Friday, September 28, 2012

The Front Street Tea Room: Free Thinking to Tea Drinking

            Comfort, Texas is one of the many small towns just a short drive outside of San Antonio.  Nestled in the hill country, it boasts the most well preserved business district in Texas with buildings dating back to the 1800’s. What’s most interesting is that Comfort was founded by German immigrants and Freethinkers. In case you’re a touch rusty on your philosophy, Freethinkers thought that opinions and ideas should be based on logic and reason, not tradition. Although the funky and offbeat is enthralling to explore, I always take comfort (pun intended) in the things that have stuck to the script. Comfort’s spotlighted teahouse, The Front Street Tea Room exemplifies tradition.

            It’s always a joy to stumble upon an establishment that operates a teahouse in its customary form. No overwhelming menus, no ordering counter, no funky spin on tea, and no gimmicks. Just a small teahouse that serves a concise, well thought out lunch and afternoon tea to guests in a comfortable setting. I can’t help but applaud those that have managed to keep a teahouse or tearoom both modest and professional while staying true to the original purpose of such a restaurant. When it really comes down to it, a true tea enthusiast ought to appreciate the fundamentals of the original teahouse: decent china, a few lunch options, a variety of fresh tea sweets or cookies, and a selection of high quality tea. Customers should feel like guests in their friend’s living room.  

When one finds such a place off the main street of a small hill country town (it’s bright green, you can’t miss it) you just can’t help but be drawn in. And what better way to be welcomed as a guest than to be asked to join in singing “Happy Birthday” to an ongoing party while the pastry chef brings out a surprise cake? I had only just walked in the door and I already felt like I was amongst friends. But that’s really no surprise given Front Street’s quaint setting and three-woman crew. Doreen Tavera owns Front Street and has an exceptional chef working to create wonderful menu options that are first tested by the local storeowners of Comfort. Only when the people of Comfort approve of a dish can it be placed on the menu.

I can’t help but give bonus points to a teahouse that really is a house, especially if the shower is still intact in the bathroom. The Front Street house is a one-story home complete with a gravel drive way, three main rooms, old wood floors, pale blue walls, and a spacious backyard. Walk around and the creak of the floors might transport you to your grandmother’s house. The back yard is green and contains an ivy-covered arch entrance and well-shaded bench. Flowers line the edges of the yard with color. The theme of the house is cats and vintage hats wrapped up in antiques and antique furniture. I believe I counted just five or six tables in both rooms. Talk about making yourself at home. If it had been a cold day I would have parked myself by the fireplace one can only hope would be aglow for afternoon tea.
Hat covered fire place mantle

Vintage card table 

The backyard and garden

 From the menu, a turkey and Swiss Panini, chicken grape walnut salad, chocolate chunk scones, pot of Vanilla Crème tea, and a pot of Cherry Rose tea were ordered. As a bonus, a piece of chocolate cake from the party was added for lending a voice in the celebration. None of these items disappointed. The salad was delicious and the daily special of the chocolate scone was fresh and dense with chocolate goodness. I would imagine that it helps to have an extensive herb garden in the back yard to directly supplement the kitchen. I was especially impressed by the sand timers that came out with the teapots to assure guests when the tea is fully brewed. Without it I wouldn’t have known to let the Cherry Rose sit for seven minutes in order to bring out the completed rose taste. By the end of the dining experience my sweet tooth was fully satisfied with both dessert and tea.

Lizzie's ready to dive into that salad

"I prefer for my tea pots to match the dress I'm wearing each day. It would be common not to!"-Lizzie

Other than experiencing a more traditional teahouse that has perfected the art of keeping things simple, I found the most satisfaction in being able to get to know Doreen. Being that Front Street is a small operation, she was able to give us the scoop on the house, furniture, garden and of course, her cats. That seems to be the way it should be done. Not only should teahouses be for friends who enjoy chatting over afternoon tea, but also chatting with the owners and other tea enthusiasts that have come to the table for the same reasons you have. Maybe you just swap a couple comments about the weather. Maybe you exchange a few “freethinking” ideas. Maybe you help sing “Happy Birthday” and congratulate another year lived. Either way, to find a teahouse that provides the environment to do so is refreshing and made oh so sweeter by the selection of the tangible refreshments. The Darjeeling Darlings give the Front Street Tea Room 9/10 stars for their lovely house, welcoming staff, and simple but sweet food/tea selection.


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