To me, there is nothing more perfect than a cup of sweet milky tea and a cookie or cake to accompany it. Even better when the tea is served from gold-plated, floral-printed china. You know, the kind that necessitates an elevated pinky to fully enjoy. Naturally, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Mrs. MacGregor’s Restaurant, famous for its tea-room appeal. I was soon to find out that Mrs. MacGregor’s is a lot more than just a tea room.
Helen Buchan, co-owner and baker, tells me of a woman who recently poked her head in the screen door of the restaurant and asked, “Do you serve beer?” After receiving an affirmative from Helen, the woman returned with her friend and their two husbands. I guess the beer is a good way to ensure a diversity of clientele when tea and shortbread biscuits is often the order of the day.
We arrived at the bustling restaurant for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. My husband, secure in his manliness and the son of a salt-of-the-earth tea-drinking Newfoundlander, was almost as excited about the prospect of tea as the possibility of beer. We were soon seated and sipping on homemade lemonade while taking turns wrangling spoons, menus and salt shakers out of our baby daughter Ada’s grabby hands.
To start, I ordered the soup of the day, a thick blend of tomato, basil and parmesan, which was perfectly seasoned and tasted like an end-of-summer harvest. My husband, an enthusiastic wanderer on the Adventures in Taste Chowder Trail, ordered the lobster claw-laden seafood chowder. Both soups were served with warm whole wheat scones and butter.
Despite the fact that I could have eaten another half dozen scones for lunch and been quite satisfied, we decided to order mains. My hubby had the salad of the day, a hearty pile of mixed greens with chicken, goat cheese and walnuts.
There was no question that I would have “The Best Lobster Roll in Town”. With a name like that, who could resist? My sandwich was stuffed full with huge chunks of lobster coated in a light dressing, and was served with a garden salad topped with a tasty house-made maple vinaigrette. It was the sunny-day lunch.
By the time we finished our meals, Ada was getting pretty squirrely. She’d thrown a decent portion of her chicken on the floor and squished several slices of cucumber into the crevices of the high chair. I located Helen and told her we were going to take the little one for a walk and come back for dessert, to which she replied, “Of course. She’s the boss for now; just don’t tell her that.” Truer words have never been said.
We returned a couple hours later and promptly ordered two sticky toffee puddings with a big pot of Scottish blend tea. Helen sat down with her own mug of steaming brew and chatted with us while we ate. She told us of her move to Pictou from Toronto with hopes of starting up a tea room with her husband. She had always sought out tea rooms when dining out because, as she described, it meant the food was homemade and the ingredients were fresh and often local.
I’m having a bit of a hard time concentrating on the conversation. My mouth is filled with tender, warmly spiced cake and thick toffee. I take a sip of tea to counterbalance the sweetness on my palate, and mentally return to the conversation. Helen tells us that all the food is made in-house using as many local ingredients as possible.
As if running a busy restaurant wasn’t enough, Helen has also started a line of Mrs. MacGregor’s Shortbreads in a variety of flavours, and creates stunning wedding cakes “on the side”. When the restaurant closes as the weather cools and the tourist season comes to an end, Helen will hit up Christmas craft sales across the province with her shortbread.
Our stomachs are full, but on the way out we pick up a couple of bags of shortbread for the road. And by “for the road” I mean to be torn open the moment Ada’s car seat straps are buckled and our tires begin to turn back toward Halifax. There may be sugary crumbs all over our upholstery, but we are happy travellers.