Charleston Tea Rooms: A Lowcountry Tradition
A distinct Lowcountry custom is upon us, and it’s a delightful one: Charleston tea rooms.
Spring means it’s time for the annual tea rooms, graciously hosted by historic churches in the area. It’s about as Charlestonian as you get, on so many levels.
It’s about the food.
This is your chance to savor Lowcountry delicacies such as she-crab soup, okra soup, tomato pie, shrimp paste sandwiches, chicken salad, shrimp remoulade, ham biscuits, pimento cheese. Many of the recipes – or receipts, as Charlestonians call them – are passed down from earlier generations and still made with the same tender loving care from fresh local ingredients.
And don’t forget the desserts. Traditionally waiters come around with large trays of handmade delights. Keep an eye peeled for coconut cake, Huguenot torte, lemon pie, Lady Baltimore cake, pound cake, tipsy pudding, pecan pie. People in the know go ahead and grab their favorite early, even before their entrée arrives, because they’re apt to sell out so fast.
It’s about helping others.
This isn’t just a great way to sample classic Lowcountry cuisine in historic settings, although it is that. It’s also a terrific way to help the less fortunate. Proceeds go to church missions, local nonprofits and charities including Crisis Ministries, Star Gospel Mission, Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, Charleston Port & Seafarer’s Society, and Hebron House.
So take heart in knowing that it’s all for a good cause.
Charleston tea rooms: How the tradition started
The tradition started back in the late 1940’s. Old St. Andrews Church in West Ashley is located along the main road that leads to several plantations – Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place Plantation. The ladies of started sharing lunch with the tourists who stopped to see their very historic church on the way to the plantations.
By 1953, it became officially known as the annual Old St. Andrews Tea Room and Gift Shop, and it’s been going every year since. As Mildred Strobel, president of The Church Women of Old St. Andrew’s, explains: “We continue this beloved tradition in that same spirit of hospitality.”
Since then, many other churches have joined in, and you have an abundant choice of churches and dates.
A few tea rooms have already taken place for the season, including Old St. Andrews (March) and St. Paul’s Church in Summerville (late March/early April). By the way, St. Paul’s is no small-scale effort. Over the years they have raised about a half a million dollars for charity and mission work. Their tea room is put on by 250 volunteers.
But there are several others, the biggies. They’re also the ones downtown and most convenient to our Isle of Palms luxury rentals.
A visit to Charleston tea rooms truly is a great way to experience authentic Lowcountry home cooking without having to cook it yourself, or find a local willing to have you over for lunch. Here’s an article by Hanna Raskin of the Post & Courier detailing the tradition of Charleston tea rooms and this season’s full offerings.
Here’s what’s coming up:
The St. Philips Tea Room,
St. Philip’s Church, 142 Church St., Charleston;
April 29-May 4
Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
“Seconds Please” Tea Room
342 Meeting St., Charleston:
Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.; Sunday 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
(This is the only one of area tea rooms offering Sunday service)
Grace Church Cathedral Tea Room and Boutique
98 Wentworth St., Charleston
May 27-June 1 – Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
June 3 – June 8 – Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
(Grace Church’s is a terrific one. It was featured on chef Sara Moulton’s show “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” on PBS. It also takes place during the Spoleto Festival and is a great lunch option between performances.) Here’s this year’s menu.
So check out one or more of some classic Charlestonian tea rooms. And when you need a good home base for Spoleto or a family getaway, be sure to call Exclusive Properties.
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger