By Carol Cowan
More than 25 years ago, an old family recipe provided the inspiration for what would become Mary Henry’s successful West Knox County restaurant, the Apple Cake Tea Room. Situated near the interstate in a cozy, inviting log cabin, the quaint lunch spot is a favorite among local folks and travelers alike.
Her homemade, heirloom apple cake is Henry’s signature item, but the menu features a number of tantalizing specialties.
“The Tea Room Medley is very popular,” Henry says. “It includes chicken salad, glazed fruit, homemade banana bread with cream cheese and chips. We also get a lot of orders for our Pineapple Boat – a hollowed out pineapple half filled with chicken salad.”
In defiance of tea room stereotypes, the helpings are anything but dainty. “We get a lot of men,” Henry says. “If you can get them in the door, they realize we serve adequate portions.”
What’s more, the food is prepared with care. “Our chicken salad is made fresh daily,” Henry explains. “A lot of places just don’t make their own foods anymore, but that’s something we’ve always done, and we’ll never change that.”
Even the tea is made on site. In addition to the standard English breakfast, Earl grey and green teas, the Apple Cake Tea Room serves its own special recipe Friendship Tea, a Russian spice tea mix that customers can enjoy by the cup or purchase by the jar to take home.
For dessert, there’s the apple cake, of course, which customers say is to-die-for. There’s also brownie pie with ice cream and homemade fudge sauce, or if you want to go all out, the Ice Cream Cornucopia, a waffle-type pastry in the shape of a cornucopia filled with vanilla ice cream and then drizzled with butterscotch and fudge sauce and topped with sautéed bananas.
The homey, two-story log cabin is decorated with antiques, quilts, pine tables and many of Henry’s family heirlooms. A fire burns in the open fireplace every day. Upstairs, an array of old fireplace mantels and antique wedding dresses provides the perfect backdrop for wedding showers and private parties.
All in all, it’s no wonder this long-standing lunch spot has so many loyal customers.
“I think the community appreciates our longevity and reliability. I consider it a big compliment that my staff has been here for 15, 16, 17 years, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the relationships I’ve built with my regular customers,” Henry says. “It’s a special place. A lot of memories have been made here.”
The Apple Cake Tea Room, located at 11312 Station West Drive in Knoxville (Farragut), is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Call (865) 966-7848 to inquire about rental space for parties and special events.