Food Feature: Sweet tea
South African owners add flavor to Farmhouse Tea Shoppe
I didn't think anything good could thrive at that perfectly horrid intersection of Chamblee Dunwoody and Mt. Vernon roads. But I was wrong. One wonderful, glorious thing has blossomed: The Farmhouse Tea Shoppe.
I confess that I was not even looking for food the day I finally found the tea shop. Not that it is hard to see: How many old, white, two-story farmhouses are there smack in the middle of this torturous suburban automotive obstacle course? The problem is figuring out where to park. (Tip: Under no circumstances should you attempt to wedge your car into the tiny, three-spot parking niche under the trees. Park by the CVS pharmacy in the strip shopping center behind the house.)
As I say, though, I was not thinking of eating; I was, as usual, intent on shopping.
If you love tea, as I do, then you know that simply drinking tea is not enough. Tea enthusiasts also love to shop for tea and tea things: cozies and strainers, pots large and small, caddies, tea balls, cutters for making tea sandwiches and cookies and tarts. And, of course, loose tea. Nothing is more important than good loose tea. That is what sent me to The Farmhouse Tea Shoppe.
I climbed the stairs to the porch, with its welcoming rocking chairs and wedged myself inside the front door — which was not easy, let me tell you, since it opens directly into the busy hallway. To my great surprise, the hallway was teeming with ladies (and a few gentlemen) on their way to or from lunch.
And not only lunch, but tea, too. And they were buying paintings off the walls and burrowing through works on paper in a back room. Around the corner, in another back room, were the tea goodies. Not a large selection, but a happy one, with some lovely, fragrant teas and precious accoutrements.
Every bit as interesting as inspecting the wares is that the small kitchen opens onto the shop room. Perched on the short service counter was plate after plate of the wildly popular Oriental chicken salad. Don't blanch. I know that anything named Oriental chicken salad causes images of tea room clichés to leap to mind. Never fear: The Farmhouse Tea Shoppe is not plating clichés, even though there is quiche. Two, in fact: quiche Lorraine and a vegetarian model with spinach and broccoli.
Just looking at the chicken salad is a treat. This is no molded ball, but a choppy-looking mound befitting the chunks of nicely seasoned fowl laced with toasted almonds and toasted noodles with shredded Napa cabbage. More colorful and slightly less textural (but subtly zinged with a curry mayonnaise) is a sister dish, lightly curried chicken salad.
The bulk of the small lunch menu is more provocative. The tea shop's South African owners have added such wonderfully flavorful things as English sausage rolls — not spicy, just savory — and a flaky, pastry-wrapped melange of curried lamb, raisins, almonds and fruit chutney called Bobotie in their homeland.
These are standards on which you can count. But I must tell you, the chef's specials are truly special. That these change continually is both good news and bad news. They never fail, however, to show a level of skill in their preparation, from the balance of textures to the depth of flavors. This is especially true of the simplest item on the menu, the soup of the day. Do not fail to order it, whatever it is. The carrot bisque, for one, is nothing short of sublime, creamy but not cloying, the refreshing sweetness of the carrot balanced by the crunchy tang of shredded caramelized onion.
Many of the wonderful tea-time treats are available to take home. Chief among them are the small scones, 85 cents each. These are true scones, not the dopey, icing-covered behemoths sold under the same name in chain bread shops around town.
And what a delight it is to nibble and sip in the dining rooms, with their pale yellow walls covered with paintings by local artists (all for sale) and cheerful valences at the windows. Fresh floral arrangements grace the tables, along with bowls of brown and white sugar crystals. (I am partial to the brown, myself.)
This is how divine The Farmhouse Tea Shoppe is: The butter pats are molded in the shapes of daisies and roses. How can you beat that?
__The Farmhouse Tea Shoppe, 5455 Chamblee Dunwoody Road at Mt. Vernon Road, Dunwoody, 770-673-0099. Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tea: Tuesday-Saturday, 3-5 p.m. Inexpensive for lunch, moderate for tea. Credit cards. Dress: casual, but not T-shirts and ripped jeans. Ambiance: sunny. Smoke-free environment. Reservations required for tea. Wheelchair accessible.