The Vegetarian Option »

Dining out meat-free.

The Vegetarian Option: Tea & Sympathy

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[Photographs: Laura Togut]

Tea & Sympathy

108 Greenwich Avenue (between 12th and 13th Streets; map); 212-989-9735; teaandsympathynewyork.com
Cuisine: British
Veggie Options: 2 soups, 4 sandwiches, 5 salads, 6 entrees
Cost: Appetizers $6-13, sandwiches $7-8, entrees $10-15, desserts $8

Tucked away in the West Village is a tiny oasis of all things good and British: Tea & Sympathy. The walls are lined with teacups, the counter is lined with cakes, and the staff are all very friendly and very British. Often you'll see a solitary expat sitting at one of the small tables nursing a plate of bangers and mash and a good book.

Tea & Sympathy's menu is surprisingly vegetarian friendly: it's clear they've gone out of their way to include plenty of meatless options.

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No matter the time of day, I can't resist ordering a pot of tea ($4.50) and scones ($6.25). The teas are brewed from loose leaf tea* in an assortment of wonderfully kitschy teapots. Their white tea with rose petals is light and floral, best with a spoonful of sugar and nothing else.

*All of the teas are available for sale at their next door shop, Carry On Tea & Sympathy, which also stocks just about every variety of British imported foodstuffs you can think of.

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The scones aren't those giant chocolate chip-studded things you may be used to. They are small, round, barely sweetened—and here's the important part—they come with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam. These key components will turn your humble scone into something far more delicious. Slice one open and smear it with a healthy helping of both—you'll want to savor every creamy, sweet, heavenly bite.

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You can properly complete your afternoon tea with a selection of finger sandwiches ($13.50), available in vegetarian-only varieties. Our sandwiches included egg salad, cucumber cream cheese, and cheddar with chutney, all finger-sized as promised. They can be a bit dry, but for the novelty factor they get the job done.

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However it's the British comfort food that has turned the local expats into regulars. The golden-crusted cheese and onion pasty ($13.95), not unlike a pot pie folded in half, houses a warm cheese and onion filling that's comforting to no end.

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But my favorite new discovery is the Welsh rarebit ($10.95). If you're unfamiliar, don't let the name scare you away—there are no rabbits, rarebits, or Welsh used in the making of this dish. Instead, English farmhouse cheddar is mixed with Dijon mustard, cream, egg yolk, and a dash of black pepper, then spread over toast and cooked till golden. Served with slices of ripe tomato and a side of chutney, the result is an intensely rich open-face sandwich that will knock the pants off of your ordinary grilled cheese.

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And for the coldest winter days, order the vegetarian shepherd's pie ($12.95 lunch, $14.95 dinner). The hearty vegetable and lentil stew is covered in pillowy mashed potatoes, and will stick to your bones just as well as its meaty counterpart.

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For dessert, I highly recommend the popular treacle pudding ($8). A sponge cake is baked with a layer of sugar syrup (treacle) and served warm, drenched in a thin, sweet custard that tastes delightfully of steamed milk. A perfect spoonful will be cakey, syrupy, and creamy all in one bite.

In the wise words of the vicar Rev. Fr. A.C. Howard III, whose typewritten note hangs framed on the wall:

"Tea & Sympathy hath pleased my soul and comforteth the weary. In the great British tradition, we are proud to be loyal customers."

Amen.

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