Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brambles English Tea Room, Naples, Florida


When I was in my teens, my twin cousins from England would come here to the States to visit over the long summer breaks.  Every day in the early afternoon, they would put on the kettle, brew the tea and set plates on trays with biscuits.  And when the tea was ready, we would sit in my aunt's living room, sipping and snacking quietly.  Those summers were my introduction to the English custom of afternoon tea.  As a teen, I don't think I truly understood the purpose of the custom, but as an adult, I've certainly come to appreciate the respite that comes with afternoon tea.  It's been many years since I've seen my English cousins, but from time to time I still enjoy spending time sipping tea in quiet contemplation.  My Anna has been begging me for some quality "mommy and Anna" time and that usually means a tea party.  So, to indulge her (and myself), I took my Anna to visit an old favorite, Brambles English Tea Room, a place I had discovered many years ago.

Brambles is tucked away in the rear of the Landmark Building, steps away from posh Fifth Avenue in Naples.  But for a sandwich-board placed on the sidewalk along the Avenue, a visitor to the area could easily miss this hidden gem.  Even for locals, Brambles is a well-kept secret known only to those who seem to be "in the know".  Just today, two gentlemen seated near us - one a four-year resident - admitted they had only discovered this quaint little dining room while ambling down the Avenue this afternoon.  It may not seem like Brambles is a popular spot, but in truth it is well visited.  Those who know of it visit it often.  And if you come during the traditional lunch hour, you will find the tables full, particularly during Naples' high season.  Even with the high end alternative available at the Ritz-Carlton not too far down the road, Brambles enjoys a good following.  That is because it is Naples' only true English tea experience.

Adorned with wallpaper of Victorian roses, Brambles' small dining room is set with a modest number of tables and wooden chairs, which although mismatched are charming.  Most seat four but can be easily placed together to accommodate larger parties.  Each table is topped with pink linen under glass, porcelain cups and saucers, properly placed flatware and neatly folded napkins.  Large windows along the east side of the room provide ample lighting, supplemented only by dimly lit wall sconces.  Small collections of antique plates and cups are displayed, helping to create the atmosphere of an English sitting room.  With decor such as this, it is not hard to imagine yourself in a different place somewhere "across the pond".  When I'm there, I can just picture my cousins enjoying tea and sitting in a room such as this.

The menu at Brambles isn't very extensive, but it doesn't need to be.  Most come to enjoy traditional English tea service which is primarily accompanied by a selection of tea sandwiches:  cucumber and cream cheese, ham and butter, smoked salmon, and egg mayonnaise (or egg salad, for us yanks), all cut into perfect triangular wedges.  Scones baked with raisins are also available, served with clotted cream and strawberry jam.  Those in a more celebratory mood can add small pastries and champagne to their order.  But the true drinks of choice are obviously the teas.  The Royal Wedding Tea is the most popular tea of late.  If I recall correctly, this tea was especially blended in honor of the royal wedding and has since become a favorite.  There are also a number of other varieties of teas available to suit different tastes and all are served in delicate porcelain teapots for one or two.

Brambles knows that children, particularly little girls, also enjoy the ritual of the tea service.  It even has its own namesake teddy bear, Mr. Brambles, whose favorite tea service includes small peanut butter and jelly sandwich wedges, chips and fresh fruit.  In lieu of tea, children enjoy pink lemonade or hot chocolate, also poured from tea pots.  Those who consider themselves "grown-up" can order a mini-version of the Brambles Delight, which comes with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in lieu of smoked salmon and egg mayonnaise.  These children's offerings make Brambles an ideal dining spot for a young aspiring princess and their queen mothers (and princes and kings are also welcome).

Although I usually go to Brambles to enjoy tea the true English way, admittedly Anna is not very keen on sandwiches.    It's really quite a shame because I think there are some sandwiches that are just fabulous.  But for Anna and those like her, Brambles fortunately offers other lunch or brunch appropriate dishes.  English favorites like shepherd's pie and cornish pasty can be found here.  Croissants and salads are also on the menu.

The quiches are a particular favorite, served together with a generous salad of mixed greens topped with tomato and cucumber, curried mango chutney and a mustard-based vinaigrette that I find particularly delightful.  Brambles serves three traditional types of quiches:  lorraine (ham and cheddar, which is pictured here), florentine (spinach and brie) and crab (with artichoke hearts and parmesan).  The quiche here is especially good, made with a light and fluffy souffle-quality egg and a nice buttery crust.  While I encourage everyone to partake of the tea service, I will dare say that the quiche here is a must try and you shouldn't leave Naples without at least trying one slice.  One of the best quiches, I think.

In a town like Naples, a place that is spotted with homages to Italian architecture, Brambles is a unique experience and a departure from the norm.  A delightful spot for friends and family to enjoy quiet time together and dine just like the Brits do.  Come and visit Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Just remember, the upraised pinkies, that's really a yankee thing.



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