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Victorian Charm

The perfect setting for high tea at McKelvey's

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It's the sort of place book groups yearn for -- quiet, inexpensive, and relatively private. It's the sort of place boomers might take their aging parents for a meal in surroundings suggestive of their childhood, for McKelvey's Victorian Cafe looks like nothing more than your grandparents' front parlor, filled with frippery both genuine and faux.

Dominating the front hall is a gorgeous staircase, its wood gleaming and polished. It leads upstairs where a private room can accommodate parties of up to 25 people. Off to the left on the ground floor is the front parlor, a sunny room painted an unfortunate pinkish mauve. The center room has a pretty display of china teapots and cups and a coffee bar where one can get an espresso, cappuccino, latte or chai. In the back is another dining area, its tables also covered in a farmhouse oilcloth. Like other restaurants located in charming houses -- Dale St. Caf and La Petite Maison -- the coziness and warmth of the rooms will make you feel you're dining in someone's home.

As will the service. Our waitress was friendly, accommodating and attentive to our needs, no easy task when her diners are scattered in different rooms. I can only imagine her frenzy when warmer weather allows use of the spacious outside dining area.

Unlike the Victorian decor, lacy and busy, the lunch menu has a spareness and simplicity to it: quiche, sandwiches and salads, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $9.95. We sampled some of each.

The Greek quiche (the other choice was a Quiche Lorraine) almost lived up to its description on the menu: "McKelvey's Homemade Mouth Watering Quiche ... A wonderful egg custard filled pie..." Therein lies the danger of editorializing on your menu. The quiche was tasty. The spinach and feta were thickly layered atop the egg. The portion was generous. But a microwave heating marred the overall effect. Whatever hope of flakiness this lovely crust might have had was zapped into a cardboard oblivion.

The microwave did come in handy in heating the lukewarm soup that accompanied the chicken salad sandwich. The soup of the day was chicken tortilla soup and it was cheesy and zingy, thick with beans and corn. The chicken salad was also good, with a light curry flavor that worked well with the grapes and water chestnuts. The chicken salad and the turkey sandwiches come on croissants. There are two other sandwiches on different breads, a BLT on toasted wheat, and a tuna melt on sourdough. When we asked for options for the chicken salad, our waitress offered either white bread or marble wheat. If you go to McKelvey's, take a certain flexibility with you.

The side salad that came with a sandwich was fresh and crisp. The honey Dijon dressing was lively, and also worked well with one of the Panini sandwiches we tried. Of the three Paninis on the menu -- a vegetarian with red and green peppers, tomatoes, provolone and onions; a turkey and bacon with provolone; and a chicken -- we opted for the chicken. A generous portion of foccacia bread is lightly layered with chicken, provolone, red onions and roma tomatoes; the honey Dijon is on the side and blended all the flavors together.

Although the main menu choices may seem modest, McKelvey's pulls all the stops for dessert -- five different scones, homemade cookies, apple pie cheesecake, five different cakes, several sinful sounding things involving chocolate mousse, and bread pudding.

The scones we tried, a cranberry orange and an apple cinnamon chip, were delicious but affected by that injudicious use of the microwave. It's nice if a scone is warm but it's nicer if it has some crustiness.

Scones and pastries play a leading role at High Tea, surely the perfect meal in this setting. Each afternoon one can enjoy several kinds of finger sandwiches, scones with lemon curd and clotted cream, a variety of desserts and pots of perfectly brewed tea served in delicate china pots. Tea and Sympathy at its finest for only $13. Forget, however, about tea and spontaneity: Reservations are required.

And until early May, you will need reservations for weekend dinner as well. You will also need three friends because a minimum of four people is required. You can try some of the dinner entrees at Sunday Brunch -- Chicken Parmigiana and Creole Shrimp, for example -- with no reservation required. These dining hurdles will vanish in spring when Old Colorado City again teems with strolling tourists. In the meantime, the perfect spot for the many book groups in town sits darkened most nights.

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