Sponsored for the 18th year by the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce, and chaired this year by Blue Heron Realty Co. client, Tammy Holloway, owner of the gorgeous Bay Haven B&B, the annual Cape Charles Holiday Progressive Dinner is always a fun event, homes dressed to the nines, holiday lights blazing, food, wine and lots of good cheer. But what sets the Cape Charles event apart from progressive dinners all across the South (where they are very popular) is its wonderful entertainment. Due largely to the influence of the Arts Enter ! theatre group sponsored by the historic Palace Theatre, the Cape Charles Progressive Dinners always feature a special theme and offer entertainment, usually consisting of numerous vignettes produced by the theatre group, with each home on the Tour playing its part in the theme. This year’s theme was ” A Victorian Winter Wedding“. Like the town itself, it is set at the turn of the century, and revolves around the elaborate preparations for the wedding ( fictional) of the Mayor of Cape Charles to the son of a well-liked local businessman. The wedding theme was embellished at every stop on the Tour, as each home offered a glimpse of a particular aspect of the extensive preparations for the wedding. To better set the mood, at each stop the home’s owner, host and greeters were elaborately costumed in elegant period fashion. ( One of the really clever aspects was that the Mayor’s daughter was marrying the son of one of the town’s foremost businessmen, the builder W. H. Lambertson, and two of the homes on this year’s Progressive Dinner were actually built by W.H. Lambertson in the early 1900’s.)
The evening kicked off at the striking, art-deco style Palace Theatre, built-in 1941 and now fully refurbished, thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Art’s Enter. We were in the early group, started at 3:20, ended about 6:00 pm. In general, organizers have it arranged so that ticket holders consist of groups of about 25 and departures staggered about 20 minutes apart. At the theatre, setting the evening’s theme, we were treated to a short play starring the irrepressible Trina Veber, veteran of many Progressive Dinner vignettes, in the key role of the Mayor’s wife, mother of the bride, anxious to uphold her position as a pillar of Cape Charles society. Here we learn that although the Mayor is cheap, famous for pinching pennies, his wife has arranged to have the wedding dress purchased and fitted by the most prestigious dress shop in town, whose owner has recently made a buying trip to New York City to secure a variety of lovely but expensive dresses for this high society wedding. We also learn that so many guests are expected that both the Cape Charles Inn ( in real life also an inn, the Chesapeake B&B) and the famous ( in real life as well) Miss Mollie’s Boarding House, (where the portrait painter for the official wedding portrait will be staying ), both will be filled with VIP wedding guests. As the little play ends, the audience is left wondering if Daddy isn’t going to throw a conniption fit when he gets the bill for all the grand wedding preparations. But we shall find out before our evening ends. While the action is proceeding on stage, Dinner ticket holders are enjoying a High Tea– tender tea sandwiches, cucumber dill and liver mousse with red onion, prepared by Hook-U-Up restaurant’s fine chef, Tim Brown, as well as a fluffy, orange-iced cranberry orange scone baked by the Cape Charles Coffee House, served with sweet orange tea.
Off then to the second stop, a classic American four square home, one of the many examples in Cape Charles, which the playbill proclaims as home to the Lambertson family whose son is to marry the Mayor’s daughter. From the owner’s speech before entering the house, we learn that when she purchased the property in 2009, this now-lovely house was in serious disrepair and served primarily as the abode for a large flock of pigeons ! As we walk through and see it now, the house has been beautifully restored and is a real credit to the efforts of its new owners. In the theme of the wedding, this house serves as the elegant dress shop. In an upstairs bedroom several mannequins are dressed with beautiful bridal attire in various stages of being fitted. ( Kudos to all the efforts of Arts Enter volunteers in securing the gorgeous period costumes– it must have been a real labor of love. In fact, it’s the numerous participants, volunteers all, over 150 of them, that make the Dinner possible. Without them it just couldn’t be pulled off ! ) Food here was prepared by The Shanty, a fun new seafood restaurant located right on the Cape Charles Harbor, and featured Oysters Rockefeller and Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque. Unfortunately, although I live in one of the finest oyster producing regions in the entire country, I’m not an oyster person so didn’t have any— but Hubby and Eldest Daughter assured me they were succulent. However, I can personally attest that the bisque was absolutely delicious– smooth, creamy with a hint of char at the finish. Actually, it was my favorite dish of the entire dinner, especially as I am a devotee’ of butternut squash bisque. Wine accompaniment was Church Creek Steel Chardonnay by Chatham Vineyard, a fine local vineyard and winery.
From there, we were off to the Inn, a walk of a few short blocks. In the Dinner’s theme, the Inn was to provide accommodations and hospitality for many of the out-of-town guests expected for the wedding and is elaborately decorated for the occasion.. In real life, the Inn really is an inn, the Chesapeake B&B. Listed for sale by Blue Heron Realty Co., it is a gorgeous 2 story historic brick Colonial Revival home which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and Cape Charles’ soft sand beach. One of its most stunning features is the arcaded 5 bay brick front porch. For the Dinner, the owners had decorated both porch and shrubbery with a stunning display of bright holiday lights, total eye candy. ( For more information on the features of this extensively renovated property, visit http://www.blueheronva.com/property.php?propid=1516 . ) Our group arrived just as the sun was beginning to set, the sky was streaked with soft pinks and violets, absolutely stunning. Prepared by the historic Eastville Inn in Eastville, VA, the offering here was a rich Rockfish Chowder. Rockfish is probably the Eastern Shore’s most prized late season fish, mild and firm flesh, perfect for a chowder. This particular dish is the signature fall-winter dish of the Eastville Inn and includes corn and asparagus, is seasoned with applewood smoked bacon and a touch of garlic and thyme, served with sweet potato rolls spread with a brown-sugar cinnamon butter. Yum !
Next stop, in my opinion, one of the most charming homes in all of Cape Charles, with one of the indisputably most beautiful front porches in town, curved, graceful and full house length. Built in 1912 for Cape Charles’ first banker by W.H. Lambertson, whose son ( in the play) is to marry the Mayor’s daughter, this home continues the evening’s theme as being the home of the bride’s best friend. It is at this gorgeous home that the bridesmaids and friends will gather to make decorations and guest favors for the wedding. The tools and materials for same are seen as ticket holders tour the bedrooms at this house. Food served here was prepared by Aqua Restaurant, offering fine and casual dining right on the shores of Chesapeake Bay at King’s Creek Marina . A modern update of a traditional Waldorf salad and a lightly curried chicken salad in a small brioche roll, very tasty, were served, complemented by Italian white wine selected for the occasion by the Gull Hummock Wine and Cheese shop in Cape Charles.
The final home on the tour was Miss Mollie’s boarding house which was, in real life, Miss Mollie’s Boarding House. Apparently Miss Mollie ran the boarding house for many years after her husband’s death and was known Shore-wide for her famous pound cake. At the house, a video interview of Miss Mollie, done many years ago for a special Cape Charles history event, was playing on the VCR– fascinating, a real highlight and I took a quick pic for this blog post. Miss Mollie died at 101 and in the TV interview I’m guessing she was somewhere in her nineties but still sharp as a tack because when the interviewer, long-time local pharmacist, George Savage, apparently asked a particular question for a 2nd time, he received a quick retort, ” Why you already asked me that !” When George inquired how many of her famous pound cakes she thought she had baked over her lifetime, she guessed she had baked plenty more than a thousand– which is a heck of a lot of home baking ! Food served here was prepared by Kelly’s Gingernut Pub, a fun place with good food located on Mason Avenue in Cape Charles and included a delicious roast beef-Yorkshire pudding canape plus a roastedvegetable tort served in individual tart shells topped with a creamy, buttery sauce. The piece de resistance’ was a little slice of Miss Mollie’s cake, a rich vanilla pound cake, prepared by Heritage Hall in Nassawadox, baked according to Miss Mollie’s very own recipe. As party favors, printed copies of Miss Mollie’s recipe were available for guests to take with them if desired– I took one and intend to try it out for myself.
Leaving Miss Mollie’s, it was just a short walk to the Cape Charles Town Library where the theme and the Dinner concluded, with the penny-pinching Mayor was scheduled to see his daughter modeling her gorgeous, albeit expensive, bridal gown for the very first time. Suddenly he forgets the expense of the wedding and realizes that his baby girl is going to be gone, about to get married and move from his home, that it is family, not fortune, he should be thinking about now. Thus endeth the play and also the Dinner, after the dessert course, naturally. A collaboration between Heritage Hall and Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles, dessert was a delectable ginger snap cookie “sandwich” filled with Brown Dog’s heavenly ice cream, Caramelized Fig and Mascarpone Cheese flavor, easy to hold, delicious to eat. It was the sweet end to a sweet day. But one more treat to come– Pheiffer Stables, whose farm is located on the outskirts of Cape Charles, had brought a holiday-light decorated carriage into town, pulled by Rosie, a lovely patient horse. Horse and driver stood ready outside the Library, prepared to ferry weary Tour members back to the Theatre. So aboard Hubby and I hopped, not spring chickens any more, nice to get off our feet after several hours walking town. So with sleighbells bells ringing, off we rode to our car, a perfect end to a great evening.