As vacation season kicks into high gear, let’s take a minute to give a shout out to the Preservation Society of Newport County.
These are the folks who protect and safeguard the famed Newport Mansions and make them a memorable destination for millions of visitors every year. They not only preserve these magnificent and historical architectural structures, but their work also drives a lot of visitors to our Island.
The Preservation Society is about to be very busy, hosting tourists seeking a taste of a Gilded Age, so it seems as good as time as any to thank them for all they do.
The Preservation Society is a good friend to the hospitality community. In addition to bringing all those tourists to town, they also host special events, like last weekend’s Flower Show at Rosecliff, special evenings with celebrity guests like "Downton Abbey" creator Lord Julian Fellowes and the annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival held every September.
The more events the society sponsors, the more people come to town. And when they come, they come hungry. And of course, when the mansions are rented for private affairs, local caterers reap the benefits. Blackstone Caterers, Gourmet Galley, Russell Morin Catering & Events and The Catered Affair are all caterers of choice for the mansions.
Every private event is an opportunity for more potential business. That’s a simpatico relationship if ever there was one.
The Preservation Society also has a partnership with the Stoneacre restaurants that allows you to have a one-of-a-kind Newport adventure. Every Friday through Sunday, the team at Stoneacre offers brunch and afternoon tea in the Chinese Tea House, located behind The Marble House.
It’s an opportunity to sit in this distinct structure atop the sea cliff, and watch the breaking waves while indulging in a brunch fit for a Vanderbilt or Astor. This is another example of the Preservation Society utilizing a partnership with our hospitality community to create a uniquely Newport experience.
Before brunch, consider taking the Marble House tour so you can approach your meal with some knowledge of your surroundings. When Marble House was completed in 1892, it was considered the most lavish house in America.
It was built by William Kissam Vanderbilt and gifted to his wife Alva as a 39th birthday present (just like I gave my wife on her birthday). When Alva and William split up in 1895 due to Willie’s philandering, Alva was able to hold on to the “summer cottage,” since it had been a gift to her.
She then went on to marry Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont and lived with him at his mansion down the road, Belcourt. When Belmont died in 1908, Alva moved back to Marble House and had the Chinese Tea House built on the seaside cliff on the property.
It is modeled after a 12th-century Song Dynasty temple, likely an inspiration from her worldly travels. Alva used the Tea Hose building to host rallies for her life’s work: women’s suffrage. Like all the mansions in Newport, the walls of the Tea House could tell some great stories.
The Tea House menu is a pre-fixe combination that starts with a tea tower stacked with small sandwiches and thoughtful tastes. Nibble on a Cucumber and Boursin Tea Sandwich and then move on to a Ricotta Tartlet with peas and mint.
The buttery Biscuits with Devonshire cream and jam are a standout as is the Jamon Tartine with goat cheese and date puree. There is also a nice offering of beer and wine, as well as brunch cocktails like Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Genmaicha Green Tea comes with the Tea Tray.
As you sit back and sip a glass of rosé and choose delights from the tower of food, the waves crashing onto Cliff Walk, you begin to feel you have ventured to another time. You start to look for Alva — or at least her butler — to come by and say hello.
The entree selection following the tea tray is yours to choose. Maybe you are in the mood for a fresh slice of Quiche with caramelized onion, cauliflower and greens. Perhaps an order of Wild Mushroom Toast with black garlic and arugula is more your style. Or maybe the Pork Belly with polenta and pickled pearl onions is your jam.
Each selection is full of fresh seasonal flavors. Naturally there’s a dessert course, too — a sampling of four sweet treats, which includes two types of fresh baked macarons, a chocolate gluten-free brownie and a delightfully crunchy snickerdoodle cookie.
Everything is prepared on-site in the makeshift kitchen the Stoneacre team has set up in the lower level of the Tea House. Everything is served with the kind and caring service we’ve come to expect at any Stoneacre restaurant.
Inside the Tea House, a corner area is set up for drink service and there is a walkup area on the porch where you can grab a coffee or cold drink to enjoy on the Marble House grounds. It’s a bit on the pricy side, but for the quality and effort it takes to turn a building built in the early 1900s into a working kitchen, it’s worth it.
It’s an experience you won’t get anywhere. It is so uniquely Newport.
Thank you Preservation Society of Newport County for bringing the tourists and for gifting the Gilded age to the world. The hospitality community is grateful. Together, we make Newport a special place to visit. While most of our “summer cottages” are not as extravagant as the mansions of Newport, our meals sure are!
Dan Lederer is a Middletown resident with 30 years experience in the food service industry throughout New England. He continues to work locally behind the scenes within the industry and remains a devoted fan of all things restaurant and hospitality related. His column appears on newportri.com and Thursdays in The Daily News. Cheers!
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Brunch at the Chinese Tea House is a unique Newport RI experience