A diamond in the rough

St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room delivers an authentic Belgiam “brown café” experience

Co-owner Shannon Mak behind the bar at St. Veronus Cafe. Photo courtesy of St. Veronus Cafe and tap Room

Over the years of driving up the 115 and passing through the windswept and arcane streets of Peterborough, Ontario, a single restaurant tucked away on Hunter Street always beckoned me toward its dark, wood-paneled walls: St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room.

The moment you step past the pub’s 1890s brick facade, the Belgian beer tin tackers, golden light flooding in through large windows, and luxurious velvet banquettes take your breath away. Like its progenitors in Antwerp and Brussels, St. Veronus is a brown café; the Flemish answer to the English Pub. I argue it’s the closest you’ll get to the real thing anywhere in Canada.

Roland Hosier, co-owner of St. Veronus, beheads a glass of Vedett beer. Photo courtesy of St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room

“I had lived in Belgium briefly when I was a child,” explains Roland Hosier, who, with his wife and business partner Shannon Mak, has owned and operated St. Veronus since 2002. “I loved the quality and variety and how integrated beer was to the culture,” he says. Hosier points to trips to Café Mort Subite and À la Bécasse in Brussels as formative. More than anything else, he says that it was drinking De Koninck, a lively Belgian Pale Ale, as a 19-year old in Antwerp that kickstarted his passion for Belgian beer.

St Veronus sports 12 taps, ranging from world class Trappist Ales like Chimay Red to the spicier but no less influential pale behemoth, La Chouffe. Dozens of bottle conditioned beers line the fridges behind the spartan bar. Orval, Westmalle, Duvel, St. Bernardus—everything and anything under the Flemish sun. Whenever I sit down for lunch at St. Veronus, my beer—usually a bottle of Orval—always comes served in a branded Orval goblet atop a matching coaster. If anything else, it’s the simple, elegant pleasures that draw me, and flocks of regulars, here.

his St Veronus Belgian Cheese and Charcuterie Board is one of the many Cuisine à la Bière dishes on the menu. Photo courtesy of St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room

But, in a town where Bud and Molson still reign supreme, it’s nothing short of weird and wonderful that St. Veronus not only continues to survive, but thrive. “When I was planning this in 2001 a lot of people said it was crazy,” Hosier recalls. The competition was selling the regional and larger macro beer while, as Hosier puts it, “I was going to sell the most expensive beer that no one ever heard of.” And yet, St. Veronus was busy from the day it opened. “Peterborough has a cultural life that punches above its weight,” Hosier says. Judging by the constant mill of regulars, he’s not wrong.

The other reason for its success at the time might surprise you. Ironically, with the launch of Stella Artois, Hoegarden, and Leffe around the same period, big beer helped define the story of Belgian beer in the Canadian market and, in turn, helped Hosier reach thirsty, knowledgeable customers who would’ve otherwise moved on to the next macro-heavy pub instead of ordering something as foreign as Delirium Tremens.

After twenty plus years of business, Hosier and Mak maintain their razor sharp focus. Where beer bars in bigger cities like Toronto, Hamilton, or Ottawa have waved the white flag and pivoted to natural wine and cocktails, Hosier’s doubled down with a food menu that’s classic cuisine à la bière (aka food made with and for beer). “Beer can fulfill what wine cannot,” describes Hosier. “Partially because of the effervescent nature of beer [but also because] the mouthfeel of a lot of beer is just a better match for these dishes,” he says.

We recommend Table 1, a bright yet cozy spot by the window with a velvet banquette. Photo courtesy of St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room

And the proof is in the pudding, or, in this case, Seafood Waterzooi; an OG dish made with mussels, shrimp, scallops, cod, and salmon with potato, carrot, and onion in Averbode Ale and saffron cream broth. It highlights an eye-popping menu with other brasserie classics like Moules Frites, Schnitzel, and Carbonnade Flamande.

In my opinion, there’s nothing that matches the complementary dream that is Rodenbach Classic with their Flemish Pork Meatballs, which are slow-cooked in the same beer with an apple demi-glace and served with a side of divine Belgian frites. Cover your eyes, pick a beer and dish off the menu, and you’re basically guaranteed a pairing that’ll make you rethink all the cooked-from-frozen burgers and sickly sweet Hazy IPA you’ve polished off at your local brewery taproom.

Ultimately, for Hosier, despite Belgian beer’s steep decline in Ontario, St. Veronus continues to pave its own way for one specific reason: “We’ve been able to play a part in people’s lives. We’ve had weddings and funerals here. It’s part of the community and I’m most proud of that.”




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