I passed by Serendipity while tromping along Carmel’s Main Street two weeks ago. A glass façade with gold-lined doors invited me to peer inside the small space, electrified by shiny marble floors.
The gilded theme continued from the bottom up: bright gold plates were placed on each of the 10, see-thru, scalloped-edged tables in the main room.
Only two women were seated in the smallish tearoom on this Monday afternoon. Two had just left. A bespeckled lady with short, curly hair greeted me at the door.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Just me,” I said.
“I don’t know who ‘me’ is,” she replied.
“Is this a private party?” I asked.
“No.” she replied.
“I’m Jennifer,” I said.
My name turned out to be the unexpected password, and I was seated at the nearest table.
Centerpieces held live flowers in salmon, whites and purples. Teacups came demure and diminutive, obviously not of juggernauted American heritage.
A chandelier of small, creamy tea lights hung in the corner of the small dining space, which I later found out had belonged to the L.S. Ayres Tea Room. Those gold-lined doors I had marveled at originally belonged to Morrison Opera House.
I hadn’t actually planned on having tea at this tea room — it’s really not my thing — but the colorfully named “Queen of Hearts” blend with white chocolate and cranberries struck my fancy. It turned out to be a little bitter — odd, since I could clearly see big white chocolate studs nestled in the tea bag.
Serendipity’s menu has quite a voice. Descriptions conjure Disney matriarchs. “Oh my, Serendipity means expect the unexpected and this is it!” the tortellini salad blurb gushes. “Choose from ham, shrimp, asparagus, cranberries, blue cheese, green onions, fresh basil, cashews, Parmesan cheese or take them all. Served with our special balsamic dressing and a scone.” And a glass slipper, too.
I wrestled between that choice and a crab, corn and tomato salad ($11.95) on my first visit. The latter won. It came with a scone and cup of soup.
My plate came perfectly proportioned — a pre-measured, rounded scoop of Indiana sweet corn topped off with lump crabmeat. I would later discover that it sat atop some insipid tomatoes, a far cry from the promised “home growns.” But the corn was fresh, at a perfect temperature and it did not vie with the delicate flavor of the crabmeat. Red peppers imparted a hint of excitement. I almost wish it were carried to full-tilt: Fried jalapenos or spiced-up red peppers would have taken this almost Southwestern inspired dish all the way. The tomato basil soup was a tangy, welcome counterpart to the sweet corn.
But that tired scone. I love scones. They’re a good excuse to make refined carbohydrate products like biscuits, even worse for you by adding liberal amounts of sugared fruit. This one was savory, spiked with dill and a meandering river of cheese. But it wasn’t crumbly, but almost spongy. Not the freshest. Not terrible. Maybe Rene’s Bakery can take over that aspect of the business.
But then, Rene’s bakers could take note from the angel who baked the pumpkin chiffon pie ($6.95). It was bread, it was pie, and it was so well and roundly spiced. And with three pastry squirts of pastel cream icing so creamy you couldn’t taste the granules of sugar that made it so lethally intriguing.
I couldn’t wait to return the following day to try the pita packets with Indiana sirloin, or possibly the tortellini salad with a plethora of proteins.
I arrived Tuesday, before noon, to find a tearoom pregnant with elder ladies who lunch. Only tables with cream-colored “reserved signs” were observed as far as the eye could see. A vaulted back dining room containing a singular dining table was beyond that view; it’s peculiar encasement owed to this building having once housed a bank.
But I never got to see if that back room was occupied or not, because my server quickly dismissed me. “It looks like we’re full,” she said after a quick but fruitless eye scan for vacancy. No timetable of vacancies, no entreaties on when to return.
Well, maybe in 50 years.
Serendipity by Occasions Divine
2 West Main Street
Monday – Saturday: 1 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Food: four stars
Atmosphere: four stars
Service: two stars