17 King St., Millbrook
Sitting next to the four corners in charming village of Millbrook, it’s an easy drive to find this café, housed in a graceful historic building right in the heart of town. But it’s even better if you bike. “Our place combines Colin’s two passions in life,” says co-owner Deanna Bell, about the other co-owner, Colin Hall. “He envisioned a place where cyclists could just stop in,” she adds, noting that Hall will bike 120 kilometres, just for fun, on a leisurely afternoon. (Officially, his title is executive chef and peddler.) That vision has been realized—the café has hosted bike races, and sits directly on the Hills, Views and Pastries cycling route.
And, appropriately enough, the building, which opened as a dry goods store back in 1875, was also once home to a bike shop named Frog’s Cycles. The interior design carries that through, complete with a number of two-wheelers hanging on the wall, a couple from Frog’s, another that once belonged to Hall’s late cousin, who introduced him to cycling. “We’ve got two more in the back,” smiles Bell, who also notes their small on-site gallery featuring local artists, which changes every month.
But it’s not all about the bikes. Here, the food is fresh, and as local as possible, with many of their producers within easy cycling distance (for Hall, at least). The strawberries for some of their pies come from The Berry Patch, just around the corner in Ida. Bell shops for produce at the farmer’s market in Peterborough. The java comes from local roaster Kyoto Coffee (in Lakefield), with rhubarb often brought in by friends who live nearby.
And they sourced the meat in my stew today at French’s Beef. “They’re just over on Zion Line,” says Bell, gesturing behind her. Getting their ingredients locally is key. “We’re in a small community, it’s important to support each other—and it’s fresh, you know where the product is coming from,” she says. “Take French’s. We know that they take care of their livestock.”
The stew is tender and juicy and steaming hot, seared and paired with chopped potatoes and corn and carrots, and slow-cooked for three hours, served with a nice crunch of crostini on the side. The café features a fairly even mix of sweet and savoury, with Bell noting that this place got its start at the farmer’s market, where for years she and Colin sold cinnamon buns and scones and cupcakes. Their breakfast sandwich, The Winslow, is legendary, named after the founder of the 4th Line Theatre. And they’ve just started serving homemade ice cream sandwiches, made with ice cream from Central Smith.
I’m driving away today. But when I return—perhaps for their best-selling butter chicken nachos—I vow that it won’t be behind the wheel. Next time, I’ll approach astride a bike, pedaling my way in.