Oklahoma’s best-known foods are beef, burgers, barbecue, and catfish – all of them rugged and bold. But if you travel west to Elk City, you will find the Country Dove Tea Room and a completely different kind of meal: ladies lunch. It is served in a charming little place that is a 1920s country home, where meals share the spotlight with an inventory of country décor and crafts and a large selection of Christian books for sale.
Gentle food, served with grace and good manners: creamed soups accompanied by heart-shaped muffins and honey butter; little squares of Jell-O here known as “Jell-O salad,” positioned on a lettuce leaf. The house specialty is chicken-avocado salad, which is the two elements pulverized together with mayonnaise and served on either a croissant or grilled wheat bun. The day’s special when I stopped in was “Mexican Fiesta” – a mild-mannered casserole with a south-of-the-border twist. King Ranch casserole is another specialty.
It is such a nice, polite, repertoire of dishes … until you get to dessert and French silk pie, which is a powerhouse: lasciviously chocolaty, smooth, dense, topped with a frothy ribbon of whipped cream and mounted on a plush nut crust. Alternative desserts include almond pound cake with lemon curd sauce and New York cheesecake.
Proprietors Glenna Hollis and Kay Farmer originally opened for business over 30 years ago, but not as a restaurant. Country Dove was strictly retail country décor. But business was slow; and one day a woman passing through said to them, “You girls need to put in a tea room.” She advised, “Do not use iceberg lettuce” and provided the recipe for raisin bran muffins and the chicken-avocado salad. Kay had some experience in food service, having been a soda jerk at her father’s lunch counter, and the recipe for the awe-inspiring French silk pie was provided by her mother. Now that old Route 66 is such a tourist attraction and Elk City has become a destination for its grand-scale National Route 66 Museum, the little restaurant attracts tourists from all over the country and the world.
When tea was first brewed some 5,000 years ago, chances are that it didn’t take long for hungry folks to munch on finger food with it, thus establishing the tea room. It’s a concept that has virtually been forgotten to present generations in America — or been replaced with the corporate coffee-centric model — but one need look no further than Historic Route 66 to uncover the slower things in life. Despite the number of retro eateries along the Mother Road, there are still plenty of old-timey establishments to be discovered. On our must-eat list while in Elk City was the French silk pie from the Country Dove Tea Room, and after perusing the specials, we decided to stay for lunch. Tea rooms are traditionally female-dominated, and the Country Dove was no different: the dining room was filled with mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, and lunching ladies. Chris was the only male in the place, but no one seemed to notice, especially during and after our customary food photo-snapping frenzy when the food arrived at our table.
Wanting the truest tea room experience, we ordered the creamy vegetable soup with a scoop of chicken salad. Heart-shaped toast came alongside, and the ultra-tender chicken was nearly pulverized and mixed with ample mayo. The chicken-avocado salad on a croissant was also quite tasty: the avocado was mixed in with the chicken instead of sliced and stacked on top. However, the most curious—and delicious—item was a thin square of lemon jello, blended with pears and cream cheese and perched on a bed of lettuce. The French silk pie was divine, of course: a light chocolate cream filling with real whipped cream and chocolate shavings, tucked into a homemade crust that seemed to have been molded out of crumbled pecan sandies. Real lemonade with a maraschino cherry and lemon slice capped a wonderful, sophisticated lunch.
The Country Dove is also a Christian gift shop, and we poked around afterward and spoke to the cashier about our meal. We told her that we especially loved the pie, so she went to the kitchen and brought out Glenna Hollis, owner and pie baker, who promised us that we could make her signature pie at home. “The recipe’s right here in our cookbook,” she said, picking up a copy to sell. We assured her that we could never duplicate such a delightful dessert and that we’d simply return for more. Sweetly, she took out a business card and signed the back for us: “Thanks for stopping by the Country Dove! Blessings, Glenna.” The Tea Room is open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.