Genteel tea, and then some, in a Colonial setting

An English couple has set up shop in Reynolds Tavern


February 13, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On Valentine's Day, or any other day, what could be more romantic than afternoon tea in a centuries-old building on a cobblestoned Annapolis street?

Everything about the Reynolds Tea Room is gentle and soothing, from the soft jazz to the mild, yellow cream of crab soup served with a swirl of sherry. The scones, quiches and soft crustless sandwiches can be nibbled right from the fingertips of one hand, so it's easy for you and your significant other to hold hands across the white tablecloth while you eat.

The tearoom, which opened in November, exudes a Colonial charm fitting for a building that has been around since 1747. Owners Andrew and Jill Petit took over the vacant building in April 2002 and created a tearoom much like ones they admired in their native England.

With its dark wood floors and handsome fireplace, the room is so old-fashioned that a small CD player on one of the wooden china cabinets looks out of place.

The restaurant has a regular menu of sandwiches, salads and soups, as well as a tea menu of cream tea, savory tea and full tea.

A cream tea is basically a pot of tea, a couple of scones, whipped cream and jam. A savory tea is the same, plus finger sandwiches; a full tea adds a choice of quiche or soup.

The tea comes in a cobalt-blue pot outfitted with a seeper loaded with tea leaves. Remove the seeper when the tea reaches its desired strength, then pour the steaming liquid into the beautiful bone-china mugs on the table.

The teas, which come from a New York company, are described in great detail on the menu. The Lapsang Souchong Smoke No. 1 was so smoky and delicious it was almost like a meal in itself. The Supreme Darjeeling and Earl Grey Superior were also distinctive and lovely.

When we ordered the full tea, our sweet and soft-spoken waiter said it would be enough food for three people. We decided to get an extra quiche and an extra cup of soup anyway and were glad we did.

Both the vegetable quiche and the spinach quiche were fine, but the cream of crab soup, with its abundant but tiny morsels of crab, was outstanding. It was served with a small glass of sherry, which we swirled into the soup. The combination was more than the sum of its parts.

The rest of the meal arrived on a three-tiered serving platter, with the sweets on top, sandwiches in the middle, and the cream and jam on the bottom. The sandwiches were small, with thin layers of either egg salad, turkey salad, ham or cream cheese and cucumber. All were tasty and soft, with only the tiniest crunch of celery in the egg salad and turkey salad.

The sweets on top were also arranged as tidbits - a tiny macaroon here, a sliver of moist poundcake there. A morsel of brownie studded with chocolate chips was so fudgy and bold compared to the other items, it was almost a shock to the taste buds.

In the center of the sweets tray were two bourbon balls. Our dining companion, who had lived in bourbon-centric Kentucky for many years, declared the small chocolate-and-alcohol confections delightful and mild, without the overwhelming blast of alcohol sometimes found in these treats.

Also served with the tea were buttery, flaky scones, some with golden raisins and some without. According to Jill Petit, they are made from a recipe that is served to the queen of England. Like everything else on the menu, they are made in-house.

The thick whipped cream is made to resemble the clotted cream that is served with tea in England. It is ideal for spreading on the scones and sweets, even though you can't hold hands while you do it.

Reynolds Tea Room

Where: 7 Church Circle, Annapolis

Call: 410-295-9555

Open: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily

Prices: Soups and salads $3.50-$8; entrees $5.50-$8

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Food: ***

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: ***

Excellent ****; Good ***; Fair **; Poor *

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