The British have it right. Afternoon tea can be a great restorative picker-upper after a morning of frenzied activity. In my view, it’s also the perfect way to celebrate any special occasion.
That especially includes my birthday, which happens to be on Valentine’s Day.
My friend Phyllis Gannon shares the same birth date, so for the past two years we’ve painted the town red by driving to a neaby tea room for lunch. This year we headed south to Ellenton for tea at Charms of Leffingwell. Do we know how to party or what?
The 1905 Victorian house with its wraparound porch was a tattered old lady when Harry and Bobbie McGraw purchased it in 2002. They’ve since restored and converted the building to an antiques store and tearoom that’s well-suited for an enchanting afternoon of tea.
Antique shopping and tea. We were in paradise.
Arriving at Charms early gave us time, as Phyllis said, to “pet” its floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with vintage jewelry, furniture, kitchenware, linens and embroidery.
Amongst rooms brimming with bric-a-brac and lit by the golden glow of antique lamps, we were seated at one of several beautifully set tables.
There are three tea offerings: the Cream Tea, featuring tea and scones; the Sweet Tea, tea with pastries; and if you want to make it more lunch-ish like we did, there’s the Charmed Tea, which includes savory sandwiches and all of the above.
Within minutes Bobbie served our three-tiered tray with warm cranberry and lavender scones on the bottom, sandwich triangles on the middle and a selection of petite desserts garnished with strawberries and sprigs of fresh mint on top.
Everything was in duplicate, so we each had at least one or two of every item.
Among the miniature tea sandwiches were chicken salad on raisin bread; a multi-grain bread filled with a cream cheese and olive spread; and bite-size spanakopita, phyllo triangles stuffed with a spinach mix.
My undisputed favorite was the cream cheese and olive mixture. The saltiness of the olives offered a nice contrast to the dainty and delectable assortment of goodies.
The tea room’s strengths are it’s teas. Patrons can choose from about a dozen varieties of freshly brewed teas. We could smell the tea leaves in the jar before committing to our choice.
Our first pot was a ginger peach, which had a moderate peach flavor and suited us fine. Pleasant conversation, comfortable chairs and no-rush service made us want to linger. A second pot of tea beckoned, and this time, Phyllis and I were lured by a fragrant black chai for its exotic qualities. It was beautifully spiced and truly delicious.
Charms of Leffingwell is at 905 Leffingwell Ave., a block off U.S. 301 in Ellenton. Reservations should be made a day or two in advance and large parties, a week or more, by calling (941) 723-6563.
If it’s a nice day and you don’t have a reservation, don’t worry. You might want to sit out on the porch, or in the garden square and relax under the huge mango tree.
One caveat: expect to shop.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.
Cucumber Tea Sandwich
2 to 3 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 loaf sliced bread, crusts removed
Dill weed (for garnish)
Place cucumber slices between two paper towels set in a colander. Allow liquid to drain, about 10 minutes. Combine cream cheese and butter and spread over each slice of bread.
Top with layers of cucumbers and sprinkle with dill.
Cut each sandwich into four triangles.
To make as an appetizer, cut bread slices into rounds with a cookie cutter. Spread with cream cheese mixture and top each with a cucumber slice.
Yields approximately 48 rounds.