Josephine’s Tea Room & Gift Shops, A Restaurant Review
Want to know a secret? On a rather desolate and unimpressive street in Godfrey, Illinois, there is a hidden gem called Josephine’s Tea Room and Gift Shops. It’s my favorite place in all of the Midwest.
To unaware vehicles passing by on the road, the frame of the small ranch-style house-turned-restaurant is drowned out by an overgrowth of strategically placed green vegetation, thus making its presence somewhat exclusive. But newcomers flock to Godfrey from all over.
Many have heard through word-of-mouth of Josephine’s Tea Room’s upscale reputation. Its lavish menu of tea-party-type foods. The luxurious atmosphere. The tactfully tacked on gift shop one never expects to enter upon first entrance, but does. And of course, a garden that upstages even the Missouri Botanical Garden itself — or comes close.
On the porch entrance a brown sign hangs from the overhead and reads “Josephine’s EST. 1979.” It is still very much today what it was back then. A fashionable little sanctuary for women to get away from their husbands and indulge in girl-talk around a kettle of tea, hot coffee, and an assortment of freshly-baked pastries. A place where locals can feel somewhat high-class in their own little Midwestern town.
I’m sure the original ladies of Godfrey probably wished for their tearoom to remain snobbishly aloof from outsiders. And heck, I don’t blame them — who wouldn’t? But Josephine’s Tea Room is quickly gaining attention as the Midwest’s ultimate girls’ getaway.
Josephine’s Tea Room Design
Outdoor Dining At its Finest
The shape of the tearoom is strategically structured like a rectangle missing a side leg. This is so that diners on the patio feel homey and reclusive to the busy surrounding streets. It’s almost sitting in a sort of courtyard in the middle of the restaurant. This outdoor quad spot is easily my preferred spot to dine in.
The quad is decorated with hanging colorful bright plants around the windows. Beautiful vines spiral up the columns that hold up the structure of the connecting walls. To get this courtyard structure, a gift shop was added adjacent to the front porch. The perfect placement created this cozy outdoor corner space for patio tables.
Dine with a View
Parallel to the front entrance sits a raised ledge connected to the gift shop. This area is where diners can choose to sit both inside and outside. Its location lies under the protection of an open roof covering the restaurant. A railing is placed just on the ledge to create a sort of balcony overlooking the rest of the patio. The inside part is surrounded by glass walls. This gives diners a scenic view of the courtyard. Glass double-doors separate this room from the main one.
The Main Dining Room
Entering from the front porch entrance into the main room, the host stands behind a marble countertop. The words “Josephine’s Tea Room and Gift Shops” are written in fine cursive letters on the wall behind it. The counter is also a glass case that holds an assortment of desserts on display. Not that you would ever need to get out of your seat to order dessert.
Even from the outdoor courtyard-seating, you don’t just get a typical dessert menu. No, that would be much too simple-minded and not nearly classy enough for a place with a reputation like Josephine’s Tea Room. These deletable desserts are brought out on an entire silver tray and cart.
It’s held right under your nose with several options to choose from. Stacked with plates of freshly-made slices of cakes, pies, cheesecakes, and crème brûlées. All baked, broiled, and glazed to perfection. And all topped with mountains of whipped-cream, fresh fruit, chocolate drizzle, and sprinkles of sweet spices.
Eat like British Royalty at Josephine’s Tea room
… And now I’ll have a cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me.Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest
Contrary to the massive plates of desserts passing by, keeping the heads of diners on a swivel, the actual meals are rather tiny and cute. Actually, they’re quite similar to that of a little girl’s outdoor tea-party with miniature crumpets and tea.
My favorite meal is always the soup and half-sandwich lunch combo. The turkey club — like all the other sandwiches — is cut into adorable triangles with toothpicks holding each quarter together. Much like the dainty cucumber sandwiches famously eaten by British aristocracy during afternoon tea. Except with much more American flavor.
One of the reasons I love Josephine’s Tea Room so much is that it brings to life my favorite Oscar Wilde play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Or I guess rather the 2002 movie adaptation with Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, and Judi Dench.
It’s fascinating looking around at all the fellow diners. The older ones boast vibes of snobbish Lady Bracknells of the Midwest. And the younger ones, undeniably like myself, remind me of Gwendolen, having much more refined tastes and acute attentiveness to what the current trends in “high society” are. All of us raising our small pinkies with our piping hot cups of tea, with “no sugar, of course” because “sugar is no longer fashionable.”
Two types of Tea Room Goers
On one hand, with just one triangular-cut sandwich and a side-bowl of lobster bisque at a fine place like Josephine’s Tea Room, half of us long to become Lady Bracknell eating cucumber sandwiches. The very woman whose butler has the responsibility of explaining “there were no cucumbers in the market this morning, not even for ready money” to satisfy her ability to afford the bland bastards in the first place.
And then there are people like my mom. She’s usually the only person I dine at Josephine’s Tea Room with. The Melissa Anns of the world are the true Americans. They’re the ones who have no energy for the uptight British bullshit. And they come to Josephine’s just because the key-lime pie gives them bigger food-gasms than The Cheesecake Factory’s ever could. Burn.
The Gorgeous Gift Shops
Every time we dine at Josephine’s Tea Room, there is always a lady coming around to each table with the sweetest, gentlest voice telling each guest, “Make sure you check out the gift shops after your meal to get the full Josephine’s experience!” And of course everyone wants the “full Josephine’s experience.”
Upon entering through the front doors and turning left at the dessert counter, a door leads into the gift shops. From the outside looking inward, it’s like taking a peak into Santa’s workshop with shelves lined with tiny trinkets and handmade figurines of all shapes and sizes in each row. And of course there’s assortments of a typical mom-shop with candles, handmade scented soaps, and bouquets of flowers. Another shop sells mostly clothing, including fur coats and velvet holiday hats.
My mother and I always end up strolling through the shops — bellies full of bisque and vulnerable to the persuasion of soothing shopkeepers. It’s like being in a less-noisy mall after leaving a less-chaotic food court, except instead of intense kiosk sellers hunting you down as you try to slink by avoiding eye-contact, there are nice elderly ladies who might even be your grandmother. The type who can convince you with just the tender looks in their eyes to purchase a souvenir from the gift shop so as not to break their fragile hearts — and you would never break your grandmother’s fragile heart.
Warm like nana’s Cookies
When you’re inside the shops, you can’t help looking at the magnificent furs hung upon the wall and wool coats lining the racks. The shop woman perusing the store usually has shoulder-length graying hair and thin-framed glasses from which her eyes pop out like shiny baubles under a magnifying glass. She’ll look up at you and smile with the same welcoming warmth that lingers from your nana’s oven when she pulls out freshly-baked sugar cookies at Christmastime.
I still remember the first time I experienced this several years ago…
“That coat would just look darling on you, my dear,” the shop woman says, coming up to us and pulling a black princess coat with two rows of buttons and a fur collar from the rack — the very one I realize I must have been holding on to while gazing at the woman from afar.
My mother comes over from where she was standing by the furs on the wall. She takes one of the arms of the coat in her hands to look at it. “Well she does need something warm and elegant to go over her black gown for orchestra concerts. She’s a violinist, you know.”
Of course the woman squeals with delight about my being in orchestra (people my grandmother’s age seem to love that), going on to ask me if I will stick with playing for a long while.
Fast forward to 2022 — I do still play violin in case you’re wondering. I also compose music for violin, piano, and string orchestra, which you can peruse and listen to on my Shop Page.
The Magical Garden
As if the restaurant and gift shops aren’t precious enough, the outside garden area of Josephine’s Tea Room is the most magical place. Going back through the canopied path that leads out of the courtyard, if you turn left and follow the side of the ranch-style home it will eventually open up into an outdoor sitting area.
An arch made of stone faces the sidewalk perpendicular to the parking lot. It’s hidden by tall bushes to maintain the exclusiveness of the entire venue. Statues of two stone swans towering a few feet over the average-sized woman sit inside of a circular stone foundation filled with a perfectly-trimmed round bush.
The Mystery of the Swans
Though possibly a clichéd image to add in a garden, the swan itself adds that extra touch of grace to top off the pleasantly warm atmosphere of Josephine’s Tea Room. Whenever my mother and I go out to the back gardens, I often notice how people admire these swan statues. They holds cups of coffee in their hands and just stare up at the beautiful long necks seemingly amazed. My mother does this too, as if their delicate stone bodies makes her realize the beauty art can truly capture. She was an artist in a past life, so maybe it takes her back somewhere nostalgic.
I remember one time, another woman stood beside my mother doing the same thing — staring with that look of epiphany in her eyes. It’s as if this one image of an animal brings two complete strangers together like they had been childhood friends. It’s odd, but it’s a tranquil experience you simple must witness.
A Tranquil Pavilion
Following the path from the swans, the brick platform leads to an octangular white pavilion with a spire that stretches high into the trees. There’s merely a single chair on the pavilion, as there are many other places to sit scattered among the garden. Either seat would be the perfect place to cozy up with a good book and read or even just meditate in the silence.
Need a good book recommendation? Check out my blog on “Top 8 Nonfiction Books with the Best Life Advice, Incredible Stories & Powerful Lessons.”
I remember once seeing an elderly man sit in this chair under the structure by himself, a cup of black coffee in hand as he stares out at the lush green foliage around him… He looks as if he could be right at home on his own front porch watching the world go by. He was the only man in the entire garden. I could tell he comes to Josephine’s Tea Room regularly — probably only lives just down the street in the neighborhood behind Lewis & Clark Community College. Or maybe he’s just a man who had heard of the tea room from word-of-mouth and travelled all the way from St. Louis to get some peace of mind. To escape. Whoever he was, he had fallen under the same spell that every other patron here had been consumed by.
Maybe that’s just it — the mystery in this exclusive tearoom. No one wants to be quite so alone, even when we do wish to escape. And maybe the correct definition of “escaping” is as simple as having a good cup of tea in a luxurious atmosphere surrounded by good company, be it friends, family, or just the company of oneself.
Whichever you’re looking for, I can assure you you’ll find it at Josephine’s Tea Room with a hot cup of tea.
Pinkie’s up, people.