"Thank God for tea!" English reformer and wit Sydney Smith once said. "What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea."
So is Audrey Heredia. During the past 10 years, she and her family have managed to build a tidy business based largely on that venerable beverage. The Heredias own one of the few restaurants in Orange County that offer afternoon tea--and in a setting that one British visitor, according to Heredia, said rivals the better tearooms in his native country.
The McCharles House Restaurant and Tea Room is a Victorian haven for those who need no instruction in the fine art of lingering over a meal--or a teapot. Located on a side street a block from the center of Tustin's Old Town area, the McCharles House is--or at least was--just that. Built in 1885 by D. L. McCharles, a local carpenter who later became the township justice, it served as the McCharles family home until the late 1920s. It passed through a succession of residents until the 1950s, when it was turned into a preschool.
Then, 10 years ago, the Heredia family bought it and started renovating.
"We bought it as kind of a family project," said Heredia. "My family's a tea-drinking family, and we've always thought it was a nice respite at the end of the day to drink tea, so the house started out in our own minds as a tearoom."
It soon became more than that. Today, the McCharles House serves not only afternoon tea, but also lunch six days a week and dinners on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The staff has grown beyond family members, but the business still is owned by the Heredias, and all the food is prepared from family recipes.
The renovation of the place included the steaming off of decades-old wallpaper and varnishing the wooden walls or replacing the paper with bright, swirling Victorian-style prints, Heredia said. Each of the rooms is furnished lavishly with Victorian English antiques and teapots.
While lunches and dinners are served, afternoon tea remains the centerpiece of the day at the McCharles House. Tea fanciers can sit either inside or in the front zarden and keep it simple with a pot of tea for $2 or settle in with the entire "Victorian Afternoon Tea"--an assortment of tea sandwiches, madeleines and scones, dessert and tea for $9.75. Sherry, port and champagne also are available on the afternoon tea menu. The scones, said Heredia, remain the favorite item.
"We feel we're presenting things in the English Victorian tradition," Heredia said, "but we're not English. We're American, and all the recipes are still our recipes."
Except, of course, for the tea. That comes from Fortnum and Mason, of London.
THE McCHARLES HOUSE RESTAURANT AND TEA ROOM AT A GLANCE
Where: 335 South C St., Tustin (just north of Main Street).
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner, 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; afternoon tea, 2-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Menu: Lunch--salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts, tea, soft drinks, beer and wine. Lunch entrees generally around $6.50. Dinner--entrees vary, priced roughly from $13 to $23. Afternoon tea--includes sandwich assortment, madeleines and scones, dessert and tea, $9.75.
Reservations: Taken at lunch for parties of six or more, at dinner for all parties. Generally not needed for afternoon tea.
Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard accepted.
Special events: Catering, parties and takeout food available.