Oxford Hall in New Cumberland: Enjoy a cup of tea, taste of Ireland
Location: 233 Bridge St., New Cumberland
Cuisine: Irish and British
Jess' pick: Scotch Egg, $4.50; cup of Irish Potato Soup, $3.50; Guinness Brownie, $2.50; iced tea, $1.25
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m Thursday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $1, some sweets in case; $9.50, Traditional Irish/U.K. Breakfast including two eggs, bangers, rasher, sides
Accepts: Cash and credit
Kid's menu: No
Details: Call 877-719-9988 or visit oxfordhall.com
Shop, sit down, talk.
That's the mindset of British and Irish cafes, and the foundation for New Cumberland's Oxford Hall.
The Hall's co-owners, Cindy Washburn and her husband, Steve, have traveled over the Atlantic about 15 times. And every time they were abroad, they noticed they ate healthier.
"These really light, fresh meals were absolutely exquisite to us," Cindy Washburn said. Her health improved, and "we felt better," she said. "It was because we weren't eating all of this processed, fast food."
It wasn't just a change in what they were eating. It was how they were eating, too.
"People were meeting and greeting people downtown. People were gathering in the cafes," Washburn said. "Steve and I were like, this must've been what America was like before it went suburban."
So they tried to re-create that experience by adding a tea room to their gift shop. But it's not the type of tea room where you hold up your pinky as you sip a spot of tea. It's the type of tea room where conversation is encouraged among families and strangers. It's a place to meet neighbors – and travelers.
"Yesterday I had a young lady from Brooklyn who said, every time she comes back to visit her friends, she comes here," Washburn said.
Oxford Hall started as a gift shop in New Oxford in 1985, owned by Steve's parents. Their English and Irish heritage prompted them to sell antiques imported from both countries.
The business grew to include fashions and a second location in New Cumberland.
Eventually, Steve and Cindy bought the business from his parents, closed the New Oxford location and moved in 2009 to a larger building in New Cumberland, Cindy Washburn said.
On a recent Sunday, I followed sidewalk easels pointing toward the corner shop.
Inside are various rooms offering a multitude of international wares, from jewelry to Guinness merchandise, First Communion dresses and art.
The tea room is in the back left corner of the shop – you can follow the signs, or your nose.
At the counter is a menu and a display case full of sweet treats, including scones, turnovers, cookies and rice pudding.
Oxford Hall offers a Traditional Irish/U.K. Breakfast with two eggs, bangers, rasher and sides ($9.50). Flapjacks and bowls of oatmeal are also hearty options to start your day.
For lunch, Irish BLTs, meat pies and curry tuna melts are available in addition to soups and other sandwiches. All of the soups are made from scratch, Washburn said.
I ordered a cup of Irish Potato soup ($3.50) with a Scotch Egg ($4.50) and Oxford's fresh-brewed iced tea ($1.25).
The potato soup was a creamy, pureed blend, served with fresh bread. Then came the Scotch Egg -- a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and baked. It was served with a homemade sauce, cantaloupe slices and grapes.
As I noshed, more people arrived, quickly filling the tea room, with tables and a long bench seat against one wall. Along another wall, imported goods – jellies, sauces, cookies, loose and packaged teas -- were for sale to take home.
But I opted to take home an Oxford Hall baked good – a Guinness brownie ($2.50). Washburn says it's hard to keep them on the shelf, and indeed, there were only a few left the day I visited. It's easy to taste why. The rich, fudgy treat features chocolate chips and was a sweet way to remember my visit to the New Cumberland tea room.
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