Everything at Paradise in a Teacup -- from the tables to the teapots -- is for sale, but there's a genuine sweetness to the place that can't be bought or sold. We didn't buy anything except lunch, but, after a long, stressful workweek, we were delighted to relax and enjoy a long, rainy afternoon indoors and all the gentle spirit the place could muster.
Paradise is the perfect place to bring your grandmother or to have a birthday tea for children, who will delight in its sweet treats, flowery china and the teddy bears -- there must be hundreds -- that fill the restaurant.
We began our meal by ordering tea from the restaurant's large selection. A steaming pot (ours was decked with purple pansies) of water is brought to the table, along with two charmingly mismatched cups, the tea bags of our choice and a flowered bowl for used bags and other refuse. The teapot is covered with a quilted caddy to keep its contents warm throughout the meal or the afternoon.
It is perhaps curious that the only tea offerings in a teahouse are tea bags limited to one brand, but we are offered all the essential and favorite varieties. The only critical misstep here is a small plate of half and half in individual containers.
Tea is followed by soup. Paradise serves a skillfully simple and tasty Maryland crab soup every day. It comes in a cup, bowl or boule -- a bowl of bread. We also order crab bisque. Pale pink and chock full of crab meat, this house-made concoction is creamy and sweet, but could use some extra seasoning. Best to save room for the cascade of treats to follow.
The restaurant's lunch menu is limited but hits all the major food groups, including peanut butter and jelly. Generous but ladylike lunches of fresh shrimp, tuna or chicken salad, served on bread or a croissant and garnished with plenty of seasonal fruit, complement the tea and the tea-room atmosphere.
A substantial and well-prepared piece of salmon fillet provides a filling lunch for less delicate eaters. Garden, chicken Caesar and classic Caesar salads are also available, as is a classic ham-and-cheese sandwich.
But what goes better with tea than scones? Paradise has them, too. Made daily, they are fruit-filled and perfect for genteel afternoon refreshment. There are more than a dozen other desserts and sweets on the menu, including muffins, biscotti, several flavors of cheesecake, cookies, brownies and Belgian waffles.
The high point for us is the Teacup sundae. Served in outsized china teacups (of course), it's a classic: vanilla ice cream, not-too-sweet chocolate sauce and a generous helping of fresh whipped cream. As our waitress said, how can you go wrong?
Vera and Zeke McCann's 2-year-old Paradise in a Teacup is as much a lifestyle as a restaurant. It plays host to seminar takers, welcomes folks on out-of-town bus trips and offers themed teas. It's also a haven for crafters and consignors, whose treasures stock the store shelves.
Not surprisingly, the place is always busy. You must call ahead for breakfast, lunch or tea. And for really special outings, such as the seven-course Supper Tea or a dinner party, the owners need 72 hours' notice.
Paradise in a Teacup
28 Bloomsbury Ave., Catonsville 410-744-4832
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; Sundays and evenings for special events
Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa
Prices: Appetizers, $2.50 to $6.50; entrees $4.50 to $8