When a text came through from a friend asking me if I was feeling adventurous, I responded with a little bit of trepidation.
The last time someone had asked me that I was in the United States, at Fort Worth Zoo in Texas. Someone said those words, shoved a funnel cake in my mouth and I promptly spat it into a nearby bin. Who deep fries cake batter? Seriously. Deep fried freaking cake batter?!
I deeply love Texas, I know it's probably not on most people's holiday list, but I've spent many months there and would go back in a heart beat if my bank balance would just cooperate with me. But those big hat wearing, gun loving folk have some strange ideas about food.
So, pushing aside my memories of almost projectile vomiting funnel cake everywhere and potentially creating an international incident, I said "why not".
I was given an address and a time and a guarantee I would love it.
The next day I was introduced to Chili Choc Chai at the 'Under the Verandah' cafe, and our lovely host - Maggie.
Under the Verandah' is quirky, in the best sense of the word.
The little cafe come book shop come music venue and meditation centre is on one of the main roads in Redcliffe (Oxley Avenue). You come off the bridge, turn left along the beautiful Redcliffe foreshore, and arc around the bend and it's right there. So 'right there' you almost miss it!
It's tucked away between a bunch of pleasant suburban houses, next door to a good old fashioned corner shop (that's not on a corner).
When I walked in, my friend was chatting away with Maggie (the owner) but the cafe was empty. It was 3pm on a Wednesday so that didn't seem too unusual.
I joined Maggie and my friend, we had a bit of a conversation and I have to say it set the scene beautifully. There's something very gentle and humble about Maggie and talking to her you kind of forget you're in a shop and have the feeling you've been invited into someone's home for a cuppa and a scone.
We ordered the Chili Choc Chai, and as we were deciding where to sit I saw Maggie reach over and put a stylus on a good old fashioned record which started pumping out classics from the 60s and 70s. She won brownie points immediately. Not for the music, though it was nice music, but for having a record player and real honest to God vinyl records. I grew up at the end of the age of records, when cassette's were in vogue and then replaced by CDs. I haven't heard anything played on vinyl for longer than I care to remember. It was awesome. It further cemented the feel that I was visiting with a friend.
The cafe is eclectic. It's old school to the core with 70s style painted brink walls, old wooden fixtures, a mix of comfy lounge furniture on one side of the room and tables and chairs on the other. Lining one entire wall are enough books to make any word addict happy. You can sit there and read them, you can buy them, you can just open them up and smell them if you love the scent of old paper and history.
A lot of people go to a cafe to enjoy the view, they'll chose something by the water or near a park or whatever. You don't think about the view at 'Under the Verandah'. You can sit outside if you want, and watch the cars zoom by on Oxley Avenue or stare at the lovely assortment of plants Maggie has arrayed out the front, but the ambiance is inside with the old school decor and music and books.
Our tea quickly arrived complete with cute little china cups and collectible spoons that my grandmother would have slipped into her purse. My nan was a total kleptomaniac when it came to spoons. She couldn't go anywhere without bringing back a spoon. Not knives, forks, plates, cups, glasses or even napkins. Just spoons. Nan would have LOVED these spoons.
The tea is served in a regular pot that really maintains the heat of the tea for a very long time. We spent more than an hour in the cafe, and the tea stayed hot the whole time. That never happens to me. I don't know what Maggie's secret is, but the lady knows how to keep tea hot!
My friend poured me a cup and I seriously didn't know what to think. It looked like muddy water. I am one of those people who finds it hard to shy away from a challenge... and I LOVE chocolate and am a big chili fan, so despite not being a fan of Chai I took a teaspoon of cement and looked for somewhere to spit just in case.
She added a splash of milk for me, gave it a stir, smiled at me and waited to see what my reaction would be. For many years I worked as an actor, and I'm trained to express emotion. I'm the worst poker player in the world because everything I feel is written on my face thanks to three years of formal training. I can't not express stuff. My friends get a sick and perverse thrill out of taking me someone and waiting for my reaction because I have no inner voice that says "don't say that" or "don't do that". It's all out there. It's like I've got Tourette's syndrome but instead of random words or twitches entire inappropriate sentences leap out of my mouth.
I have to say, Chili Choc Chai is an experience. I have never had a drink anywhere in the world where my palette can discern every flavour with ease. It was amazing. It was like eating Cadbury's dairy milk chocolate with a dash of chili and a hint of Chai. My brain was instantly confused because it was such a new sensation. Every flavour stands up and says "HELLO" one after the other like there's some bizarre conspiracy going on between the tea and your mouth. I had multiple sips, enjoying the warm, rich flavour as it danced and swirled around my taste buds and slid smoothly down my throat, warming every inch of me as it made its way down.
I wish I had enough adjectives and adverbs to give full credit to this tea.
I can't in good conscience say it's my favourite drink in the entire world, but I can in good conscience say it is delicious and I would order it again.
Chai is not a flavour I enjoy. My all too cool for school trendsetting friends think I'm a freak because I don't like Chai, but whatever. To me Chai tastes like someone threw a spice bomb at my head. But the perfect - and I mean PERFECT - balance of chocolate and chili eradicated any distaste I might have felt over the Chai flavour.
As we were enjoying our tea, more people wondered into the cafe and sat down for their afternoon hit of caffeine or chocolate or whatever their vice may have been. Suddenly you felt like you were in the best cafe in the world. The room has awesome acoustics so every conversation blends together in a very harmonious way. It doesn't intrude on your own conversation, you don't have to speak up to be heard. It creates a beautiful buzz around you that is entirely appropriate and dare I say warm.
After we finished our tea (a whole pot with milk cost me $5.50 - what a freaking bargain) Maggie took us out the back to show us around. There's a play area for the kids if mum and dad want a break from them, which is entirely fenced in and safe. There's a little section where a Tarot Reader will now and again get her psychic on and offer up some spiritual guidance. There are toilets just in case you have one too many sips from the tea cup, and there is also a nice range of organic deserts and foods to try.
'Under the Verandah' does fortnight meditation classes, hosts folk music on a regular basis, and doubles as a mini-venue for hire.
I loved it. I can't believe I've driven past it probably 50 times and never stopped in to check it out.
Redcliffe has a lot to offer day trippers who want to drive somewhere for the weekend. It's beautiful waterfront and lagoon have things for mums, dads and kids to enjoy and many of the Peninsula's cafe's and restaurants are top class. If you're looking for a day trip this weekend, drop in and say "hi" to Maggie at 'Under the Verandah', try the Chili Choc Chai (even if, like me, you hate Chai) and soak in some soothing sounds and maybe eat some organic munchies - but above all else, just relax and enjoy Maggie's beautiful and attentive hospitality. There's something very uplifting and enriching about this quirky little cafe.
For more information on 'Under the Verandah' you can visit their website. They also have a facebook page.
'Under the Verandah' is located at 155 Oxley Avenue, on the beautiful Redcliffe Peninsula.