Ye Olde English Shoppe and Tea Room
3606 Old Phila Pike _Intercourse, PA
I grew up visiting Great Britain in the summertime and doing such things as eating high tea (a meal that seemed more like “supper” to me than the hot drink after which it is named) at my great aunt’s big, old house in the English countryside or cream tea at one of London’s finer department stores (which brings to mind delicious, cream-stuffed, buttery pastries and éclairs). When Americans talk to me about having “tea,” what we end up having is usually more reminiscent of eating currant buns (although Americans don’t eat real currant buns. I’ve discovered that currant scones make a fairly good substitute) and drinking tea at some little pastry shop in Tunbridge Wells on a Saturday morning than what I think of when I think of “tea.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with currant buns and tea at 11:00, but it isn’t “tea.” However, now that I’ve been to Ye Olde English Shoppe and Tea Room in Intercourse, PA on many occasions, if any American wants to invite me to tea at this place, I will jump at the opportunity to relive my childhood memories.
The shop seems somewhat out of place in this village, which is Amish Central. Its storefront is located in a little strip of stores with a long wooden, front porch that is much more likely to bring to mind “Little House on the Prairie” than “Little House in an English Village.” However, once you step inside the door, you enter a whole new world, all Victorian flowers and décor. The front room is a shop that sells imported china, jewelry, and other items. More importantly, it sells food, the sort of food that is hard to find in Lancaster County, if you are someone who longs for certain British “delicacies” like Mars Bars, Marmite, Digestive Biscuits, and Salad Cream. I stop at the store regularly to stock up on such items.
If you have come for lunch or tea (and you’d better make reservations, if you plan to do so, especially during the summer months), you will most likely be greeted by the proprietress. You will know her by her English accent and her friendly warmth (that warmth especially on display if you happen to buy a jar of Marmite, something most Americans don’t buy). You will be led into any number of cozy rooms, all pinks and yellows and lavenders and presented with a menu that is a little bit odd, to say the least, since it features, yes, high tea, but also a good old Ploughman’s lunch (in England, that’s pub fare, not tea room fare). I have yet to try the Ploughman’s lunch, because I do not plough, and thus, it (sausage roll, wedge of sharp cheese, French bread stick, and pickles served with a salad garnish) always seems a bit heavy for my middle-of-the-day meal, but one of these days, I will have to skip breakfast (or maybe hop a plough with an Amish farmer or two for a few hours on a Saturday morning) and stray from the delicious “quiche of the day and salad” to try it. It’s going to be hard to give up that quiche, though, with its delicate crust, non-greasy, egg-y filling, and fresh ingredients, like to-mah-toes and mushrooms. I enjoy the salad served with tangy, light mayonnaise-y salad cream. That stuff comes in a bottle, and I am sure it is full of all kinds of ingredients that are not good for you, but I was served it at so many relatives’ houses traveling around England when I was young, that a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers topped with it (even more than strawberries and cream at Wimbledon) has come to mean “England” to me.
When I take visiting friends to Ye Old English Shoppe for tea, we have typically been eating our way around Lancaster County and don’t need high tea. We do very well with a scone filled with cream and jam or with crumpets served with butter and jam, and a choice from a wide variety of teas, served in individual, flowered pots. I like Earl Grey and fruity herbal teas (I know, not what any true Englishman would drink, but there you have it), so I usually have one of those. I have always loved the British tradition of serving baked goods with cream and jam rather than butter and jam. It provides a lift and lightness to something as heavy as a scone that butter could never provide. I have yet to find any other shop where I can get real crumpets. How to describe a crumpet to someone who’s never had one, which I find myself constantly having to do? The best I can come up with is a cross between a pancake and an English muffin, but that doesn’t really do it justice. You’ll just have to eat one yourself and see what you think.
I linger over my food at this shop. Sometimes I go alone with a book, pretending to read while I eavesdrop on tourists’ reactions. I have yet to hear anyone voice displeasure. My only displeasure is stepping out of the shop and back into my American reality (although, if I close my eyes and listen to the clip-clop of an Amish buggy passing by, sometimes I can prolong the moment by pretending I am in 19th-century London, umbrella in hand, ready to walk back through the drizzle, having just had tea at a good neighbor’s house).