Story and Photos by Kaitlin Hill
The Plains is a favorite country escape for Washingtonians and an easy drive from Middleburg at just fifteen minutes. The idyllic community is big on small-town aesthetic made manifest on a stroll down Main Street – a distinctive collection of locally owned shops and eateries. One of the most unique is Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room where owner Salvatrice DeLuca, or Sally, sells a small selection of treasures and offers a traditional English tea service.
In 2007, DeLuca, a Georgetown University graduate and lifelong antique collector, opened her shop as part of a retirement plan after 10 years teaching English as a second language and 20 years as a nonprofit executive. For DeLuca, the tea service was initially an afterthought and, in the business’ sophomore year, a survival strategy during difficult times.
“In 2008, the recession hit and the antiques business was not doing very well. We had a separate room in the back, so we put three little tables and we just started doing tea and cookies and sweets. And then someone said, ‘You should really have the tea sandwiches.’ So we did that. One thing led to another, and the tea business began,” DeLuca remembers. “It was a total accident, but it kept us going during some very rough economic times.”
As the tea service grew in popularity, the focus of DeLuca’s business shifted. “I kind of struggled a little bit because, in my mind, I was an antiques dealer who happened to have a tea room on the side. When in reality, I had a tea room that sold maybe a few antiques once in a while.”
But the switch wasn’t a total departure from her interests. The self-described Anglophile modeled her tea service after the British mainstay, central to a culture she reveres. “I love all things related to England and afternoon tea is a big part of the culture over there.” She continues, “This is like what you might find in a little village in the countryside in England. It’s not fancy, it’s not tea at the Ritz or the Savoy, but in England, everywhere you go has a tea room like this – very informal, something run by family.”
Delightfully unfussy and undeniably welcoming, DeLuca’s tea room is appropriately dressed with antique knick-knacks that make the space feel less like a storefront and more like your favorite grandmother’s parlor. Cow-shaped creamers and delicate jam jars sit alongside floral placemats on dissimilar tables with mismatched chairs.
Like the enchanting décor, the teas are also artfully blended. Crest Hill’s custom created teas include concoctions like Lady Grantham’s Diamonds & Gold, a black tea flavored with chocolate, dark cherry, and gold candies, or Other Linda’s Roasted Almond, an aromatic oolong with almond, coconut, and cinnamon, named for a friend of the business. DeLuca mentions, “We wanted something for everybody – a variety of flavor profiles – fruity teas, spicy teas, floral teas, there are plain teas, toasty teas.” With so many teas to choose from, the owner encourages each guest to make a game of sniffing samples to aid the selection process.
Crest Hill doesn’t skimp on edible options, either. The menu transcends the typical, offering rotating desserts of the day and a la carte in addition to traditional tea fare. Try the Full Monty, which includes a little of everything. This multi-tiered treat tray is stacked with an assortment of tea sandwiches, warm savories, fresh-baked cakes, delicate cookies and massive scones to be slathered in Devon cream, jam and tart lemon curd. The supersize scones are surprisingly light in texture yet packed with flavor. The cinnamon pecan version doesn’t need adornment, but the generously filled pots of accompaniments invite guests to smear liberally.
Even more, her menus support most dietary concerns. DeLuca explains, “We ask people when they make a reservation if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions. As long as we know in advance, we can do gluten-free, we can do vegan, vegetarian, we can accommodate requests.” She adds, “The baker does fabulous gluten-free cinnamon scones.”
From bridal showers and Halloween-inspired parties to a 50th Anniversary Celebration of The Beatles and a Royal Wedding-themed event, DeLuca and her team do it all. For the entire month of May, Crest Hill will run a Mother’s Day tea perfect for kids looking to pamper their loved ones like royalty.
Though influenced by her love of all things across the pond, DeLuca sources products much closer to home. She says, “I try to support local business, and I’m so lucky. You’ll see why when you taste everything.” Her specialty tea blends are created by Marsha Richards of Tea of All Reasons in Winchester, and her baked goods come from Diane Montemorano of Anna Banana Sweets in Summerduck. The adorable tea cozies are even made by an employee – Liz deChanval.
Tea at Crest Hill is an experience like none other, and it has become a fixture in the community. It serves as one of life’s few remaining pause buttons and an invitation for friends and family to connect over shared food, warm beverages, and meaningful conversation. Finally, it’s an expertly executed example of the lost art of gracious hosting and simplicity done well. Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room gets it just right, and an afternoon there is certainly time well spent.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.