By: Phyllis Sigal
It just doesn’t get any sweeter than this: holiday music subtly catching your ear. A seasonal tea steeping in an antique teapot over a warming flame. Three tiers of treats — all dainty, delicious and homemade.
When Joe and Gretchen Figaretti invite you into their historic Eckhart House in Old Town, just a bit north of the Wheeling Tunnel, you enter a different era — a time when there was no tunnel, when horse and buggies clip-clopped by, when women dressed in their finery, and men wore shiny top hats.
Joe — wearing his top hat — will teach you the proper way to eat a scone — or at least the way he does it. “I take the entire scone and put a whole bunch of jam on top of it, and then stack the cream on top of that, so when I bite into it, I got a dollop of cream on the end of my nose.”
The cozy tearoom seats around 26 guests, who enjoy a three-tiered repast. Tea sandwiches and savories on the bottom; scones in the middle — sometimes plain, sometimes raisin or maybe blueberry-lemon or apple-cinnamon. The top tier is for confections, usually two or three selections of dainty tea cookies.
“One of our favorites is an apricot cookie. Another favorite is my grandma’s favorite, that she called an icebox cookie,” Gretchen said.
Gretchen bakes the scones and cookies ahead of time and pops them in the freezer; tea sandwiches are always made fresh the morning of the tea. The little triangles of bread are topped with cream cheese and cucumber, or there may be yummy chicken salad sandwiches, too.
After you’ve had your fill of tea and treats, Joe will guide guests around the 1892 home, spectacularly appointed with antiques and dressed in holiday decor, telling tales of the home and the neighborhood and those who inhabited it. He’s got a wealth of history to share.
Along with the teas and tours, the Ekhart House Gift Shoppe offers a variety of greeting cards, jewelry, home décor, candles and more. The gift shop is open from noon to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Now is a great time to shop, as Joe and Gretchen plan to close in May, and a gift shop clearance is in effect!
The Figarettis will be hosting holiday teas through the end of December. They will close for the month of January, and reopen in February with a Valentine Tea, followed by Shamrock Tea, Spring Tea and Mother’s Day Tea, as well as teas by appointment throughout the spring.
Teas are by reservation, and private weekday teas can be scheduled for six or more guests. Advance notice of a few weeks is appreciated, but at least three days is required.
The Eckhart House is located at 810 Main St., Wheeling. Call 304-232-5439 to reserve your space at a sumptuous tea. Visit www.eckharthouse.com for more information.