By LISA WHALEY
If you step into Jonesborough Barrel House on a Thursday afternoon this month, don’t be expecting barbecue.
While favorite items from this popular Main Street restaurant are always available, from barrel-smoked meats to soup beans, cornbread and chow chow, chef Dawn Heaton has a new idea for January — old-fashioned tea gatherings.
“When I started thinking about it, this seemed to be the perfect venue for it,” said Heaton, looking around the downtown historic brick building that houses this restaurant she co-owns with business partner, Ben Dean. “As far as the area and what Jonesborough represents in general, because of the surroundings we are in. We are in Jonesborough. Most of the buildings in this area, especially the one we are sitting in now, are historic.”
And tea, she said, was the social hour of its time.
Enter the Barrel House’s latest offering — afternoon “tea time.”
Set for each Thursday throughout January, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., “Tea Time,” was initially launched as a way to offer local residents a regular opportunity for hot (or cold) tea, good food and good conversation. After the Jan. 24 tea, the event will move to the first Thursday of each month.
The idea of “tea time” is certainly not new, Heaton acknowledges, though she believes it has fallen by the wayside in recent years.
“First of all, there is a big coffee craze around,” she said. “Coffee is booming. And I think people have a tendency to miss out on what tea can actually bring.”
Tea, for example, from herbal to black and green teas, often carry various health benefits.
“There is so much tea can bring to the table literally,” Heaton said — from soothing a sore throat to helping calm a stressful day.
At Barrel House Tea Time, diners pay a $9.95 cover charge, then are led to a buffet adorned with a First Course, Second Course, Third Course and, finally, a selection of assorted teas from which to sample.
Previous tea time offerings have included sandwiches of chicken salad, egg salad or cucumber. Scones with Devonshire cream, lemon muffins with fruit preserves and strawberry shortbread cake have also put in an appearance.
“The first course is always supposed to be savory. It’s just tradition,” said Heaton, who recalls having her own imaginary tea parties as a child. “The second course is supposed to be a little bit light with some sweetness. For instance, last time I did an apple pie biscuit. And of course, the third course is sort of your decadent, rich course.”
Heaton tries to put extra thought into each of these dishes in keeping with the restaurant’s theme. “We pride ourselves in serving an old style menu in a modern way,” she said. “It’s cooked in that modern way but it still has an old feel to it.”
That might mean a red pepper pesto spread on traditional cucumber sandwiches or a special light homemade vanilla cream on a seasonal fruit dish. She wants to offer her diners something new and make them very glad they came to tea.
So far it seems to be working. Local Washington County Archives volunteer Shirley Hinds raved about the vanilla cream on the menu when she stopped by one recent Thursday afternoon. And Teresa Burchett, her daughter Amanda Burchett and friend Candy Massey were thrilled to find a tea offering.
“There has been nowhere local,” Amanda Burchett said of their newest drop-by tea place.
“It’s a girls’ date,” her mother, Teresa Burchett, agreed happily. “You always have finger food. And it’s dainty and pretty.”
But more important than the food and the atmosphere, Heaton believes, is this time spent with friends away from the more hectic aspects of life,
“I want this literally to be a social hour,” Heaton said. “I want you to come in and meet people that you’ve never met before. That’s the whole point of it.
“We are so busy with these things,” Heaton added as she points to a cell phone, “and electronics, and so much other stuff that’s going and flashing and lighting up. I just thought it would be nice to have a place to come and put your cell phones away and actually look at each other and talk at the table.”
For more on tea at the Jonesborough Barrel House, visit Facebook or call (423) 747-0511.