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Tea room is appealing even to the macho set

A man wearing a Bass Pro Shop shirt and jeans reluctantly walks into the Camellia Rose Tea Room.

He's unsure of his dress and almost certain a macho male can't find happiness amid the delicate gifts and timeless ambience of the tea room, located in a 90-year-old building in Plant City's historic downtown.

Yet after tea and a lunch that went far and beyond an ordinary crumpet, the man had a different perspective.

"He said, 'Lowe's used to be my favorite store but now it's this tea room,'" co-owner and proprietor Ellen Garrett explained with a laugh.

The Camellia Rose Tea Room charms men and women with quaint appeal and sense of history. The tea and food also are pretty good.

Garrett's passion for tea and love of history fueled the opening of the Camellia Rose two years ago. Her initial passion for teas evolved into her having teas in her home. Meanwhile, she moved from Temple Terrace to Plant City, in part because of the downtown's antique stores and landmark buildings.

"I kept telling people in downtown they should open a tea room, but no one picked up on it," Garrett said.

So Garrett teamed with co-owner Lorena Jaeb and did it herself in the Bank of Plant City building that was built in 1919. Much of the interior had to be gutted and redone, but Garrett said they did manage to retain the original hardwood floor.

However, you would never know the building is without its original furnishing. Stepping through the door at 120 N Collins is like stepping back in time. The decorative touches of the front room gift shop offer a Victorian sense of style, and the sweet knickknacks — candles, soap, fragrances and jewelry — add to the feel.

Historic pictures also adorn the wall, including fabulous photos of past Strawberry Festival queens. In fact, 1940 queen Katherine Fletcher Clark is a frequent customer.

Teen servers greet customers in period-piece dresses. Garrett said the typical jeans-wearing girls love the costumes and act with higher sense of sophistication once they're dressed for work. Customers get to join in on the fun by donning hats from yesteryear.

"When I knew when we were opening the tearoom, I started purchasing the hats because I knew we had to have hats for people to wear," Garrett said.

Once seated, they chose from a menu of more than 50 teas that Garrett and her staff have carefully screened. Every blend, most of which are imported, must past the palate test of the staff.

Lunches include soups, salads and sandwiches, including a curried chicken salad that constantly brings customers back wanting more.

In all, it's a relaxing experience creating a real sense of peace and history.

Garrett enhances the setting by having periodic Victorian-theme events. On Saturday, the "Somewhere In Time Tea" will feature a Victorian clothing fashion show and a discussion by how tea influenced fashion by costume designer Tracie L. Arnold. That event is sold out, but she hopes to have three more before year's end.

So how does a sturdy, football-loving man like me know so much about a tea room?

I recently visited the Camellia Rose with my dads group and our daughters. Thanks to a winning bid we made at a Brandon Rotary South tea earlier this year, our girls got to dine with local pageant queens. They adored the experience, with their perfect behavior a bigger endorsement than anything they could say.

Meanwhile, we men sat at our own table nibbling on scones, sandwiches and tiny desserts while extending our pinkies and discussing the day's issues. And yes, we wore our hats. I promised the guys I wouldn't publish the picture, but you can see it on the Camellia Rose Web site (camelliarose.com).

The only thing missing from our idyllic afternoon? A flat-screen television broadcasting sports, but don't look for Garrett to add that anytime soon.

That's all I'm saying.

Tea room is appealing even to the macho set 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 4:30am]
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