The historic Dent house, built in 1854 as the plantation home of railroad contractor Jarrett Dent, has seen many reincarnations over its 163 years. It's been a military field hospital, bed-and-breakfast inn, office building for nearby Chattanooga Church and, most notably, the Bonny Oaks Children's Home for 90 years.
Four months ago today, the antebellum mansion off Bonny Oaks Drive reopened as Polly Claire's tearoom. After seeing a lot of chatter about it on Facebook, a friend and I decided to check it out.
Rashelle Stafford bought the Dent House in summer 2015 and has made extensive renovations to its seven dining areas while keeping the integrity of the antebellum home. She named her new restaurant in honor of her daughters, Polly and Claire.
› Where: Polly Claire’s, 6178 Adamson Circle.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
› Phone: 423-521-4832.
› Price range: Lunches: $3.50 cup of soup to $14.50 Classic Trio. Four-course afternoon tea: $29 individual, $52 for two.
› Website: www.pollyclaires.com.
Polly Claire’s will open every Friday and Saturday in February for dinner. Reservations begin at 6 p.m.
A three-course, all-inclusive menu will be offered with four entree choices: prime rib, maple-glazed pork tenderloin, shrimp scampi or vegetarian lasagna. Salads, sides and desserts are included in $38 price. Bring your own bottle of wine if desired.
› For reservations: 423-521-4832 or PollyClaires.com
Three spacious dining rooms are downstairs, with four smaller rooms upstairs that may be rented for private parties, bridal or baby showers, children's birthday parties and little girls' tea parties. In total, the venue seats 149. On the day we visited, there were several mothers with little girls there, some dressed in big hats, for a tea-party lunch.
The dining rooms' 14-foot walls are painted a soft, Wedgwood blue with cream trim, and the walls are decorated in free-form collages of porcelain plates. Dining areas are flooded with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Cloth-covered tables are set with mix-and-match pieces of china — ours was Royal Doulton. Cloth napkins are folded into curved handles of sterling dinnerware, similar to the old spoon rings popular with brides in the 1970s and 80s.
A paved parking lot has been added off the circular drive in front of the Dent House. At the back of that parking area is a detached gift shop, where visitors will find a full line of fine china. Box lunches to go also may be picked up there.
There are two menus: one listing entrees, the other detailing numerous teas and specialty teas available. Diners may walk in for lunch or for Polly Claire's Afternoon Tea Experience, a four-course high tea. Reservations are encouraged for the latter.
The lunch menu offers sandwiches, salads and soups as well as a savory list of quiche, shepherds pie, meat pie or tomato pie. There are three children's choices, $5.50 each, listed on a Wee Tea menu.
Polly Claire's house special is a choice of the $12 Classic Duo or the $14.50 Classic Trio. Diners choose either two scoops for the duo or a scoop each of chicken salad, egg salad or pimento cheese. Each comes with a freshly homemade roll and a choice of side: fresh fruit, kettle chips, cup of soup or mixed greens salad.
My friend and I both started lunch with cups of soup. Her French onion soup was topped with a half-inch-thick cap of baked cheese, and she was delighted to find pearl onions in the soup beneath. The seafood lover in me immediately gravitated to the lobster bisque, which included pieces of lobster meat.
Our entrees were the Classic Duo for her (a scoop each of chicken salad and pimento cheese) and Quiche Lorraine for me. I expected a slice of quiche, but was served an individual quiche about 6 inches in diameter. Inside its flaky golden-brown crust were petite chunks of ham and moist eggs streaked with green spinach. Our server said Polly Claire's also serves a crustless quiche for guests following a gluten-free diet.
By coincidence, our server was Polly of the sisters for whom the restaurant is named. She was excellent, attentive but not hovering and patiently answered all our questions, which I'm sure she's heard repeatedly from newcomers.
Chicken salad, in my opinion, is the make-or-break entree on any tearoom's menu. When I asked if I could get a side scoop of chicken salad, Polly looked momentarily stumped since that's not a menu option, but she made it happen. Leaving to check with the kitchen, she first returned with a small cup holding a tasting sample of chicken salad so I could see whether I liked it before ordering. I was impressed with that unasked-for extra step in courtesy.
The chicken salad didn't disappoint. It's a finely minced chicken with chopped celery giving it some crunch and a slight taste of what I suspected was curry. But Polly just smiled coyly when I asked and said it was a secret family recipe.
Having tried one of the four homemade pies on the menu, I know I will return to try the tomato pie, the chicken salad or any of the three dinner salads listed.
Men are certainly welcome at Polly Claire's, and there were a couple there the day we visited. But guys, given the ladylike portions served in dainty teacups and salad plates, you might feel like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Polly Claire's is a genteel getaway for ladies who lunch.
Keep in mind though, gentlemen, that Polly Claire's is offering full dinners on Friday and Saturday nights in February (see accompanying box). This might be the best way to try out this new restaurant with your sweetheart for Valentine's Day.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.