Tea Room does tea to a `T'

November 29, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A PROPER tea party involves three things. The first, of course, is plenty of piping hot tea with sugar, milk and lemon. The second is finger food served on good china - scones, sliced cake, small sandwiches made of white bread with the crusts removed. The third, and perhaps the hardest to provide, is a relaxing atmosphere that encourages people to linger as they take a break from their daily routine.

Kitty Knoedler, the genial proprietor of Petticoat Tea Room, has these elements down pat, from the assorted teas she presents to the homemade goodies served on floral china that would have been at home in any Victorian parlor to the cozy, Colonial-style tearoom overlooking the Fells Point waterfront.

The former special-education teacher from Vicksburg, Miss., opened the tearoom in May adjacent to the gift shop she runs in the Admiral Fell Inn. She created a small menu based upon recipes she got from her mother and the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary cookbook (on sale in the gift shop).

While reservations are not required for lunch, they are necessary for high tea. Three of us dined at Petticoat Tea Room recently. I had high tea, 5-year-old Fennelley got the Tinkerbell tea (a smaller version of high tea) and her mother ordered from the lunch menu.

The event began with a pot of hot water, a basket of tea bags and a plate of warm scones with double Devonshire cream and jams. A few minutes after we finished the last bit of scone and sweet Devonshire cream, Knoedler brought teacups of extraordinarily good cream of broccoli soup; a small garnish of fresh tomato chunks added a light, cooling touch.

Next came a tiered tray - three layers of fresh fruit, cheese, sliced sausages, mustard dip, tiny gherkins, yummy apricot bread, delicious Mississippi cheese straws and finger sandwiches. The assortment of homemade sandwich spreads was impressive: creamy cucumber dill; a smooth, none-too-sweet pimento cheese; and tangy mayonnaise topped with tomato slices.

Thanks to the Tinkerbell tea, we also got small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Between the two high teas, there was more than enough to eat. Add the salad platter that Fennelley's mother ordered from the lunch menu, and our table overflowed. The platter included a bland dollop of crab meat tossed with vinegar and onion. By contrast, both the shoe-peg corn and tomato salad and the fruit salad with poppy-seed dressing were zesty.

Knoedler wisely allowed the right amount of time to elapse before delivering dessert. Otherwise, we could not have done justice to our gooey, rich chocolate walnut brownie sundaes with fresh whipped cream. But, thanks to those few minutes of waiting, all of us cleaned our bowls, including Fennelley, who initially asked that her sundae be put in a to-go cup.

Despite the prodigious amount of food we packed in at Petticoat, nobody left feeling uncomfortable. That's because Knoedler has mastered one of the most important aspects of the business: well-paced service. Never once did we feel rushed during our meal.

In fact, we're sort of in a hurry to visit again.

Petticoat Tea Room

814 S. Broadway


Open: For lunch daily; high tea and dinner by reservation only

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Prices: Entrees $8.95 to $19.95

Food: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

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