My blood pressure drops by degrees when I walk through the primrose and ivy-covered arbor into Chestnut Tree Garden Tea Room, on the south side of the square in historical downtown Denton, Texas. The soothing background music calms my soul, as does the soft lighting, the gentle clatter of silverware and dishes, and the murmur of light, friendly conversation.
I relax and soak up the warmth of the room. I am surrounded by faux greenery that creates the illusion of a garden courtyard. The sunny-yellow walls are the backdrop for a revolving display of paintings and photographs by area artists mixed among floral tapestries. An assortment of miniature chandeliers and standing lamps provide most of the light in the room, and the cheerful white tables are dressed with hunter green cloth napkins and fanciful salt-and-pepper shakers. Above me, grapevines intertwine with tiny white lights, a bouquet of baskets hangs from the ceiling, and birdhouses and butterflies abound.
I feel a bit like a little girl at a tea party except that I am surrounded by mostly middle-aged-and-older women as well as a few men. Charles, my waiter, brings a napkin-lined basket of mini-muffins to the table and takes my drink order. I choose the passion fruit-flavored tea and pop the irresistible muffins in my mouth, one after another, first smearing them with Chestnut Tree's extravagant honey and strawberry butters. I'm off to a good start.
It is late and the usual busy lunch crowd is thinning, so Charles has the leisure to spend some time with me. Based on his suggestions, I choose a variation on the tea plate sampler from the menu. We talk about the celebrities who have eaten at Chestnut Tree, including Kathy Bates and Renee Zellweger, as well as the Denton-based rock band, Midlake, that filmed part of their Hometown Texas town video for MTV in the restaurant. Noticing that I've downed another glass while we chatted, Charles brings me black current iced tea this time--his favorite--to sip on until my lunch arrives. I feel like I'm getting the royal treatment, even if I'm not Renee Zellweger or Kathy Bates.
Let's talk food. Any sandwich on Chestnut Tree's signature beer bread is a winner. While there are seven other bread choices, the beer bread makes an otherwise ordinary ham and swiss or turkey breast sandwich unforgettable. The egg and chicken salads, not too soggy nor dry, are cut above homemade. The chicken and basil quiche is a sure bet, but so are all five varieties of quiche that sell out every day. I could make a meal of the side broccoli salad it's so yummy, but if I wanted a just a salad for lunch, I'd go with the spinach or the Caesar. I suggest you save enough room for Chestnut Tree's most popular dessert—the Strawberry Pretzel, a typical southern dish made from Jell-O, whipped and cream cheese with a pretzel-butter crust.
Before I leave, Charles brings me a Peach iced tea to go (it is a tea room, after all), and I take a moment to check out the gift shop that I passed on the way in. I thumb through the restaurant's cookbook. If you can't make it to Denton to eat at Chestnut Tree, then order the book, which has many of this lunch spot's best recipes, for $12.95 plus tax and $5.95 shipping by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In my opinion, it's worth double the price.
Try this popular soup recipe from the new Chestnut Tree Tea Room Cookbook, and let me know what you think:
Chestnut Tree Tea Room's Baked Potato Soup
4 large baking potatoes
2/3 C. butter or margarine
2/3 C. all-purpose flour
6 C. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 green onions, chopped and divided
12 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled, divided
1-1/4 C. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 (8-oz.) carton of sour cream
Wash potatoes and prick several times with fork; bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until done. Let cool. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; then scoop out pulp. Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat; add all-purpose flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, sitrring constantly. Gradually add 6 cups milk; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Add potato pulp, salt, pepper, 2 TBS. green onion, 1/2 C. bacon and 1 cup cheese. Cook until thoroughly heated; stir in sour cream. Add extra milk, if necessary, for desired thickness. Serve with remaining onion, bacon and cheese. Yield: 10 cups.
Chestnut Tree Tea Room
107 W. Hickory Street, Denton, TX (940) 591-9475
Tea Room Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Gift Shop Hours: Monday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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I'm a staff writer, special contributor and digital producer for the Dallas Morning News and dallasnews.com, and I've written numerous features for the Denton Record-Chronicle. My articles and columns have been published in D Magazine, FD Luxe, Edible DFW, Crave DFW, 360 West, HOME, and other newspapers and in-print and online magazines.
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