There comes a point in a person’s life where camping and outdoorsy pursuits must be compensated for. If I’m heading to Derby for a weekend’s biking with my son, hoisting my leg over a saddle during the day and sleeping under canvas at night, there will be no cooking on the camp-stove in the evenings. I’ll be dining out, thanks very much.
Derby, the small town in the middle of dairy farming country which has become Mountain Biking Central, delivers on the promise.
‘The Hub’ is the town’s pizza joint, and a winning combination of old and new. Quaint smoky blue weatherboard on the outside, it’s all wood, brick, warmth and coziness on the inside. Much of that warmth is from the brick oven where the pizzas are sizzling. It takes pride of place right inside the front door, with head chef and owner Jason Hayden twirling pizza bases overhead with practiced insouciance.
He and wife Jacqueline are into their third year in Derby, and thousands of perfectly sized Epicurean plates with gourmet toppings. Bookings are essential. We got the last spot outside, but on this balmy evening that’s not a bad place to be. The front balcony is lined with jovial fellow travelers regaling each other with tales of epic gravity runs. Some of them have scored one of the majestic chesterfield sofas. We are on tin bar-stools, which gives this saddle-sore, middle aged cyclist pause for thought. Note to self: stand up more on the pedals.
Jason’s philosophy on ingredients is Tasmanian first, Australian second, and the menu is a mix of the traditional and the edgy. They provide ably for my teenage companion who wants that least Italian of pizzas, the Hawaiian. It’s listed in slightly camouflaged fashion on the menu as a ‘Capricorn Dancer’. This appeals to me, because he has to read something to find it. Sighting pineapple, he orders, dispensing with the requirement for onion, and all is well.
I’m more adventurous, on the plate if not on the trail. My choice of the ‘Blanco Special’ is a pale confection of mozzarella, rosemary, pistachios and red onion. Rosemary is an analgesic, used for centuries in medicine, and in aromatherapy to relieve pain and stiffness. It’s the perfect choice, and I feel its piquant zing warming my palate and emanating outwards to ease muscles for the rest of the evening. This is undoubtedly helped by the glass of Merlot from Holm Oak, chosen from an excellent wine list.
Pizza or pub is the choice for an evening repast in Derby. Dinner the next night sees us in the beer garden at the Dorset Hotel. Owners Brooke and Sean McDonald also moved in three years ago and invite visitors to eat, drink, stay and launder their biking gear in the capacious rooms of this lovely old building.
The beer garden folds round the side and back, with workaday picnic tables, a shady oak and lush grass for kids to run around on. There’s fish and chips, waffles and ice cream for younger diners, while the specials board offers more interesting fare for us discerning folk. I plump for the slow-braised beef cheeks, because why wouldn’t you? They’re fall-apart tender and soaked in jus, and the accompaniment of sautéed silverbeet with garlic, lemon and chilli is an intriguing combination I wouldn’t have thought to put together myself – exactly the reason I ordered it. The wine list has most things you’d want, and the beer on tap comes in handled mugs, purpose built for keeping the cold wet stuff in the glass and not on the hands, and raising toasts over the chicken Parmigiana.
From his shed at the top of the town, former chef Luke Clarke supplies the town with sourdough. He bakes to order, and uses his time off to live the good life, raising a seasonal garden and smoking things over a fire pit.
As my son spends the weekend on the trails, I do a fair bit of strolling along the pavements feeling well catered for. There are two places for coffee and lunch, Crank It Café and Two Doors Down, and an IGA keeps visitors supplied with necessities. Everywhere, there are places to sit and imbibe while poring over the Trail Forks app.
At every watering hole there’s a pole to sling your bike over, presumably in lieu of the posts the early pioneers would tie their horses to. We’ve enjoyed our time bringing a little swagger (and in some cases stagger) back to the streets, and will be back for the bonhomie at the table and the excitement of the flowy trails and hero dirt, for sure.
This article was first published in Forty South Tasmania magazine in 2021.