Of all the places I've eaten and written about, the Peony Tea House was one of my favorites. The food and atmosphere were so unique and special. I loved the entire experience.
So I was eager to try Sweet Violets Tea and Antiques, which is in the same location as the Peony Tea House, but has been renamed and has a new owner, Debbie Woodroof.
Much remains the same, and that's a good thing. Walking up the broad steps into the big brick house on Wayne Street is like stepping back in time. The tea house is divided up into three rooms. Tables are dressed with linen tablecloths and hankies protected under glass tops, and napkins are cloth, not paper. Our table was set with mismatched teacups and saucers, and a small table lamp added a soft glow.
Service was friendly and efficient. Our server — I assume it was Debbie Woodroof, as she referred to it as “her” tea house — was knowledgeable about the teas and lunch menu.
We could have ordered soup, sandwich or salad, but decided to splurge instead on the Duchess of Bedford Afternoon Tea, described as a “traditional English-style tea served on a tiered stand.” At $18 per person, it wasn't cheap, but the description of sandwiches, savories and sweets was too tempting to resist.
The scones were round, not triangular, as are the scones I have eaten in the past. They also were more moist and sweeter than I expected, and were dusted with powered sugar. Almond slivers gave them a nice texture, and lemon curd and mock Devonshire cream made them divine.
The tea I chose was a gingerbread orange herbal decaf variety, and it was the perfect accompaniment to the scones. If autumn had a taste, it would be that tea.
Shortly after we dispensed with the scones, a beautiful three-tiered platter arrived at our table. On the bottom level were eight sandwich triangles, with the crusts cut off. The assortment included chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad and roast beef salad. It was obvious each had its own recipe; they each had a distinct taste.
All had a mayonnaise base, but the chicken salad was made with pecans, Craisins, green bell pepper, celery and paprika. The ham salad had extra flavor from scallions and dill. The tuna salad and roast beef salad both were flavored with sweet pickle relish.
On the second tier were two small pieces of quiche and two cheese puffs.
The top tier included two smallish cookies packed with chocolate chips and nuts; two pastries that were like tiny pumpkin pies; and two adorable, moist mini banana nut breads that must have been baked in tiny pans shaped like acorns.
It was a great selection of food, but there wasn't a lot of it. I love sampling tiny foods, and I love bite-sized pieces. I was in heaven. We polished off every bit of food, and I think I drained my teapot.
Going to the tea house feels like a special occasion. It's so … feminine. Ladylike. I walked in and immediately took stock of my manners. I didn't drink my tea with my pinky finger extended, but I was mindful of being on my best behavior.
My only caveat about the tea house is that it is expensive, particularly if you get the Duchess of Bedford Afternoon Tea — $36 for lunch for two is steep, especially when it involves such dainty portions.
Of course, you can go there for less money — soup and sandwich with a warm scone is $8.50.
I was pleased to see Woodroof carry on a great tradition started by Sue Shull and Karen Starn, proprietors of the Peony Tea House. I wish her much success, and I look forward to going back again.
Every other Tuesday, Cindy Larson describes a one-time dining experience at an area restaurant. The News-Sentinel pays for meals. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. You can reach her at 461-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read other columns, go to www.news-sentinel.com/section/LARSON.