I've never been a fan of restaurants that specialize in serving hot tea to women who wear hats.
I don't drink much tea, and scones are too often served with big helpings of pretense. But there's a big surprise in store for anyone who walks into the 8-month-old Oscar's Tea Room and Gift Shop in Wilton Manors.
You might get kissed on both cheeks. You'll for sure get a hearty welcome from the oh-so-British couple who opened their eccentrically charming establishment last Dec. 26, Boxing Day back in England.
Craig and Kevin Ashdown were among the first couples to enter into a legal civil partnership in the United Kingdom in 2005. "Elton John beat us by a few hours, apparently," Craig says.
A couple for close to 25 years, they've owned a fish and chips shop, a take-out sandwich and catering restaurant, a florist shop and finally a three-story new age emporium. A few years ago they decided they wanted to live in another English speaking country with better weather than England. Australia was on the list, but they settled on Broward County after years of vacationing in Key West.
We should be glad they did.
Oscar's — named after their beloved deceased black Lab — is pretense-free. Perhaps that's what happens when you furnish your tea room with thrift shop tables and chairs. Each table is covered with a red tablecloth and a white coverlet. Not much in Oscar's isn't for sale. There are bird houses and pillows, lamps and Teddy bears. Even the salt and pepper shakers — Queen Elizabeth II and a foot guard in scarlet tunic and black bearskin hat — are for sale. It's a kitsch-filled paradise, complete with three matching crystal-dripping chandeliers. The other day, I heard both Shirley Bassey and Luther Vandross.
"This is our home," says Craig. "So we play our music."
Afternoon tea — reservations strongly suggested — is just $19.95 per person and includes a huge assortment of tea sandwiches, quiche, scones and cakes. It's all served on English china, which is something the Ashdowns know all about since both hail from Stoke-on-Trent, where pottery has been made since the 17th century. Family and friends worked in the factories.
I've never seen so many mismatched cake stands and milk pitchers and tea strainers and what-nots.
And then there's the food. You can have a pot of tea and piece of toast with jam or marmalade for just $4.99. Or a toasted cheese and onion, cheese and tomato, or cheese and ham sandwich for the same price. It's all very English.
The other day at lunch, my friend ordered Oscar's cheese board ($14.99): four kinds of cheese, five different crackers, olives, celery, raspberries, a bowl of house-made cole slaw and a bowl of Branston chutney. It was easily enough for two, if you wanted to stop by in the early evening for a glass of $4.99 house wine and a bite. The Ashdowns encourage lingering, but discourage laptops and iPads.
"It's somewhere for people to relax," says Craig. "There's no Wi-Fi. Come in and read a paper or a book. I don't want laptops all over the tables."
There's a different quiche and salad special ($11.99) every day. The other day, it was ham or beef and cheese. I ordered a curried chicken and potato-filled pasty ($11.99), a pastry that originated among miners in Cornwall, England. Like the cheese board, it was served with some of the delicious cole slaw along with a salad and an assortment of fruits — kiwi, apples, grapes and strawberries. Blue cheese dressing and vinaigrette arrived in their own pitchers.
Craig is the chef at Oscar's and his scones and cakes are phenomenal. A scone ($4.50) comes with butter, whipped cream, strawberry jam and orange marmalade. The cake varieties ($4.99) include Victoria sponge, chocolate fudge, carrot cake, fruit cake and orange drizzle. There's trifle and brownies, and the other day he made something called Banoffee pie — bananas, whipped cream and caramel on top of a sugary crushed cookie crust. It's hard to believe it was just $4.99. With a few days notice, Craig will make whole cakes to serve at home.
Tea — Twinings, PG Tips, Yorkshire — comes in all varieties. And there's even a nice selection of wine and English beer.
To say the Ashdowns are hospitable doesn't quite capture their style. They are generously spirited and I can't imagine anyone won't adore their Oscar's.
Oscar's Tea Room and Gift Shop
1201 NE 26th St., Wilton Manors
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: High chairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot in back