Photos by Jesse McRae
My last gastronomical misadventure left me in a condition so critical, I was temporarily unable to do much of anything, let alone put my palate to proper use. Early on in the recovery process I happily began to transition from volunteer eating guy to staff writer/eating guy, which saw me working on big-shot news-type articles, and it was during this vulnerable time the dastardly Meal Man saw fit to usurp my rightful vocation.
But fear no more, hungry Peterburrians! For I, your gracious and benevolent Food Dude, have reclaimed my noble birthright (I see myself as more of a despot than a dictator), and henceforth there shall be naught but reviews from the one true Eater of Entrées, Taster of Take-Out, Consumer of Cuisine.
He’s big, he’s back, and he’s hungrier than ever. Where better to start afresh than The Only Café in Peterborough?
Originally founded on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, this incarnation of The Only is below the Gordon Best Theatre on Hunter Street, just east of Aylmer. Since this place has been here for twenty-two years, you have probably seen it before and odds are you didn’t need me to tell you where it is. Or maybe, due to a lack of eye-catching signage, you did.
What probably will be news is that on top of the legal requirement of having some food be purchasable at a drinking establishment, The Only actually boasts a café-sized menu. I honestly didn’t even know they sold food up until this year.
If you’ve ever been here, you know the interior. The place looks its age, at the least. Funky tunes fill the air. There’s a shuffleboard table and an uncanny amount of framed photos hanging from nearly every vertical surface (and a few horizontal ones). Seating options are barstools, tables, and in the summer months there’s a patio along the perimeter, overlooking Jackson Creek.
Food Dude’s Words of Wisdom: For a unique experience, take a seat at the elevated table in the back of the room. This will let you and your friends feel like gods observing lowly mortals. There’s also some kind of weird kids’ play area under the platform, if that’s your thing.
A few minutes after showing myself to a seat, I was approached and asked by a server what I’d like, and my request of food was answered with a menu and the information that orders must be made at the bar, as there isn’t table service here. Fair enough for a bar.
The menu is a single double-sided sheet, at least a quarter of which is alcohol. There are all-day breakfast options ($4-$9.50), a variety of omelettes ($11.50 each), soup/salad selections, over twenty sandwiches ($4-$9.40), and the interestingly named Ernest Hemingway Memorial Beer Snacks, an assortment of super-simple items for such as chips, humus, guacamole, and Jamaican patties; oddly enough, the menu’s priciest items (over $12) can be found here.
Ever a fan of John Montagu’s innovation, I chose the Club Marrakech; turkey, Gouda, hard-boiled egg slices, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and cumin. Sandwiches are available on many kinds of bread including pumpernickel, sunflower, and organic multi-grain. I forgot to specify upon ordering and wasn’t asked for my choice, so I’m unsure of which I got.
There was only a handful of people in the joint besides me, but my order took nearly ten minutes. A possible reason is that the turkey was cut off a whole bird, as I did see an entire one in the small bar kitchen. A more certain reason is that this was a ridiculously huge sandwich.
Served cut in half with three pickle wedges, this double-decker beast boasted nearly an inch of meat alone, and the other toppings were plentiful to boot. No knife and fork were provided, which could easily lead to difficulty eating something of such stature. Even I with my giant maw had some trouble.
Truthfully, I’m finding it difficult to write anything in particular about the sandwich’s taste. The three words at the forefront of my mind are simply: It was good. The produce tasted fresh, as did the eggs, which is quite important. The turkey was moist, but might have been nicer were it still warm. The amount of cheese made it almost each bite’s strongest flavour, which after a while became a little disappointing.
While I wouldn’t say it was worth writing home about, in keeping with those three previous words, it was a solid sandwich. It was a bit reminiscent of the kind you make out of holiday leftovers. I can’t say that its $9.40 price tag is entirely out of the question, due to the sheer mass of sustenance it gets you. I was actually commended by the staff after my plate was taken away for eating the whole thing.
If you plan on eating at The Only, be sure to bring cash and arrive before 10 p.m., as menu options are reduced thereafter. Actually, seeing as there seems to be a negative correlation between number of hours the place has been open that day and friendliness of staff, I’d say go as early as possible.