The Huckleberry Tea House

 

Concordia, Kansas

Copyright 2008 by Cynthia Harris

First published in EYE On Kansas online magazine, Winter Issue 2008.

Do not use without written permission

 

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"A Spot of Tea and Huckleberry Bread"

By Cynthia Harris

A friend and I traveled to Concordia to attend the Taste of Home Cooking School at Cloud Community College in October.  It was an evening event so we went early to tour the National Orphan Train Complex and to check out the shops.  After a morning of learning about Ann Harrison, Edith Peterson, and other children who traveled the "orphan trains" to Concordia, we started to get hungry, but put it off to visit some of the shops.  Not able to put up with the hunger pains any longer, I asked an owner of an antique store, "Where do the locals go to eat?"

"There is The Huckleberry Tea House, turn right at the stoplight.  The Zistro is a few doors that way," pointing west she said.

I stopped listening after she said, "Tea House." Those words brought back childhood memories of playing dress-up with oversize clothes, hats, and high-heel shoes.  A little table with a tin tea set: teacups, teapots, and tiny plates, all white with large red and bright pink roses.  More often than not, water replced tea and the imaginary food consisted of teeny cucumber sandwiches, just perfect for passing away a summer afternoon.

So, out the door and off we went to find The Huckleberry Tea House.  What would the building look like?  Would it be an old Victorian home turned into a tearoom?

Located at 512 State Street, this place is cute, although, definitely not Victorian on the outside, nor does it look like an old southern colonial.  It is a low reddish brown brick building and there on the wall is a sign that reads "The Huckleberry Tea House" and the hours of operation are posted in the window, but don't let the facade fool you.

Once inside, the atmosphere is jolly, playful, and screams "tea and scones"--well "tea and huckleberry bread."  The entrance is a large room with a Victorian sofa gracing one wall while the other walls are full of items to purchase and some freebies to take with you to help spread the word.  It is in this room that proprietress Lois Lervold makes up gift baskets special ordered by customers for various occasions and it is where you pay your bill.

A "Welcome" sign of white linen with teal letters and delicate lace invites you into the tearoom of pastel green walls decorated with rose accessories and lit wall sconces.  Tables scattered throughout the room are graced with various colors of tablecloths topped with white lace and white metal chairs have teal covered seats.  The focal point, however, is an upright player piano.

"I bought that as a Christmas present for myself last year," remarked Lois to some ladies as she passed by our table heading for the kitchen.

A young waitress handed me a menu.  What a fun menu!  No boring everyday things like roast beef on rye or tuna salad on whole wheat or those teeny tiny cucumbers sandwiches.  Instead the menu of Panini grilled sandwiches spouts names like Arthur, Catherine, Franklin, and Lena May.  And the drinks menu consists of different hot teas, iced teas, chai, coffee, and frappes.

Our meal arrived in stages: first your drink.  A pot of two-cup tea arrived decked out in a colorful quilted tea cozy and the aroma is soothing, calm, and wonderful.  No make believe here.  This is the real thing, including the white teacup with large red roses.  I ordered the Bourbon Street Rooibos (pronoucned roy-bos) tea.  The character of the tea is a little bit jazzy with a hint of vanilla.  My friend ordered the Rainbow.  She described it as fruity with a hint amaretto.

Next the soup arrived.  I ordered vegetable soup while my friend ordered the cold strawberry soup.  It came to the table in a clear glass dessert dish.  What is that flavor?  Something in my vegetable soup that I cannot identify.  Simply delicious.  "What is that unidentifiable flavor?"  Iasked the waitress  "There are eight kinds of vegetables in the soup," she replied, "but nothing out of the oridinary."  Still, the taste leaves you trying to figure out what lingers on your tongue.  My friend was much braver that I, as she ordered the cold strawberry soup.  "How does it taste?" I asked.  "Different, in a good way," she replied.

Following the soup is the entree and salad.  I ordered the Franklin and my friend ordered the Arthur.  I could tell you what each sandwich is made of, but that would ruin the surprise when you visit The Huckleberry Tea House.  The salad is a fancy tossed side of greens, and no surprises here.  But the huckleberry bread makes up for that.  While the slice of bread is small, one must remember the price of huckleberries large, the flavor bursts in your mouth.

Then the dessert tray arrives.  Apple Danish: 2 small ones per serving with a bit of vanilla ice cream, Carrot Cake, Fudge Fantasy, Raspberry Rumble, and others.  Each serving is large enough for two: so if you are not alone, make sure your companions order something different and you can share.  That is what we did with the Apple Danish and Carrot Cake.

While enjoying the smells, sights, sounds, and tastes, one can also watch others touch the boas and fedoras in the dress-up alcove.  Lois encourages her customers to play dress-up.  Women's hats of various colors with matching boas and men's fedoras and canes are waiting for some adventurous person to put them on.

We do not have to wait long before a group of women, one celebrating her birthday, enter the alcove and return with fancy hats and boas.  The birthday gal put on a "Happy Birthday" tiara.  The ladies gathered on the piano bench and Lois took their photograph.  A reminiscence of "tea parties" in the days of yore.

Not able to resist, I grabbed my camera and asked Lois to join the ladies.  The ladies immediately wanted her to dress up and be a part of the fun.  Although she declined, it did not take away from the photo.  The proprietress and her customers were definitely happy.

Upon checking out, I asked Lois how long she had been in business.  "We celebrated our second anniversary in August," she stated.  "Why did you decide to open a tea house?" I pushed on with questions.  "I visited a tea house and found it so much fun that I decided that was what I wanted to do," she replied, not put out by my questions.

One more question, I said, "Are you planning on expanding?"  "I don't want to grow any bigger.  I like it just the way it is," Lois said with all the love that could possible shine in ones eyes.

I encourage you to visit.  Take your spouse, your children, your grandchildren.  You will not be disappointed.

The Huckleberry Tea House is located at 512 State Street in Concordia.  Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, lunch 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and tea and dessert from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  A private room, which seats 50, is available after 5:00 p.m. for anniversaries, birthday parties, showes, and reunions.  For more information call 785-243-7832.