Lunch with leisure

The charm of the Tea Cottage compensates for service quirks.

The charm of the Tea Cottage compensates for service quirks.

Photo By David Robert

Our family lore goes that Cousin Gerrie once served Christmas dinner well past midnight in spite of the family arriving around dinnertime. Cousin Gerrie lived in a flat in an old converted mansion next to a funeral parlor. The cluttered, dusty rooms and her conversations about her ever-deteriorating old bones fascinated me as a child.

It’s been a while since I thought about Cousin Gerrie, who died nearly 20 years ago. But she came to mind as Kerry and I waited in the parlor at Belle’s. In spite of our noon reservation on a Tuesday, we weren’t seated until 12:40.

Belle’s Tea Cottage is a converted house on a rural lane east of Meadowood Mall. Our table was in a secondary room with four tables and a fireplace. We were lucky we got our own table, as the solo woman who came in ahead of us accepted an invitation from a party of strangers to join them at their table.

Once seated, no waitperson returned to our room for a good half hour. I felt like Cousin Gerrie had seated us and then returned to the kitchen to baste the turkey. Belle’s really feels like being in someone’s home with a bunch of womenfolk.

I have never been in the midst of so many lace doilies. I asked Kerry if she’d ever seen hand-crocheted knit doilies draped over teacups before. She said not in England, nor the South, where tea and teatime are steeped with tradition.

For tea, Kerry chose Darjeeling, which was served in a pot painted to look as though it were sitting in a bamboo basket. My white peony came in a more traditional pot with painted flowers. One really nice touch at Belle’s is the fact that none of the China matches, except those cups dangling from the chandelier.

I’ll always remember Belle’s for introducing me to the tea leaf strainer. And I will always thank Kerry for implementing hers first—or I would have poured my tea, leaves and all, into my lovely teacup.

Kerry ordered the Elegant Tea ($14.95), which includes a scone, assorted tea sandwiches, a small house salad, miniature desserts and a pot of tea. On Kerry’s previous visit, this tiered lunch came with a small wedge of quiche.

I selected the Tea Cottage Luncheon ($12.95), offering, in addition to a pot of tea, a scone and dessert, the option of soup and salad, soup and quiche or salad and quiche. I chose spinach and bacon quiche, a scone and a house salad made of mixed greens, caramelized walnuts, bleu cheese crumbles and mandarin oranges. I was served the broccoli and cauliflower quiche rather than the ordered spinach and bacon, but I didn’t dare send it back to the kitchen—who knew how long it would take to come back.

Belle’s signature dessert is a savory brownie concoction with a mini dollop of cream on top served in a mini teacup eaten with a mini teaspoon. The taste, however, is mega.

The whole experience was fun enough, since it gave Kerry and me a chance to chat endlessly. We concluded that the long wait and the super-leisurely pace at Belle’s might just be part of its charm.

After all, my family didn’t drive over the river and through the woods to Cousin Gerrie’s house just for the food.