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The toast (or scone) of Oak Lane

Kelly McShain Tyree, late of the New York stage, is back home, starring in Under the Oak, a family and neighborhood production getting rave reviews.

Kelly McShain Tyree with a welcoming lunch in front of her welcoming cafe, now an East Oak Lane gathering place.
Kelly McShain Tyree with a welcoming lunch in front of her welcoming cafe, now an East Oak Lane gathering place.Read moreBONNIE WELLER / Inquirer Staff Photographer

How's this for a film plot: As the oldest of nine children, an established actress returns home to help her aging parents transition into retirement. In the process, she rediscovers her love for the old neighborhood. She moves back and opens a small cafe that becomes the heart of the community.

Kelly McShain Tyree, 40, can star in this, her life story, with her husband, Robert Tyree, 42, playing himself - the actor who puts his career on hold to become the cafe's chef.

The part of the sidekick will be played by Devitt McShain, 37, Kelly's younger brother. He saves the day, and everyone's sense of humor, by stepping in with essential carpentry and construction skills.

See for yourself. Under the Oak, opened in 2007 at 804 Oak Lane, is open most days with the Kelly/Devitt/Robert triumvirate appearing live.

The three are there morning till night, serving La Colombe coffee and raspberry cream scones with lemon curd and creme fraiche starting at 7 a.m. Lunch and early dinner offerings such as chilled mint spring pea soup with curried shrimp and Robert's decadent chocolate cake are offered until 7 p.m.

As the cafe is small, with seating for just 20 inside and 20 more, weather permitting, outside on the patio, it's clear this is so much more than a business venture. It is a place to nurture and celebrate the neighborhood and its residents. One neighborhood woman makes the pies while high school and college students who grew up on these streets wait tables.

"Originally I wasn't planning to be a full-time cook. We were looking to hire a chef," Robert says. "But we had a particular vision of what we wanted to see here, and the only way to make it work was to do it ourselves."

Breakfast and lunch are served on vintage glass plates. Take-out orders are packed in biodegradable containers made from recycled materials.

With just a baking oven - and no grill - the cafe menu adjusts seasonally and features artisan quiches, soups, wraps and salads made from organic, local ingredients.

Prices start at $2 for a cinnamon knot with cream cheese icing to $9 for house-cured salmon on a ciabatta roll with cream cheese, tomato, arugula, red onion and capers.

A particular treat is the meat loaf, made with a mix of Lancaster County beef and veal, roasted veggies (subbing for the traditional pork in the mix), and a Worcestershire glaze, served on a brioche burger bun.

The food is so good that Weavers Way Food Co-op in Mount Airy stocks cinnamon knots, carrot cake, raspberry cream scones, and three varieties of artisan quiches from Under the Oak.

"We really want to make a visit here a special event," Kelly says. "And the size of the kitchen has forced us to become creative."

Kelly and Robert had been married about five years and were living in New York's Hell's Kitchen. She has played Kate in the national tour of Taming of the Shrew; he was in the 1990 movie Cry-Baby and on TV's Homicide: Life on the Street.

Then word came that Kelly was needed at home.

Her parents were not ill, but they had reached empty-nest status and were eager to scale down.

So began a series of weekend trips home. With each visit, Kelly says, her sense of obligation, nostalgia and affection grew. More than returning to live, she dreamed of creating this local cafe.

"I left the neighborhood when I was 18, thinking I would never return except to visit," Kelly says. "I guess the joke's on me."

Robert says the division of labor between him, Kelly and Devitt was "pretty natural."

"I like to cook and Kelly doesn't," says Robert, who "trained" in his mother's kitchen.

Devitt McShain apparently inherited his construction skills from his uncle, master builder John McShain (who built the Jefferson Memorial and the Kennedy Center in Washington).

Neighbor Kathy Arbor was recruited to do the baking. Among her specialties are peanut butter pie with chocolate truffle topping and orange espresso panna cotta. And waiter Nathan Moore, 19, brought along his great-grandfather's recipe for peanut brittle.

The decor features a bulletin board conveniently located at eye level next to the toilet in the unisex bathroom, and paintings by Kelly and Devitt's mother, Janet, who returned to college after raising her nine children and specialized in watercolors of the neighborhood's historic Victorian mansions and sold them here, in this very space.

For now, the cafe is their life's work, and it reflects their commitment to the entire neighborhood.

On one table in the cafe, there's a booklet from an exhibition in New York last year of works by artist Chuck Connelly - all of them scenes of Oak Lane. Artist Zach Puchowitz's glass pieces are both on display and for sale here.

"Kelly's always had this outgoing nature and she's a force in the neighborhood," Robert Tyree says. Kelly chairs the community association's beautification committee, and is involved with the Free Library Oak Lane branch and the Historic Preservation Committee. No doubt she'll be among those dancing in the street on Oak Lane Day, June 14. This year's theme is "Peace and Love in East Oak Lane."

Kelly, Robert and Devitt have two other restoration projects under way: They bought an 18-room home around the corner and are bringing that back to life, and they purchased the home on Chelten Avenue where Kelly and Devitt grew up.

The trio also trained with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to become official Tree Tenders, restoring and replenishing greenery throughout East Oak Lane.

"Right now, though," Kelly says, "our number-one priority is making sure the cafe becomes successful and fulfills its potential - not only for the immediate community but for what it can mean to the whole city."

Oak Lane Chocolate Cake

Makes 12 servings


For the cake custard:

1 egg
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (90%)

For the cake batter:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water

For the buttercream icing:

32 ounces confectioners sugar
1 cup butter, creamed
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the flourless chocolate topping:

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/3 tablespoons water
1 1/3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg


Make the cake custard:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans.

2. Beat the egg slightly in a small saucepan, add the sugar and water. Stir over low heat for 4 minutes.

3. Add chocolate and continue stirring until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Make the cake batter:

1. Melt butter in saucepan; combine with sugar in large bowl, mixing well. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Then alternately add dry ingredients and water to the egg/sugar mixture. Combine well with whisk or low-speed mixer.

3. Stir in the cake custard, just to combine. Pour into two 8-inch cake pans and bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes, until center springs back when pressed lightly.

4. Cool in pans on cooling rack about 15 minutes, remove cake from pans, and let cool completely before icing.

Make the buttercream icing:

1. Cream the butter in a mixer.

2. Add sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. Mix until smooth.

Make the flourless chocolate topping:

1. Melt chocolate, butter, sugar, water and vanilla over medium heat, stirring for three minutes.

2. Remove from heat and fold in egg until mixture is smooth.

3. Pour into an 11-by-13-inch pan lined with wax paper.

4. Bake for 12 minutes at 425 degrees.

5. Cool, then refrigerate at least six hours. Cut into half-inch-square chunks.

Assemble the cake:

Frost the cooled cake with buttercream frosting, then sprinkle the chocolate chunks to cover the top of the iced cake.

Per serving:

838 calories, 7 grams protein, 129 grams carbohydrates, 107 grams sugar, 37 grams fat, 138 milligrams cholesterol, 509 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber


Egg Salad With Dill

Makes 4 cups


12 large farm-fresh eggs
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Immediately plunge the eggs into an ice bath to completely cover them.

2. Meanwhile, chop scallions, celery and dill and combine. Mix mayonnaise with mustard and lemon juice.

3. Peel the eggs, pat dry and chop roughly. Add scallion mixture. Add mayonnaise mixture, folding in for the proper consistency. Season to taste.

Per 2/3 cup serving:

283 calories, 13 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 25 grams fat, 430 milligrams cholesterol, 256 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber

Chilled Mint Pea Soup

Makes 4 servings


3 tablespoons organic butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound fresh, loose organic peas
2 tablespoons fresh mint, coarsely chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 tablespoon curry powder
4 raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and rubbed with curry powder


1. Melt the butter, add the onions and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add all of the peas and the mint and cook for one minute. Add stock and simmer 5 minutes.

2. In batches, puree the soup in a blender until silky smooth. Transfer to a bowl set in an ice bath.

3. Lightly saute the shrimp until just cooked, then chill. Cut each shrimp into 4 or 5 pieces. Garnish individual soup portions with a dollop of creme fraiche topped with the chopped shrimp. Serve.

Per serving:

242 calories, 11 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 12 grams fat, 61 milligrams cholesterol, 804 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber