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Real Bellwether – What’s Old is New Again at Belmont Village Tea Room

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “What is history but fable agreed upon?”

History is the one word that perpetually presents itself at Belmont Village. Throughout the years, the rich history of this gracious Victorian home has been connected to Scottish immigrants, the military, business and industry. Today, the genteel 160-year-old homestead still greets visitors with its tall white pillars, Palladian window and grand staircase. It’s now home to the elegant and comfortable Belmont Village Tea Room, one of the few restaurants in town that is still a place for a nice “ladies lunch,” where as much attention is given to presentation as well as taste.

“When we bought the house for weddings and receptions, we decided that it was too beautiful to just sit empty,” says owner Becky Nunnelly. “We then decided to do a tea room, so we could offer a place to also hold bridal luncheons, baby showers and ladies’ book clubs and garden clubs. We only do the tea room on Wednesdays and cater special parties the rest of the week.”

The restaurant has developed a small, but loyal, following for lunch on Wednesdays. Regulars look forward to their once-a-week treat of chicken salad or the famous Plant Sandwich, award-winning potato soup and homemade desserts. They have also come to expect personal attention from the owner herself or one of her daughters.

Upon entering the front door, visitors are greeted by high ceilings, hardwood floors covered with oriental rugs and smiling faces. The sound of light-hearted conversation leads diners down the foyer to the cozy sun room. Glass-topped tables are covered with fresh flowers. Soft piano music fills the air. The atmosphere reflects a bygone era as visitors take in the burgundy walls, beaded board paneling and chair rails.

But the food is worthy of attention, too, dainty and tender bite-sized sweet corn and blueberry muffins that pop with flavor and sweet iced tea to rival that of any good Southern belle. Belmont offers an interesting array of soups, including the creamy lobster bisque and popular potato soup, which won an award at the 2007 Chef’s Auction. Fresh salads include the Wonton Salad with chunks of seasoned chicken breast mixed with a crisp blend of iceberg lettuce, sliced green onions, fried wontons and slivered almonds tossed in a special dressing. The Plant Sandwich, shown right, is an intriguing creation served on a whole wheat roll and filled with avocados, tomato slices, roasted pecans, melted provolone cheese and alfalfa sprouts drizzled with a special Belmont sauce that keeps patrons coming back for more.

Gourmet goodies provided by Sweet Magnolia fill the dessert tray: traditional New York Cheesecake, a light and airy Key lime creation, and a delicate chocolate masterpiece served in a “paper” shell made of white chocolate.

Followers will be glad to know that Wednesday lunch is not the only time to sample Belmont cuisine. Nunnelly has recently added Friday night fine dining with dinner and dancing, available by reservation. The evening fare often includes such mouth-watering selections as: sautéed shrimp with boursin cream sauce, filet of beef with ginger, red pepper glazed shrimp or seared breast of duck with balsamic and blood orange sauce.

Belmont has also become known for its holiday dinners around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

“We thought it would be fun on special occasions to offer a nice dinner,” Nunnelly said recently, “so we first decided to do our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners … the week prior so we didn't interfere with everyone's family time.”

Belmont Village spares no detail for Christmas. The Victorian home is opulently decorated every year, and it’s not difficult to imagine the home’s early days when it was first built in 1840 by Capt. James Andrew Jackson Bradford, commander of the Fayetteville Arsenal. Back then, the house was called Halebron. It’s said that Williams Jennings Bryant once spent the night there, but families called it home until 2000, when Hamilton and Henrietta Underwood decided to move to a smaller house in Haymount.

The Belmont Village Tea Room reflects the history of tea rooms that were enormously popular during the first half of the 20th century. Even though the traditions of that era are nearly forgotten, tea rooms represent a fascinating aspect of women’s history. Most tea rooms were owned or run by women, as is the Belmont Village. And Belmont Village is home to several other women-owned businesses, including Cake Decorating at Its Best by Donna Foley; Sweet Magnolia Cakes & Cheesecakes; Bowties, Ribbons and Lace and Women’s View magazine.

Tea rooms were once the fashionable place for women to meet friends in small towns, big cities and suburbs alike, as is Belmont Village. Yet today’s women are just as likely to meet here for business meetings; Belmont fuses modern expectations to the epic tea room.

As the inscription on the Hale sundial reads, “Time passes on, and as each generation makes its contribution, history is made.”