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High tea with a southern twist

Recent discoveries of tea's health benefits have prompted more Americans to start drinking it. But when it comes to dining out, tea is still a rare find. So when one woman in Baltimore decided to open a tearoom, the result was much different from what she had in mind.

"In the South, we have a lot of girly places called ‘tearooms,’" said Kitty Knoedler, owner of the Petticoat TeaRoom in Fells Point. "A tearoom, in the back of my mind, was a ladies luncheon place!"

Knoedler opened her Baltimore tearoom three years ago, but with different intentions than you would imagine. "I wasn’t even going to do tea," the Mississippi native said with her sweet southern accent. "But the minute I put that sign out front, I started getting phone calls about tea parties."

When Knoedler moved to Baltimore seven years ago, she noticed there wasn't much for women to do. At that time, Fells Point was mostly smoky bars and cheap souvenir shops along cobblestone streets. So she set out to impart some feminine influence on the rustic neighborhood. She opened a fancy shop called Southern Accent, which sells everything "dainty" can describe.

A few years later, she moved her store to its current location inside the Admiral Fell Inn and acquired the space to open the Petticoat TeaRoom. "I needed something to complement the retail. So I thought, I have girly stuff in the shop, so I need a girly place, and I’ll just open this little girly restaurant down in Fells Point. It would be the only girly place down there, so I won’t have a lot of competition," she said.

Knoedler painted her section of Fells Point pink . She did Internet research on tearooms to find ideas. "I picked out the things I liked, then I added all my mother’s recipes and made it my tearoom," she said.

You’ll find her mother’s tomato sandwiches and potato salad, along with corn salad, shrimp salad and a number of lettuce-based salads. "It’s lady-like food," she said.

When it comes to tea, Knoedler admits she is a novice. "I don’t know much about tea," she said. "I don’t even drink tea."

And though her brochure talks about the English history of afternoon tea, she doesn’t claim to follow their traditions. According to the brochure, the Petticoat TeaRoom "adds southern charm with its own flavor."

"English people are not the only people who do tea," she insists. "I don’t apologize for my tea–we’re not in England." She uses bagged and loose-leaf tea. She imports some from France, and some from the local grocery store.

The Petticoat TeaRoom hosts afternoon and high tea, the latter of which requires reservations. Afternoon tea is scones, tea sandwiches, fresh fruit and sweets for $19.95; and high tea is all that plus soup and savories (things that are not sweet like cheese) for $25.95. They also offer table tea, which is just scones and tea for $7.75; and Tinkerbell tea–high tea for children.

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