Pizza & Beer: Fixed Gear Brewing Co’s Canteen
WORDS BY CAI SEPULIS; PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
I think ‘Canteen’ would be a great name,’ I suggest to Fixed Gear Brewing Co’s owner, Michael Oosterveld, as we lounge in the midday heat on the rock beach in front of his cottage located in the archipelago off Georgian Bay. It’s early August, and I’mhere – with TOQUE’s Chris Tiessen and my wife, Sonia – as part of an excursion across Ontario’s cottage country (published in TOQUE 11 as ‘Outbacking Across Ontario: A Four-Day Success Story’). And Michael, ever the scheming entrepreneur, is brainstorming his next venture. ‘It’s going to be simple,’ he notes as he sips on a Fixed Gear ‘Peloton’ pilsner. (As you might imagine, there’s no shortage of those up here.) ‘Just stone-oven pizzas and fresh beer.’ Michael first saw a similar concept in Nashville. ‘Nothing fancy,’ he continues, ‘but just what Guelph’s Junction neighbourhood needs.’ A friendly place to get out.
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Fast forward four months. It’s a cool early- November evening in Guelph, and I’m walking up Edinburgh Road in that same Junction ‘hood Michael had been discussing withus those months before. I’m on my way to Canteen – Michael’s offshoot of his Fixed Gear Brewing Company. The place has just opened and I’m keen to give it a try. Chris and Sonia are meeting me for dinner. I’ve decided to visit by foot – as Sonia and I live just a few blocks away. Located in Granite Homes’ beautiful new factory-style commercial development, ‘Platform @ The Junction’, Canteen abuts right up against Edinburgh and features a good-sized brick-walled patio next to the sidewalk. As I approach the place, it’s as though I can feel its energy already. The sounds of laughter and chatter emanate from inside the patio enclosure. The glow of twinkle lights strung across the outdoor seating area beckons me. The Fixed Gear logo, paired with ‘Canteen’, is affixed to the restaurant’s external brick wall.
This is going to be good.
Fast forward a half hour. Sonia and Chris and I are at a four-seater inside the place, beers in hand. (At Canteen, folks are encouraged to order their drinks from the bar upon entering, and then order their food – and more drinks – once they’ve taken a seat.) I spot Michael across the busy, yet still socially- distanced, restaurant. He meets my gaze and is over in a heartbeat with what looks like some sort of stout or porter. ‘Here,’ he says to Sonia, placing the pint down, ‘I think you’d like this.’ Sonia takes a sip, and grins approvingly. It’s a Fixed Gear one-off: a hazelnut stout that turns out to be so popular it’s already run out by the time Chris visits the next night for dinner again with his partner, Liz. ‘And I’ve already placed your order,’ Michael continues. ‘I want you to try a bit of everything.’
The next couple hours are blissful. Pints with friends and loved ones, surrounded by what seems to be the entire neighbourhood. Smiling faces. Excited conversation. And fantastic pizzas: thrown and topped in Canteen’s behind-the-scenes kitchen before being baked in its shiny black-tiled wood-fired pizza oven – on display for all to see just beside the bar. My favourite pie, ‘Card In The Spokes’ (a name recalling that nostalgic cycling tradition), is a true flavour bomb – featuring grilled pineapple, prosciutto, mint, and a spicy honey drizzle that adds a burst of flavour with every bite. Chris’ fave, ‘Off The Chain’ (again – so à propos), features roasted garlic and prosciutto, and is topped with heaps of raw arugula, a balsamic reduction, and parmesan.
‘Arugula on pizza is the greatest,’ Chris notes after washing down a bite with Fixed Gear’s brand new ‘Glow Ride’ double IPA. Sonia nods in agreement. ‘I first tried it in the Trastevere neighbourhood in Rome a couple decades back,’ he continues, ‘and I add it to everything now. Did you know it’s actually an herb?’ Interesting. Halfway through our meal, Chris hoists his camera gear and makes his way toward the oven. Between shots he no doubt regales the pizza maker (who happens to be local realtor Andra Arnold’s daughter) with tales of his tenure as wood-fired pizza-maker at Kitchener’s City Café Bakery.
Canteen, as a sort of larger, more food-focused extension of Fixed Gear’s homestead brewery (located some hundred metres down the tracks in the Junction), shares the original brewery’s bike-themed décor. Track bikes and singlespeeds (many of which are on loan from Backpeddling – another Junction business) are suspended on angles from the walls. An historic Guelph ‘Olympia’ Cycling Club jersey hangs above the bar. And the brewery’s bright orange core hue is present everywhere. On light fixtures. Tap handles. And on an antique ‘Orange Crush’ billboard Michael most certainly scrounged from one of his local properties.
Nearing the end of dinner, above the din of conversation, clinking glasses, and music, I hear the sound of train crossing bells just outside. Peering out the restaurant’s large wrap-around windows, I catch sight of the evening GO train passing close by. Patio- goers have seemingly all stopped eating to observe this exciting phenomenon. What an experience to feel the rumble of the cars and power of the engine mere feet away. Reminds me of the Gandy Dancer – an elegant restaurant set in a former railroad depot in Ann Arbor – where diners and staff alike clap when trains pass through, blowing their whistles.
As our evening winds up, Sonia and I bid Chris adieu and begin our walk home. On our way, with the leaves brushing below our feet and the stars already in the sky, I think of all the simple things it feels like we’re missing these days. And how a place like Canteen manages to give us back just a bit of what we sense we’ve lost. And I also think back to that mid-summer conversation we had with Michael at his cottage.
And how he’s managed to create this special place – Canteen – in just four months. Building community from scratch.
I grab Sonia’s hand, smile to myself, and am happy.
FIXED GEAR CANTEEN
5 EDINBURGH RD S, GUELPH fixedgearbrewing.com