Nostalgia served dailyRita Kohn
Chicken velvet soup, pecan ice cream balls and "the Princess" are being enjoyed as delectable, living-history menu experiences at the L.S. Ayres Tea Room on the second floor of the Indiana State Museum at 650 W. Washington St. A mere few blocks from its original location at Meridian and Washington streets, the re-created Tea Room is doing a brisk amount of business. This reporter overheard a grandfather recall for his grandson the many business meetings when the "Men"s Special" [Swiss steak, homestyle, with two side orders] was efficiently served. "The waitresses knew what we wanted. They"d see us coming and place the order before we sat down."
"It"s the atmosphere that I like," stated Alberta, the waitperson at my table. "People who come remember the Tea Room and, as you can see, bring their grandchildren."
"It has brought back so many memories," said Tom, another member of the Tea Room staff. "Today, a lady brought in the Dec. 10, 1949, menu."
The Men"s Special cost $1.15. A tureen of Chicken Velvet Soup went for 75 cents, a cup cost 35 cents while 15 cents purchased a cup of cream of turkey soup or chicken broth.
While the prices are considerably changed, the ambience is pretty much the same. One enters the 75-seat dining room through a re-creation of the Ayres Tea Room lobby. Dining is enjoyed under authentic chandeliers, at the original tables covered with sparkling linen and set with a cut flower centerpiece, china and silver.
If you"re 10 and under you still get to dip into the Treasure Chest to pull out a surprise gift. The Santa Claus Express is running and seasonal displays are up.
"At the opening of the State Museum we had 300 to 500 calls a day," Tom stated, "but now, if a party of two or more comes in by the opening hour of 11 o"clock, they can be guaranteed a table for brunch or lunch."
Jason, emerging from the kitchen wearing chef regalia, offered that while "the newness has worn off," the excitement of eating in a re-created city treasure hasn"t diminished. Jason has been garnering his American Culinary Federation credentials through the Second Helpings program. "It"s a wonderful opportunity. I"m giving back to the community that helped me."
Another waitstaff member, a visiting student from Serbia, finds it of great interest that part of the museum"s permanent exhibit dealing with immigrants includes people from his homeland. "It hasn"t much changed," he says, "since the beginning of Indiana nearly 200 years ago."
However, if you want to see the Ayres Cherub, it"s still perched atop the clock on the original Ayres building downtown. The 3-foot-tall statue, weighing 1,200 pounds, continues to watch over holiday shoppers as it has since 1947.
The companion book of recipes and recollections available at the museum bookshops and the Tea Room includes recipes for breads, soups, salads, main dishes and desserts, along with photographs and bits of history and nostalgia.
For more information, or to reserve for the Tea Room, call 233-1186 or log on to www.indianamuseum.org.