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The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Waverly Café's food Is Tasty, when you get it

Michelle Gienow

Thir-Tea First Street Café and Tea Room

Phone:(410) 889-7112
Address:414 E. 31st St.
Baltimore, MD 21218

More on Thir-Tea First Street Café and Tea Room.

By Michelle Gienow | Posted 6/19/2002

It's always seemed a bit odd to me that there are so few eateries in the Charles Village/Waverly area. You'd think Johns Hopkins could support a dozen on the east side of the school alone, but restaurants of any class or cuisine are rare outside the commercially designated stretch immediately adjacent to the Homewood campus.

Perhaps sensing this void, a newcomer recently stepped up to the, ahem, plate: The Thir-Tea-First Street Café) opened in December, taking over the converted Victorian that used to house the Waverly Tea Room. The menu of simple breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, and platters--each and every item made from scratch--is not long, but it is very well priced (which alone should get at least a few Blue Jays to cross St. Paul Street). The café also serves tea, by reservation only, in a tastefully decorated upstairs parlor.

I treated my mom and her friend Rose to lunch at Thir-Tea-First on a hunch that they'd enjoy the Victorian atmosphere. We stopped in expecting a relatively expeditious lunch amid a day of errands. (How long could it take to make a turkey club? A very, very long time, it turns out.) I had even made reservations, for 11 a.m.--hardly kitchen rush hour on a weekday. When we arrived, we were the only patrons in the place except--and this is an important "except"--for seven or eight folks upstairs taking tea.

To get right to the point, this place has serious problems with kitchen pacing. Our lunch took more than two hours, most of it spent staring at the empty table and wondering where our server had gone to this time. Half an hour after placing our order, a different server--an informative, efficient, and pleasant woman who I came to fervently wish was handling our table--told us that our lunch would be ready promptly. Fifteen minutes after that, chef/owner Denise Washington came out to inform us (without apology) that one of the items we ordered, chicken with rice and gravy ($6.95), was not available that day. (Multiple other menu items we inquired about also were unavailable.) What Washington's arrival told me is that 45 minutes had passed between the time we placed our order and when someone in the kitchen actually looked at the ticket. That interval had apparently been devoted exclusively to serving the upstairs tea party--which got each dish five to 10 minutes apart, as if they were being prepared and served individually.

After that, plates began trickling out to our table. One. At. A. Time. First to arrive was an appetizer, chicken soup ($3.50 cup/$4.50 bowl). It was an excellent and savory broth that unfortunately was full of bones and cartilage. "This soup is dangerous!" Mom exclaimed upon extracting a pointed shard from her spoon. (She also wants me to point out that $3.50 is a lot of money for a teacup worth of soup--in keeping with the tea-room thing, small soup servings arrive in porcelain teacups.)

The one-hour mark coincided with the arrival of my small house breakfast platter ($7), a choice of pancakes, waffles, or French toast plus two eggs, home fries, and turkey bacon or chicken sausage. (Thir-Tea-First serves no pork products.) Aside from my selection of waffles, which were tough and unappealing (and cold to boot), the platter overall was good, even if the eggs did arrive 10 minutes apart on separate plates. The chicken sausage was terrific, as were the potatoes. However, I cannot say this was a breakfast worth waiting an hour for.

Mom's salmon-cake platter ($8.95), which arrived around the time I was finishing my breakfast, was worthier of the wait. The cake, as big as a hockey puck on steroids, was fantastic--so good that I managed to finish most of what Mom left behind despite having just dispatched my breakfast platter--and paired with an excellent peppery slaw. Poor Rose, though--she just couldn't catch a lunch break at this place. She'd changed her order from the AWOL chicken and rice to a turkey club ($5.95), which finally showed up a staggering 95 minutes after we placed our order. Served on homemade honey-oatmeal bread, it was a solid version of the classic. It was also free: The management comped her for having to wait so long.

Thir-Tea-First has an extensive menu of homemade cakes, and I'd been looking forward to feasting on from-scratch carrot cake ($4) or pineapple upside-down cake ($3.75). When I asked the ladies if they wanted dessert, however, they refused (a first, in my experience), fearing the wait for even a slice of cake. Apparently a well-founded fear, as it took another 15 minutes to pay our check.

We weren't the only ones. As noon approached and passed and the café gradually filled, we overheard patrons at tables around us complain about the wait as well. Hope you didn't order the turkey club! I mind-beamed them.

What can I say? The food at Thir-Tea-First is very good and reasonably priced. If you have a lot of free time and some reading to catch up on, I recommend this place. To be fair, maybe when I visited they were just having a bad day (although I've since talked to other people who've eaten there and had similar experiences). But after six months of operation, a restaurant kitchen should be able to handle multiple parties with more aplomb, even if each and every item is made from scratch.

Feeling strangely like Veruca Salt:

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