Reno Eats: The Isles Teashop
In this installment of Reno Eats, we stop by the Isles Teashop on Center Street in Reno to speak with Tom McCormick, the Isles quirky general manager, to experience a little taste of Ireland and the United Kingdom right here in the Biggest Little City.
It’s a cold, wet morning in Reno and the damp weather is a complement to the British-style atmosphere being recreated at the Isles Teashop, a little café in the Midtown District. The building itself was once an old house and you get that cozy, home-like feeling when you walk in the front door. The smell of fresh baked goods fills the warm air and Celtic music plays in the background.
Tom McCormick appears from the kitchen. He’s clad in formal Irish attire: a green argyle kilt, a white button up dress shirt and white socks pulled up to his knees and folded over at the top. He says his outfit is part of the Isles experience.
“It’s all just kind of a fun interaction. It’s almost like a big play with good food.”
The tables at the shop are very intimate, with cushioned high-back chairs and place settings accented by flower-print teacups and saucers. Covering the wall next to the table is an image of Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland, allowing patrons to feel as if they are sipping tea at an overlook of this medieval fortress. McCormick sits down with fresh baked scones and a kettle of tea, all of which he’s prepared himself, just as he does every day.
“I do all the baking. And we have cold sandwiches and salads and stuff like that. So it’s just a matter of balancing it all, yeah I can do it. It seems like it’s kind of crazy, because I love entertaining and chatting with people and all that. It’s all part of a show in the end.”
McCormick is a cheerful man. His electric laugh seems to fill the air around him with positive energy. Being the restaurant’s main chef and also Irish, he's proud of the Isles menu, which has expanded since his sister opened shop in 2007.
“We were just doing tea scones to start. And then people would come in and by food and they say to my sister we’d really love to sit here and eat it. So she kept expanding the menu. We started with a luncheon menu, which are things like English Irish food pasties, sausage rolls, Scottish meat pies, corn beef and cabbage sandwich.”
As the menu evolved, so did the English style dining experience. In 2009, the Isles started to offer high tea.
“The way we do it is a three tier presentation of food. On the bottom you get all these little finger sandwiches; you have a choice from six different sandwiches. The second layer, you get a choice of our absolutely fabulous scones. On the top you get sweets, fruits, tea cake, shortbread that I make, cookies, truffles, with your tea of course.”
The Isles Teashop is small. At its maximum capacity, the restaurant only seats 16 people. When the weather is nice, they can seat an addition 16 people in their outdoor patio. Along with British style cuisine, they also offer other items for sale.
In the gift shop you can find authentic British clothing like kilts and Celtic jewelry and they have an entire grocery wall dedicated to special foods imported straight from the U.K. and Ireland. Items like Digestives, which despite their name are semi-sweet biscuits, known here in America as cookies. McCormick describes some of the other products for sale that are difficult to find in the U.S.
“Certain types of items that are really different, pickled items, Branston Pickle, HP Sauce which their version of A-1 Sauce but they put it on everything, these things up top called squash which is fruit concentrates that they really, really love and you just don’t get anywhere else, haggis. You’re not going to get haggis over here in the States.”
Canned haggis is available at the Isles Teashop.
For those who don’t know, haggis is the national dish of Scotland and it’s more of novelty than your typical tea and scones. Haggis is a large spherical sausage of sorts. The stuffing is made from the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep. It’s all finely chopped, combined with mutton and oatmeal and seasoned with onion and spices. The mixture is then packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. After learning what’s in this dish, one may begin to understand why the idea of haggis in a can is cause for surprise.
Haggis is usually served on January 25 known as Burns Night, one of the many British holidays they celebrate at the Isles Teashop.
“Robert Burns, the Poet Laureate of Scotland. They have a big dinner every year in honor of him. And one of the big deals at that is they do a blessing of the haggis. They cook a fresh haggis, they bring it in, they salute it, they drink to it. Then they serve it with the dinner after everybody’s had enough whiskey that is.”
The more adventurous eaters who attend the Burns Night festivities at the Isles Teashop can enjoy fresh haggis that’s been frozen and flown in directly from Scotland, offering Reno residents the chance to experience this authentic cuisine right here at home.
Reno Eats is an occasional segment from Beyond the Headlines where we explore the diverse local restaurants and the people in our community who bring that food to your table.