At the Dunbar Tea Room in Sandwich, Massachusetts, Paula Hegarty is carrying on a tradition of hospitality that probably started when European immigrants discovered the rich land that is Cape Cod and decided to settle there. The town of Sandwich, the oldest on the Cape, was founded in 1637.
Housed in the building originally used as a carriage house, the tearoom is next door to the 264-year-old Dunbar House, where Paula and her husband make their home. Despite its lengthy history, only five families have owned the property.
The Dunbar Tea Room offers visitors a chance to have a cup of tea or a full meal from the varied menu that changes seasonally. Paula is careful to structure both the menu and the beverage offerings to appeal to men as well as women.
“I think it helps that we have a beer and wine license. Men like to come in and know they can have a Belhaven or a Speckled Hen with a shepherd’s pie,” Paula says. “We carry a good variety of British, Scottish, and Irish beers, and we have a sizeable menu filled with both tea foods, such as finger sandwiches, and heartier choices.”
But don’t think these beverage offerings diminish the importance of the flavorful teas served here. In addition to a selection of Harney & Sons teas, varieties from Mark T. Wendell Tea Company, a Massachusetts firm, are offered. However, one of the most popular teas served in the tearoom is a black currant with ginger tea, called Courtship, which Paula buys locally. If the tea you are served strikes your fancy and you want to take some home, visit the small room off the gift shop filled from floor to ceiling with various teas and packaged gourmet foods. And don’t forget to browse the collection of British gift items, fine teapots, cozies, and more in the gift shop.
The tearoom has all the appeal of a cozy drawing room in an English manor home, with rich, warm, wood-paneled walls and a fireplace nestled between built-in shelves that house an impressive collection of beautiful teapots and other tea necessities. During spring and summer days, a tented patio is offered for alfresco dining.
Many of the recipes used in the Dunbar kitchen were purchased from the previous owner, and as many are the creation of the talented staff. Paula notes, “We are always looking for, and trying, new things. Some have been great choices, and they have become standards with us.” Summer, especially, is a season of experimenting with fresh fruits and vegetables.
“My husband and I are both foodies. We’re into really good-quality food, and that is all part of the philosophy of owning this place. I would not serve anything that I would not eat myself,” Paula says. “We shop daily and pick our own produce. If I can get it locally grown, I do.”
Whether you are in the mood for a light tea or a hearty lunch, the menu offers variety for every preference. Afternoon tea is served with assorted finger sandwiches, a freshly baked scone with accompanying strawberry jam and cream, and a dessert tray selection. Perhaps the most popular dish is the Cumberland Crumpet, a luscious concoction that builds on toasted crumpets. “We spread the crumpet with cranberry sauce, then we add our own savory chicken salad, top it with shredded cheddar, and put it in the oven till the cheese melts,” says Paula.
One of the most memorable parts of any visit to Dunbar Tea Room is the wonderful dessert bar, laden with beautiful, delicious cakes and pies. “Most popular are the bumbleberry pie and the princess cake. The pie, a combination of blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry, rests in a deep crust and has a crumb topping. Princess cake, a dense pound cake, has raspberry filling and an almond buttercream frosting and is garnished with almonds and cherries. We make all our cakes very tall, and they are just beautiful,” says Paula. “We have thought seriously about doing a cookbook, but it is just a matter of having the time.”
The tearoom is open year-round, with the busiest days coming with the Cape’s tourist season, June through September. A winter highlight is the reading of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, given Sunday evenings in December. “We have a fire going, we serve a full gourmet dinner, and we have two wonderful men who come in and do the reading,” says Paula. This event is usually booked by the end of October, she adds.
Dunbar Tea Room is located at 1 Water Street, Sandwich, Massachusetts. The gift shop opens at 10 a.m., and the tearoom opens at 11 a.m. Closing is at 5 p.m. in summer and 4:30 p.m. in winter. After-hours parties can be booked by calling 508-833-2485 or visiting dunbarteashop.com.
Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the information listed above was correct. However, please be sure to verify this information before making plans to visit to ensure it has not changed.