Walking into Electric City Gardens for the first time, I felt a little like Alice entering Wonderland. The sight of the beautiful art hanging in the space and the eclectic nature of knickknacks on the tables, I was struck by what a novel idea this is; a restaurant in a house.
Twenty years ago, downtown looked pretty different, with Hot Belly Mama’s originally located on Water Street, the scene was what current day George Street looks like.
Gems that speak to everything you always wanted about that unique, hole-in-the-wall dining experiences still exist around there.
Electric City Gardens, located at 373 Queen St., right along Simcoe and Water Street, is the most magical place in Peterborough.
Now I haven’t been to every restaurant in Peterborough, but my first impression of Electric City Gardens was that this was going to be an experience like no other.
My photographer enjoyed my gobsmacked expression as I looked around. We were seated in the Garden Room by Julie, the Restaurant Goddess.
It’s a long, narrow sitting area that looks up to a small stage, with light streaming through colourful silks – a great area for live entertainment, which for now had a table on the stage for more seating at brunch.
Later, Samantha Moss, who introduced me to the place, said she was worried I had not said anything for several minutes. I was too absorbed in the beauty of the light illuminating the space, the decor reminding me of India.
She laughed when I finally said that I couldn’t believe that I’ve never been here.
“This is our happy place,” she told me, “and it should be yours too.”
Toby Tylor established Electric City Gardens in 1986, 30 years ago.
This passion project of having a restaurant in a house is as quirky and special as you would expect, except you’d never expect just how good the food is.
“Everything is prepared with love,” Julie explained.
“We have a lot of customers with dietary needs that Toby is only happy to accommodate. Whether it’s no oil, gluten, dairy, vegan or vegetarian, we do it and do it gourmet,” she said.
Tylor brings not only his Cordon Bleu training to the table, but his culinary knowledge from diverse cultures where he has lived and travelled.
“I grew up in New York,” Tylor said, “I also resided in Portugal for a number of years, and I fell in love with the culture and the food there.”
The passion and flair Tylor has for food is apparent in every dish he prepares, fresh to order.
The dining experience at Electric City Gardens is unique in Peterborough, a cozy atmosphere with exposed brick, pastel pink walls and incredible art on every surface – it’s the comfort of eating breakfast at home with five-star food.
Tylor takes time after the rush to emerge from the kitchen and shake everyone’s hand, asking how the meal was. To see the smiles on the faces of customers as they gush over the magnificence of their food, to me, is truly a source of feedback separate from most chain restaurants.
To describe the food will never do it justice, however, it truly is the best Eggs Benny I’ve had the pleasure of eating.
The hollandaise wasn’t heavy or overwhelming, but rich and fresh, warm and decadent, smothering perfectly-cooked large poached eggs. Slicing into the eggs achieved that sense of satisfaction one would get that can only be described by the instagram sensation: yolkporn, with golden yolk oozing all over your plate.
The English muffin it sat on squirted butter as it was cut into, and tasted of heaven when all the flavours were combined. Paired with a good, strong coffee and home fries, I expected to pay top dollar for a meal like this.
Shockingly, the bill came to nine dollars – with a 40 per cent discount available to all students.
Gourmet food for under $10? I couldn’t believe this was real, and that I had never heard about this place.
“Downtown Peterborough was a different place 20 years ago. This place was always busy, always full. This was a favourite spot for Trent presidents, and professors. Often department meetings would happen here, and lots of student engagement. When the downtown colleges were still here, it was truly a magical time,” said Tylor when I expressed my feelings about the restaurant.
“On the quality of the food, it is my belief that healthy, real food shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. We believe in fresh gourmet food, and the kind of food one would get at a high- end restaurant, that is affordable. We’ve been here for 30 years, but not a lot of people know about us,” he continued.
I had the chance to speak with Mark Jokinen of Mark Jokinen Bookstore who was enjoying his own eggs benny. I asked him if he had an opinion on the correlation of the downtown colleges closing and it’s impact on downtown business.
“I have an opinion, if you asked me I might tell you,” he responded with a smile, a mischeivious glint in his eye.
“I find that in my personal experience, not a lot of first years know they can find all of their books used downtown. It’s a lot of upper year students who know of the secondhand bookstores downtown, but I don’t know if that’s a direct result of the colleges no longer being downtown. I lean towards thinking it has to do more with convenience of all your books being available at the Trent Bookstore on campus, and that a lot of things are online now.”
“There’s just so much people don’t know about Peterborough’s downtown that exist here.” I said to Jokinen.
“There are a lot of good things downtown, the more you’re here the more you find them,” he responded.
So this summer, take a gander at what you can find downtown. This little gem that is Electric City Gardens is so special, so tasty, that you owe it to yourself to see what Peterborough can offer in terms of a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Tell them Arthur Newspaper sent you, and try the eggs benny. I get mine with salmon.
Because of the specific hours, it is encouraged that you call for reservations. Call 705- 749-1909 if you would like to dine there for brunch or dinner and have specific dietary requests that you can speak personally with the chef about.
ECG is also a great place to book a band and play a private function, an intimate gathering for an event of any kind.
Enjoy their fresh food at the incredible price, it could be your happy place too.