MOUNTAIN OAK TEA ROOM
Address: 9508 Church St., Ooltewah
Hours: Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday hours vary depending on private parties. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Located inside Ooltewah's historic Mountain Oaks Wedding Chapel, Mountain Oaks Tea Room is a dining experience unlike any other. First, its space feels more like a home than a restaurant, featuring fresh flowers, lace linens and a different set of good china atop each table. The foyer is lined with armchairs and love seats, and the guests are treated like family.
On a recent visit, I watched as a trio of women, who'd just entered through the tea room's stately double front doors, was warmly embraced by owner Sonya Guffey.
"We have lots of regulars," Sonya said when she joined me at my table.
And those regulars are as dedicated to their favorite dishes as they are to the tea room. Sonya remembers that once she tried to convince a regular to forgo her weekly choice of the "courtyard sampler" — which comes with chicken salad, quiche, congealed salad, fruit salad, pimiento cheese, croissant and crackers — in favor of the tea room's new bologna sliders.
"She told me, 'I just can't sway!'" Sonya said. "I told her, 'Well you're going to have to come in two days in a row then.'"
And the customer did; she ordered the sliders and fell in love, Sonya said.
"People told me, 'You can't serve bologna in a tea room!'" Sonya remembers. "But bologna is the steak of the South and I was determined to come up with something."
So she brought a log of bologna home. When her husband Tim asked what she planned to do with it, she told him, "Nothing. But I bought you a smoker for Christmas."
As a result of experimenting with various recipes, the Southern smoked bologna slider, topped with brown sugar mustard, was born — destined to become a tea room staple. And likely to follow in its gourmet footsteps is the new brisket sandwich, served on grilled brioche bread and topped with barbecue sauce.
Moreover, every day diners can sample new specials, which may include recipes such as the chicken gumbo or the basil-bacon deviled eggs — a minty and savory recipe that, much like the tea room itself, is unlike any other.