Cheap Eats: Tea House Inc. Café

There's a new Tea House where an old deli reigned

Some of us at City Paper loved Piccadeli's II over on Read Street. It was always busy, yet super quick and efficient and even if the menu was neither innovative nor exceptional, the fries were a treat—as were the prices.

Piccadeli's is gone, but now there's a new place with lunch specials and iced tea. The Tea House Inc. features three teas daily as well as the sorts of things you might pair with tea. There are delicate cookies and sandwiches and wraps—enough to make a nice lunch—that are a good cut above the old deli offerings in both style and price.

On a recent visit we sampled two "small plates." The chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread (they were out of seven-grain) ($5.75) comes with a small scoop of bow-tie pasta. It's a nice meaty sandwich with green grapes and what tastes like a dollop of butter; the whole thing was rich and satisfying without being overwhelming. The bow-tie pasta salad features a nice Italian dressing and grape tomatoes, which are sweet and tart and wonderfully in season.

The small smoked salmon wrap ($11.75) is salty with shallots and caramelized red onions. The salmon is very fresh, and only slightly smoky, but the saltiness gets a little overbearing. The wrap came with a fruit salad: a few grapes, three blueberries, and a couple of slices of pear. They were lovely, though the grapes had seeds (one demerit) and the pear slices were only so-so.

The place earns that point back by having good flatware—an element that's often absent from these sorts of lunch places, which all too often give you wimpy undersized forks that fold the second they must face a thick cut of food.

Cookie selections the day of our visit were Nutella on shortbread and fig jelly. The Nutella cookie was fine but might be better if it were fresher. The fig jelly cookie is much more interesting: soft, breaks apart easily, sweet but not too sweet, with filling like a turbo-charged Fig Newton.

We washed these down with a raspberry rose-petal iced tea ($2.12), which is subtly sweet even without sugar (they'll sweeten it for you on request). Very refreshing on a warm day. The mountain berry tea was similar, but we elected to shoot a squirt of simple syrup in it to sweeten it. It's just the thing for a late summer walk through Mount Vernon. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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