoustic, improvising by banging on the wood, and the atmosphere was calm and uninterrupted as though this happened all the time. He said it was the most memorable dinner he had ever had.

Wood fondly remembers that chaotic time as a power outage that lasted in Peterborough for two days. “It was fun, we had to bring out barbeques and cook everything in the freezer. The line of people went around the corner.”