I’ve probably eaten more Lacy Specials from The Little Tea Shop for lunch when I’m at work than anything with the exception of the Calvary Waffle Shop salad plate during Lent.
I always call it “Chicken Lacy,” but they know what I’m talking about. It’s a chicken breast with sliced cornbread sticks covered with gravy. If there’s such a thing as comfort food, Lacy Special qualifies for me. Especially when I get it with the scalloped tomatoes (if they’re on the special) and rice.
Until Wednesday, I didn’t know anything about the origins of the dish or, really, much about the history of The Little Tea Shop.
Jimmy Lauck is the owner, and his wife, Suhair, is the president/general manager and the personality wearing a blue Dallas Cowboys cap behind the cash register.
Lillie Parham and Emily A. Carpenter started The Little Tea Shop in 1918 in the basement of the Cotton Exchange building, Jimmy said. The restaurant moved to its current location, which was known as the Fitzhugh Building, in the 1930s. Vernon Bell bought it in 1945 and ran it until Jimmy bought it in 1982.
I always thought “Lacy” was a woman, but Jimmy said C.A. Lacy was a cotton broker. He’s the one who decided, ‘Here’s what I want. Make it for me.’ And it has become our signature dish.”
That was in the 1930s, he said. They inherited the Lacy Special recipe from Bell, who inherited it from the previous owners. “The recipe is exactly the same,” Jimmy said. They use “a pure white skinless breast,” which is “baked and some kind of a sauce is put on it. Then the corn sticks on top.” And the gravy, of course.
It originally came with apple jelly, which sounds odd but to me is delicious. They stopped the little packets of apple jelly years ago, so I have to have little packets of cranberry sauce as a substitute. Jimmy said he’s going to bring back the apple jelly. “I want it exactly as it was.”
Unlike any other restaurant I go to, The Little Tea Shop provides menus and pencils for each customer. “I initiated that when I bought the restaurant. When the Tea Shop first opened, the waitresses at that time couldn’t write. The customer wrote his own menu. So, I said, ‘Well, that eliminates a lot of mistakes. Let me just put that on a printed sheet, and all the customer has to do is make a checkmark on it.’ Then it goes back in the kitchen and usually comes back correct. I say ‘usually.’”
The Little Tea Shop is at 69 Monroe; 525-6000.
— Michael Donahue: 529-2797; firstname.lastname@example.org