An accidental journey to the unexpected world of tearooms and not-so-genteel ladies 

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I love a good deal, and Madame Hatter's serves a fresh and creamy, delectably seasoned tomato soup. I can't say the same thing about the chicken enchilada quiche, a too-exotic twist on that tearoom standby. I wish I had ordered Bob's lunch, the Holy Chicken Salad loaded with herbed bird, grapes, celery and pecans. Truman wanted the hot ham-and-Swiss sandwich, described on the menu as "the best you'll ever have." He said it was, mostly because the ham was on a decent croissant and was slathered with a good mustard poppy-seed spread.

Freeland bakes most of her desserts, except for the one I ordered — a cheesecake dripping with cranberries and cherries. Bob and Truman each had a hunk of warm chocolate bundt cake in a puddle of hot chocolate sauce.

Frankly, after that tidy little teafest, I had more than my fill, as it were, of the world of dainty food and painted china. But I made the mistake of telling my friend Mimi, the great adventurer, about the Country Keepsakes Tea Room. She wanted to see the joint and downtown Belton.

So there we were, on a Saturday afternoon, sipping tea (mine was some strange brew, the color of cherry Jell-O), admiring all the little knickknacks and geegaws, and family photos on the walls.

Bev Bruce only does buffets during holidays, so we ordered from the regular lunch menu. It boasted six dishes, none costing more than 10 bucks. All included a salad and a thick slice of yeasty, freshly baked bread.

We started with a cup of cauliflower-cheese soup that was thick, delicious and comforting. And neither Mimi nor I even like cauliflower! Mimi followed the soup with a tender pot roast, while I had a bubbling plate of tuna casserole, made with thick noodles and a cheddary cheese sauce (though not much tuna). We shared a slab of banana-split cake — layers of chocolate cake, sliced bananas, strawberries, toffee and whipped cream.

I found myself wishing that there were a place like Country Keepsakes closer to the big city. I mean, it's pretty hard to find a restaurant in the urban core that serves tuna-noodle casserole and banana-split ice-cream cake for lunch, and, damn it, there should be!

"So," I whispered across the table, "do you think a place like this would go over in the Power & Light District?"

Mimi nearly dropped her little pumpkin-apple muffin. "Why would you even think of such a thing?"

Well, history, for one thing. Downtown Kansas City was once a tearoom mecca. There was one on the mezzanine of the long-razed Kline's department store, and in that cherub-adorned third-floor restaurant at the old Emery Bird Thayer. There were also the Magic Tea Shop at 10th Street and Main and the Egyptian Tea Room, an intriguing-sounding place that operated in the neighborhood now occupied by the Power & Light District.

Back in the 1940s, my friend Georgina used to go to that Egyptian Tea Room — for the experience, not the food, which she says wasn't very good. "They did have these women dressed up like Gypsies who would tell your fortune by reading the tea leaves in your cup," she said. "They weren't really fortunetellers, though."

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