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South Tampa boasts two new tearooms

SOUTH TAMPA — Those who hanker for a nice spot of tea have two new — and very different — options in South Tampa.

Last week Joni Cusimano opened an old-fashioned tearoom, with tea service, scones and a small boutique nestled inside a 1,000-square-foot space at 2401-B, S Dale Mabry. Proper tea is served five days a week at Kittridge House, with traditional high tea for 24 served every Wednesday afternoon.

Just a few days before Cusimano opened her doors, Stephanie Stewart opened Dishtopia & The Anytime Tea Bar at 3401 Henderson Blvd., a place where tea fanatics can drop in for a cup of tea, grab a small treat to go with it, and take home a tinful of one of 48 teas.

At each place, tea is the centerpiece, though for Cusimano, Kittridge House is about much more than dried leaves steeped in hot water.

She designed her tearoom, which formerly was home to the Cupcake Spot, as a place to escape or reconnect.

"It really isn't the food or the tea so much," she said. "It's the social environment, the ambience, meeting with friends or family. I find as I talk to women, that's what they want. We're trying to meet that need of good tea, good food, good ambience."

Cusimano, who recently left a corporate sales job, said in the past 25 years she has written reviews of tearooms across the country. The main complaints she hears are that "there's not enough food and people don't like the scones," she said. "People want to come to a place where they feel comfortable, that's fun, that's relaxing. The biggest thing is they don't want to leave hungry."

She vowed Kittridge House, which bears her late mother's maiden name, would be different. She tested the scones at events around Tampa. The sandwiches are stuffed, not smeared.

"This is something I've wanted to do for a long time," she said.

In contrast, Stewart's tea bar was almost an afterthought. Stewart and her mother, Dottye Stewart, planned a business around a collection of preowned china, pottery, crystal and flatware. But they wanted something else to bring in customers.

"We came up with the idea that you can have tea anytime," Stephanie Stewart said. "And why not attract the male market by calling it a bar?"

Customers at Dishtopia can belly up to a granite-topped bar and order white, black, herbal and oolong teas either hot, cold or as a hot or cold latte.

They can order cheesecake, a scone or some bread pudding — but no coffee. "We are tea enthusiasts," Stewart said. "We have no coffee in here at all."

Stewart and her mother designed Dishtopia, which is in the corner of a plaza dominated by an Outback Steakhouse, to be modern and comfortable, with wireless Internet and outdoor seating.

Hours are 8 a.m. to about 8 p.m. (and sometimes later) Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 on Sunday.

The Kittridge House Whimsical Tea Room and Eclectic Boutique serves tea from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with high tea from 2:30 to 4:30 Wednesdays by appointment. The tearoom also is available for events and off-site catering, and offers what Cusimano calls a "pink box lunch" for $10 on weekdays.

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South Tampa boasts two new tearooms 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 3:30am]
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