Having so recently moved from Rome, I was intrigued when, in December, some friends suggested an afternoon outing at a place called Tea on the Tiber… in Ellicott City, Maryland. My curiosity was piqued, not only because of the name, but because the place was billed as a Victorian Tea Room, and I do enjoy a real high tea – when it’s done right. I set out to see what I’d find. The first thing I learned was that Maryland’s Tiber River was a little different from its namesake, as you can see.
Apples and oranges, really. Pointless comparisons aside, I found Ellicott City, Maryland to be a charming little town. It felt a bit like a time capsule, with giant rocks looming like cliffs over Main Street and its 1950s-style shop signs. Here are some views of the town, snapped as we walked from the riverside towards our destination. It was a busy Sunday afternoon, one of the last before Christmas, and the streets were a little too crowded with parked cars and the sky a little too grey to be as picturesque as it could be. With all the odd boutiques and specialty shops lining the main street, I could see why people would come here for their holiday gift shopping,but it was a little bit too much like rush-hour for my taste. Then, at long last (it was cold enough to feel like we’d been walking for much longer than we had), our destination came into sight. The last time I’d had “high tea” had been at the famous Babington’s tea room at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Could this little American town – beautiful and historic, yes, but nestled among encroaching tentacles of suburbia – offer anything that would compare? The entrance was certainly inviting enough… now to see about the inside.
Inside, attention had been paid to every detail. More than walking into café, it felt as though I were entering as a guest into someone’s home (and judging from the florals and pastels, the home of a well-to-do English woman or Austen fan) where every piece of furniture, every painting and decoration had been collected over a lifetime as opposed to chosen, each with a history – as such things are in a true home. The establishment took up an entire old house, and each room had been either furnished with two or three smaller tables or, in the case of the one we were given, one large table to accomodate large groups. Indeed, I believe that you can only attend Tea on the Tiber by reservation. So, the atmosphere was up to snuff. Now it was time to see about the menu. We had come for afternoon tea. That meant we were each able to pick a type we wanted from an extensive list including various black, green and white teas, as well as a variety of herbal blends, coffee and chocolate. Anyone who knows me will know that I generally always go for the coffee. At tea (and I intend that as meal, not the beverage), however , that would be quite the heresy. I picked an almond-flavored black tea blend instead. The service it is served in is charming, and the contents are all I had hoped for. The menu was fixed, which saved me the pain of choosing (I always want to try everything when I’m someplace new). We had been promised a three-course meal divided into three parts. When it came, we realized that division was really quite literal. On the middle tier was the savory, consisting mostly of a variety of finger sandwiches, including the famous (and, in the American mind at least, quintessentially British) cucumber. On the bottom tier were what the menu listed as English Manor scones. These were served with two things I’d never tasted, although I’d read about them in books: clotted cream and lemon curd. All I can say is, despite their less-than-appetizing names, once you taste them, there’s no going back. We had to ask the poor waitress to refill those dishes at least twice. The jam, though lovely, was quite forgotten. There were also sweet breads (not sweetbreads, thank goodness), fruit and cheese and, on the top tier, what we might call the crowning glory: the desserts. I don’t know what was more decadent, the rich chocolate cake or the shortbread (I’ll go for the shortbread every time, if forced to choose, but that’s just me. Any chocolate lover would consider me a madwoman for saying so).
Well, I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. And, I don’t know about you, but I think I’m about ready for a cup of tea after all that, so I’m going to sign off here. Here’s wishing you all a lovely day. Toodle-oo and thanks ever so much for popping by! 😉 Cheers, Jennifer p.s. and if you should feel the need to try out those scones with clotted cream for yourself (and I highly recommend it), here’s all the info you need (of course, you could just clink on this link to Tea on the Tiber’s website if you missed the one at the top of the post, but I thought the business card was classier):
- Day Trippin’: Ellicott City (theworldisourdistrict.com)