Miss Tami's Tea Room and Cottage Expressions 

1031 N. Main St., Meridian, 208-888-6829. dining room hours: Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; brunch: Sat., 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., misstamis.com

On the girly scale of one to 10—one being a girl who loves football and owns a sports jersey, and 10 being one who has lace curtains and owns floral dresses—Miss Tami's Tea Room and Cottage Expressions in Meridian is roughly a 13.

From the delicate flower-patterned tea cups that greet visitors in the gift shop entrance to the floral-and-lace decor filling every niche of the cozy dining area, this is no-man's land. The few men who enter its feminine confines look a little nervous that they somehow wandered into some kind of inner sanctum of the fairer sex.

Miss Tami's started out as a small gift shop in the early 1990s but quickly grew into a tea shop offering high teas, and eventually into a full-fledged restaurant serving lunch, teas and Saturday morning brunch ($11.75 for adults).

Miss Tami's follows the British tradition of tea as a meal in between meals, when everyone settles in around an aromatic brew and nibbles on savories, scones with Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches and miniature desserts. Tami's offers a variety of packages for afternoon teas, some of which involve costumes.

But the majority of visitors who brave the flower-filled rooms of Miss Tami's go for lunch, and even on a weekday, the small dining room often runs a wait. Hint: Reservations are a good idea. The menu is filled with an assortment of soups, salads, sandwiches and quiches, as well as weekly specials. Everything is made in a tiny kitchen behind the dining room, and each dish is thoughtfully prepared, balancing complex flavors for gourmet palates with a comfort-food quality we all secretly crave.

As the late winter sun filtered in on a recent afternoon, the dining room was filled with small groups of women—and one uncomfortable-looking man—huddled around tables topped with steaming pots of tea.

While tea is not required, it's a great excuse to get past Lipton. Miss Tami's boasts a tea menu with nearly 40 offerings spanning blacks, greens, oolongs and herbals.

On this afternoon, Earl Grey with Lavender ($2.50 per person) wafted its traditional smoky sent mixed with mild lavender as the staff brought a small green salad with raspberry vinaigrette and a cup of cream of artichoke soup—green salad, soup or pasta salad is included with most meals. The soup was the standout, taming the slightly bitter artichoke with a thick, creamy base to create something that was both simple and exotic.

The homemade chicken pot pie ($9.95) was the perfect comfort food for a blustery afternoon. The individual portion was filled with tender white chicken, skin-on baby red potatoes and carrots in rich gravy, covered with a delicate crust that let steam rush forth as soon as it was pierced by a fork.

But the dish that lingers in the flavor section of the brain manages to combine dessert and lunch in a sandwich that makes diners want to lick the plate. The Monte Cristo ($8.95 half, $11.95 whole) is a rare offering to find, and one that can go easily astray, but Miss Tami's is one of the best to ever grace a plate.

Filled with layers of turkey, ham and Swiss cheese, the sandwich is dipped in an egg batter and quickly fried before being coated in powdered sugar. The sweetness of the sugar-coated bread is offset by the savory nature of the ham and Swiss, dragging the creation out of the realm of dessert and into the acceptable lunch category, although no one would ever accuse it of being healthy.

Ignore the voice scolding that you shouldn't be eating something so heavy. Shut it up with a big bite of melty, sugary goodness.

—Deanna Darr's review is brought to you by the letter tea.







••••••





On a recent austere gray afternoon, the kind Jane Austen novels are made of, my mother and I threw our coats over a couple flower-patterned chairs and listened as eye-darting chatter drowned out the faintly audible hum of violin strings. From our small corner table at Miss Tami's Tea Room and Cottage Expressions, complete with a fake pink rose suspended in a convincing pool of fake water, we could also hear the ocean-like waves of cars advancing and receding down Meridian's Main Street and the two-lump clink of spoons swirling sugar into tea. Sort of like Golden Girls go to Wonderland, Miss Tami's Cottage takes potpourri grandma kitsch, adds a dash of flitting fairy princess, then throws it in the deep fryer and sprinkles it with powdered sugar. And the result turns out to be surprisingly pleasant.

Purchased nearly 20 years ago by Miss Tami and her husband Jamison, the cottage is an expansive grown-up doll house, shelves packed with candles, dolls, flowers and fancy mushroom-shaped hats. And everything, from the plush bathrobes lingering in the gift shop at the entrance, to the faux gold framed prints of rotund cherubs on the walls in the cavernous restaurant, is for sale. And while all this gaudiness might seem to cater to a niche audience—tea party aficionados—that's not the case. During our recent weekday visit, Tami's was packed with an assortment of gray-haired lunching ladies, chattering wedding-planning parties and mother-daughter duos. Though the clientele was varied, there was an overwhelming trend: Everyone was female, and no one was in a hurry.

Not much for tea—though the list had an array of tempting concoctions like Earl Grey with lavender and Congou Rose with petals—my mother and I instead perused the newly minted wine list for a couple of refreshing whites. Our lacy-apron-clad server took away our porcelain tea cups, only to bring back a sister mug filled with buttermilk yellow potato bacon soup ($4 cup, $5 bowl), which she set in front of my mom, and a soy nut-topped side salad with honey mustard dressing that came my direction. Scarcely before I could note the hue and aroma of the soup, my mom was angling her spoon to scrape away the cup's last rich remnants. "I didn't want it to get cold," she blushingly explained.

Though the menu has an ample selection of light fare, we mustered our inner Marie Antoinettes and went with two of the most decadent and calorie-crammed options. Like a croque monsieur that had been gobbled up by a doughy powdered sugar donut, the Monte Cristo ($8.95 half, $11.95 whole) is a child of the kind of rare genius that fathered culinary abominations like the turducken and the fried Oreo. A touch on the sweet side for my mom's palate, she scraped away warm piles of powdered sugar to get to the sandwich's savory ham, turkey and cheese heart. The crab cake BLT ($9.75), on the other hand, was a pillar of classiness. With strands of lump crab meat wound around red peppers and laid gently atop a hill of fresh spinach and pesto mayo, the rich croissantwich was more than enough to satiate my appetite.

With a giant lemon bar and half my sandwich wrapped up to go, we followed the purple tea pots to get to the restaurant's lone powder room. Once inside, I glanced at the treasure chest of ephemera and checked the price on a pair of vintage beige pumps positioned close to the door. I'll need something a tad fancier the next time my mom and I while away an afternoon at Tami's.

—Tara Morgan likes her kitsch gold and her wine cold.

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