Tea Time in Oakwood
By Tom Baker
In a world of instant messaging and instant gratification, sometimes it’s nice to have a good, simple meal in a quiet, comfortable place. No dining rooms with service staff buzzing about and techno music thumping you into submission, just from-scratch food and desserts lacking pretense and served by people who take care in what they do. Fortunately for Dayton, Central Perc fills that niche nicely and with little ego. From the homey feel and English travel brochures, to the 8×10 portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, Central Perc is a welcome retreat from the everyday fast casual or chain coffee joint.
Mike and Rose Morgan opened Central Perc in 1996 – word is, Rose was a regular on the bus Mike drove in England, and they later married and made their way across the pond. Stopping by on a busy day, you might notice a handful of customers on a first name basis – this is the type of place where comfort and familiarity trump what some might assume would be a starched Victorian collar type joint offering afternoon tea six days a week. Mike and his staff dart by wearing running shoes and soccer jerseys, while Rose scurries about the back preparing the house specialties.
Central Perc sits among the small shops and boutiques of downtown Oakwood and offers a small amount of outdoor seating. Inside, you’ll find colorful and art-filled walls surrounding seating for approximately 30. On our first visit, the last of the lunchers were making their way out as we settled in and ordered afternoon tea. A pot arrived right away to steep. Unfortunately, the popular and thus 86’d house tea was replaced by a pleasant Earl Grey/Assam blend. The addition of the Assam put the Earl Grey in the backseat, but this was fine as the notes of bergamot were simply subtle but not muted.
A modest wait later the food arrived – a tier of assorted sandwiches, a tier of cakes and tarts and finally a tier of scones. It seemed logical that we start at the bottom and work our way up, so we started with the assortment (varying based on daily selection) of egg salad, traditional English, and ham sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, all smeared with a bit of butter and served on brown bread. The traditional English sandwich features butter, cheddar, red onion, and the English condiment Branston pickle, a sweet and tangy vegetable relish. What sounds a bit strange is really a success of the sum of its parts – the creamy cheese and butter play nicely with the crunchy and pungent pickle and onion – a pleasant surprise.
We eagerly moved on to the second tier of cakes and tarts, including portions of carrot cake, sponge cake and Manchester tart. The carrot cake was lighter than most, featuring cream cheese frosting but lacking the typical raisins, nuts and density. The sponge cake was delicate layers of cake and fresh whipped cream, topped with berries. The star of the second tier, the Manchester tart, was unassuming in appearance but an excellent from top to bottom package of short bread, raspberry jam, custard, whipped cream and coconut garnish. Things were now slowing down and I wondered to myself, could the scones really match this performance? Indeed.
I profess no expertise when it comes to scones or pastries in general, but this last tier of afternoon tea temptation was my favorite and perhaps the most simple – raisin and plain scones, topped with a slice of butter, a dollop of strawberry jam and finished with a cloud of Rose’s whipped cream (a welcome theme by now). The scones could have stood on their own with a cup of their great coffee, but with the addition of these other elements they were something more – something profound. Maybe that’s a bit strong, but I would be back for more.
On a second visit, we stuck to a lighter menu of their vegetable soup, tea (this time a less exciting but pleasant Ceylon/Darjeeling blend), a Ploughman’s lunch consisting of salad greens with veggies, apple, cheddar and smoked gouda, ham, butter, Branston pickle, a warm just-out-of-the-oven bit of multigrain baguette and a scone. The soup also came with the baguette, which was fantastic for dipping or as the delivery mechanism for the ham, pickle and cheese. The soup was good – not particularly memorable, but included a wide assortment of fresh veggies. Also featured was a borscht and curried carrot is a regular in their soup rotation.
Service features walk-up ordering and tableside delivery, so allow for a few extra minutes – and one to two hours for afternoon tea – as the pace inside is leisurely and oftentimes the Morgans are working the front and back of the house with only an extra set of hands or two. They offer soup, salads, sandwiches, desserts, coffee, espresso drinks and of course afternoon tea between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in a casual and comfortable setting. Get there earlier than later for the best pastry selections.
Central Perc is located at 2315 Far Hills Ave. in downtown Oakwood and is open Monday-Saturday “8-ish to 5-ish.” Cash or check only. (937) 299-5282.
Reach food critic Tom Baker at email@example.com.