Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chaiwalla Tea Room

I haven't blogged in a few weeks and there has been much to blog about: a special wedding, more lilacs (my third and final, spectacular, round in returning to a glorious New Hampshire spring after also having lilacs in Kentucky and Ohio--a lovely, extended spring this year all around), new book projects, random thoughts (which of course I haven't jotted down), some recipes. [My youngest son is reading this blog entry over my shoulder and I can feel his warm chubby cheek on my own as he reads my words.]

One highlight in the hub bub of the last two weeks was a stop on Sunday at the Chaiwalla Tea Room** in Salisbury, Connecticut when we went to pick up our daughter for the summer.
Mary O'Brien has operated this tea room for 20 years and we spoke at length a few years ago -- when I was writing an article on New England tea rooms for Yankee Magazine -- about her efforts to bring quality imported loose tea to Americans when she first got started. [In fact, Mary introduced chai to this country well before it was trendy--her loose tea can be purchased in the shop or through the mail.] She remembered that conversation, which I'd mentioned only after she'd already said we could send her a check (they don't take credit cards and we didn't have a check on us, or enough cash: a brief moment of panic as we thought we'd need to wash dishes). While not her practice, she said she does let hikers on the Appalachian Trail--which passes through that part of northwestern Connecticut--send her checks all the time.

I last went to Chaiwalla about 15 years ago and it was exactly the same as I'd remembered it (I believe even our gracious waiter was the same as I never forget a face). Our daughter was five and we were visiting that region of Connecticut on a pop down from the Berkshires. My husband had not been before and was equally delighted with the fine food and service and atmosphere. It is not a cutsey tea room by any stretch: its decor is Zen-like with Shaker chairs and tables and photographs of classic Greek and Roman statues, definitely no Victorian tea room revival froufrou here.

At Chaiwalla, the emphasis is on a simple menu of exquisitely prepared food and an unusual selection of loose tea served in glass pots warmed over a candle and poured into glass mugs. Chaiwalla's atmosphere is probably reminiscent of the tea rooms that were once scattered about New England--more as tranquil stops for lunch or tea than the gussied up places of today who cater to women in big hats and gloves. [For an excellent book on this very topic, I highly recommend Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn-A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America by Jan Whitaker. While it is now out-of-print there are copies available on various websites. Jan also keeps a website on Vintage Tea Rooms which is worth exploring.] One has to applaud a tea room where you can bring your friends as well as your often picky, adamantly froufrou hating husband!

Because it was Sunday, we were able to select eggs Benedict from the menu and were not disappointed. The Hollandaise sauce was clearly homemade with a strong hint of lemon and the thinly sliced and flavorful ham superb. In addition to our tea we had glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice.

Of course we had room for dessert, as it was technically "brunch" after all -- 1 round of strawberry rhubarb cobbler and 2 slices of lemon tart (which was also quite custardy) -- all served from a Federal-style sideboard by our charming and attentive waiter. I am only sorry we do not live closer as I would certainly become a regular (I just remembered, however, that there is a small serving of leftover cobbler in the fridge!).

Chaiwalla Tea Room is at 1 Main Street in Salisbury, Connecticut 06068, in Litchfield County, located in the rural northwest corner of the state -- just south of the Berkshires region of Massachusetts and near the New York border. The tranquil and bucolic area is full of antiquing and many recreational and cultural opportunities. Call for hours: 860-435-9758. [NOTE: While we had only a few minutes to wait on a Sunday morning in May, with many local graduations, the Chaiwalla does not take reservations. If you allow extra time around your visit, you can stroll down Salisbury's lovely Main Street or into any number of shops.]

**Although providing interesting background on Chaiwalla, this review, from The New York Times, is almost 20 years old and describes the original tea room setting across the street.


Caroline said...

Thank you for this post on Chaiwalla Tea Room! I went to the Hotchkiss School in nearby Lakeville in the mid-'90s, and my friends and I used to go to Chaiwalla for a break from all the academic and other on-campus pressures. It is such a wonderful, special place. Your post brought me back.

(I am another writer on FLX.)

Anonymous said...

Worth a trip from anywhere for the tomato pie -- Stancy from Wingdale, NY

Anonymous said...

Mary, we can't wait to visit the tearoom in August. I want you to meet my wife Mary. Mike McCormick www.mikemosaic@aol.coml

Renee {Eat.Live.Blog} said...

Do you happen to know if Chaiwalla is still open? The phone # listed is disconnected. Thanks for this lovely review, I hope it is open still!

Catherine said...

HI Renee -- I have no idea! I haven't been through there since 2008 before I posted this blog. [And we now live in Kentucky.]

You might try to Google some of the online tea room directories and see what's what. I'll post more here if I find anything. Their phone number may have changed?

Best, Catherine

Jack & Lynn said...

My wife and I have visited Chaiwalla for about three years. We try to make a visit during the Autumn, Spring and Summer. We enjoy the atmosphere and the food. Presently our next trip will be coming up this Friday. We have always felt welcome when we walk in.

Jack & Lynn from Trumbull, Ct.

Anonymous said...

I will try to give it another chance as when I first walked into the tea house this past weekend there was a waitress with what seemed to me like little shorty shorts. I have strict code not to frequent establishments with risque waitstaff. It wasn't even a hot day..

Alexandra Jones said...

Mary is the worst person I have ever worked for. Though, her husband was lovely. That said, her tomato pie is delicious...but she will never share the real recipe.