In 1916, the Olympia Tea Room opened in Watch Hill, located at the heart of the bustling summer resort town. As their menu says, it’s been “famous not fancy” ever since. The restaurant was built to provide meals for tourists arriving from Westerly Station by trolley and staying in the rooming house adjoining the restaurant. The restaurant has survived several major fires and hurricanes. Until 1978, the three Greek Tremis brothers ran the restaurant, but since 1980, Chef Jack and Marcia Felber have been at the helm. Chef Felber is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and still works in the kitchen. His wife, Marcia, creates the artwork displayed in the restaurant and their daughter, Georgia, who is a Court of Masters Certified Master Sommelier, curates the restaurant’s Wine Spectator award-winning wine list.
Arriving at the Olympia Tea Room on a cool day, I took the restaurant in and imagined what it would have been like to be a customer there a hundred years ago. Back then, the patrons were undoubtedly dressed better – wearing suits, dresses and hats. Most people today are dressed casually, many coming in from a walk on the beach or off their boats. The restaurant is cozy with mostly well-worn and historic booths and a few tables available for seating. Additionally, there is a small bar at the back end of the restaurant. The black and white tile floors give the restaurant brightness, as do the windows overlooking Watch Hill Harbor. I really liked how the large mirrors reflected the view of the harbor, so everyone in the restaurant has a view.
Toasting to the Olympia’s 100th Anniversary, I started things off with a Watch Hill Mojito ($13). The drink was a perfectly blended concoction of Don Q Cristal Rum, mint, turbinado sugar, fresh lime juice, Pommery Champagne and topped with a Myers Dark Rum floater. I’m a huge mojito fan, and this was among the best I’ve had. It was on the tart side, just the way I like it and served in a pint glass garnished with a stalk of sugar cane and a wedge of lime. My dining guest enjoyed a Flying Jenny Pale Ale ($5.50) from Grey Sail in Westerly.
For starters, we were served warm bread accompanied by olive oil and cilantro as well as a jalapeno and white bean dip. The dip was mild and a nice addition to the bread service. Since it was a cool day, I ordered a cup of New England Clam Chowder ($6). The consistency of chowder is a funny thing. Some people prefer thick and some prefer it thin. I take the middle of the road, and the chowder here was just that – not too thick and not too thin. It was well seasoned and contained just enough clams to make me happy. We also sampled the Calamari ($14). At first we balked at the price, but once we saw how big the portion was, we agreed it was well worth it. There was more than enough for the two of us to share, plus have more for leftovers. The calamari was served fried but not breaded and was topped with plenty of hot peppers and a zesty marinara sauce.
Seaside restaurants are often judged based on the quality of their lobster roll. If the Lobster Roll ($22) at the Olympia Tea Room is your measure of its quality, the restaurant is top notch. The lobster was fresh and tender with only the bare minimum of mayonnaise and celery used. The lobster salad comes on a warm, buttery croissant and is served with your choice of fries or greens. Of course, we picked the fries, and they were delicious. We also sampled the Fish & Chips ($22). Again, this dish seemed pricy until I saw the enormous piece of fish, so big that it hung off the plate. The scrod was fresh, battered in a yummy ale batter and served with fries and cole slaw. I’m embarrassed to say that as big as the piece of fish was, I ate every bite. It was that good.
I fully intended to skip dessert, but in the interest of my food critic duties I decided to at least look at the dessert menu. When I saw the Avondale Swan ($12), I just couldn’t pass it up. A cream puff filled with ice cream swimming in a pool of hot fudge? Yes, please.It tasted as good as it sounded, and the dish was reminiscent of a profiterole. Everything (pastry shell, ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge) tasted good on its own, but together I couldn’t help but smile as I greedily scooped up every last bite.
Restaurants that last for 100 years must be doing something right, and I am pleased to report the Olympia Tea Room is doing it all right. As we jump into the summer season, every Rhode Islander should make a stop in to say “Happy anniversary,” grab a cocktail and enjoy the historic atmosphere. Hopefully in another 100 years, a new generation of patrons will be able to enjoy this piece of history.
Olympia Tea Room
74 Bay Street, Watch Hill