Sunday, September 25, 2005
Teaberry’s Tea Room graces Flemington
By FRANK CURCIO Correspondent
What a delightful experience awaits you in Teaberry's Tea Room. The 6-month-old shop is in - what else? - a classic Victorian house on what else? - Main Street in Flemington.
Set back from the sidewalk by one of the largest front lawns of any Main Street business, the house is a modestly dressed "painted lady" of forget-me-not blue, carnelian and cocoa. A red brick path leads through trees, flowers and park benches to the wide front porch with, its tall, arched double-door entrance.
The doors open to a hallway leading to the shop. The first room is a gift shop and take-out stage. It's loaded with tea-room paraphernalia, including china tea pots and tea cups. To the right, snuggled in a floor-to-ceiling bay window, is displayed a collection of vintage hats referencing the Victorian era.
Other than those hats, there is nothing added to bring on the Victorian ambience. Nothing need be added because the building, with its wide-planked floors, high ceiling, tall windows and built-in corner hutches, oozes natural ambience. This is just the way proprietress and tea maven Susan Peterson wanted it.
Peterson just returned to food service after a decade-long hiatus. She had worked restaurants and other food-service occupations over the years, honing her skills on the job, eventually operating her own catering service in Scotch Plains, where she lived.
When she and her family moved to Hunterdon County, she found that the distance to Scotch Plains and the need to be with her school-aged children prevented her from returning to her established catering business and from beginning a new one locally. She busied herself with her family and her other interests.
An avid gardener, she became involved with garden clubs. She also delved deeper into her love of tea and tea service.
"My grandparents were English," she says, "and my mother's parents kept traditional tea service as long as I remember. I’ve loved tea since." She's not only studied tea and tea traditions, she's collected teapots. Scores are now displayed throughout Teaberry's.
While between food-service operations, Peterson kept her hands involved -literally. She helped with food preparations at Le Petite Gourmet in Clinton and with a specialty baker. She conducted tea service and tea parties for the garden club. As her reputation as a tea maven spread through the state's network of garden clubs, she began lecturing about tea -throughout the state.
"Maybe I should be a teacher," she says with a soft laugh, "I love helping people understand tea and tea service." Peterson will not forego her love of teaching about tea. She is incorporating it into her tea room. She has already hosted an instructional tea party for a group of Brownie Scouts using reverse psychology.
"I used Alice's Mad Hatters' Tea Party," she says. "We had fun seeing everything you could do wrong with etiquette so we could see what was right."
The Mad Hatters' Tea Party took place in the Miss Teaberry Room, the smallest in the shop. Like all the rooms, it's exquisitely appointed with a large table impeccably set with white covering, contrasting runner and crystal and silver. There's a vintage buffet and built-in hutch loaded with collectable teapots.
The other two dining rooms are larger but just as charming and gorgeous. Everything is set with mix-and-match home-style tables and chairs. In fact, Peterson decided to allow the tea sets to be mix-and-match also, feeling all one pattern would be boring, and it 'would be too time consuming to keep cups and saucers matched.
"Look," she says, demonstrating. "The patterns don't match, but they work well together. They're all bone china. The thinner the better." In fact, if Peterson's tea cups were any thinner, they’d leak.
Teaberry's opens for lunch and afternoon tea. ("No breakfast!" Peterson says: "Even I need coffee then."). Lunch features salads, soups, sandwiches and quiche du jour -light, quick, casual fare, all crafted with fresh ingredients.
Afternoon tea service comes in seven styles, from a take-the-edge-off snack (Lady Astor's Cream Tea with scones, lemon curd, clotted cream, preserves) to roll-me-home feast (Queen's Royal Tea with tea sandwiches, scones, desserts, soup and salad).
"I think people are turning to tea because of the health benefits," Peterson says. “And it slows you down so you can relax and take some time for yourself.”
If you want to go
Location: Teaberry's Tea Room, 2 Main St., Flemington, (908) 788-1010
Hours: Closed Mondays; open for lunch and afternoon tea, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a. m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, private parties only
FYI: Tea room loaded with graciousness and charm. Victorian atmosphere developed in place. Its interior lulls with a calm and embraces with relaxing warmth. Its upscale elegance is neither off-putting nor snooty; nothing about the place seems put on. The timeless decor, suggests a homey friendliness. It serves a cafe-style lunch that includes creative salads, like the house Windsor Pear (ripe pear, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, feta, field greens, balsamic). Most salads are available petite (side size) or grande (meal size). Sandwich options include a popular house vegetarian. Quiche du jour is a popular option and soups (including a house special chart-topping lobster bisque) round out the lunch menu. Desserts a must. Over 40 teas to choose from. Afternoon tea ranges from dainty for the light appetite to a "gut buster" that challenges the male notion of a tea room. Lunch pricing is low moderate (with some bargains to be had); afternoon tea ranges from $10 to $27. Major credit cards.
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