Saturday, September 22, 2007
Feature in issue 14.19 – WATERMARK
Three Cheers For Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria
At Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria on 67 N. Bumby Avenue, the diverse clientele blends as seamlessly as the gourmet cheeses, meats and veggies on the eatery’s inventive sandwiches.
In the year and a half that the colorful restaurant has been in business, Pom Pom’s has generated a loud buzz and has also been critically acclaimed as one of Central Florida’s best places to grab lunch, which earned it a coveted Watermark WAVE Award last year.
Owner-operator Pom Moongauklang’s success has been brewed from more than just tea leaves and water.
After a difficult childhood in Thailand, where she was a migrant farm worker, Moongauklang moved to New York for a new start. In the Big Apple, she earned her degree as a pastry chef, then worked in such notable establishments as Lucky Cheng’s, a Chinese restaurant famous for its drag-queen servers; and actor Robert De Niro’s high-end restaurant, Nobu.
“The stress of dealing with celebrities and high-strung chefs got to me,” she admits. “All I wanted to do was open an easy-going restaurant.”
With the help and encouragement of a friend, Moongauklang moved to Orlando and opened her cozy teahouse and gourmet sandwich restaurant in Bumby Plaza a few blocks south of the Colonial Plaza shopping center.
Moongauklang uses only loose-leaf teas at the restaurant. The most popular tea on the menu is a refreshing blend of blueberry and lavender. There are many aromatic tea choices, ranging from chocolate to Immunity Booster. All the teas are served iced or hot and Moongauklang encourages patrons to combine house blends to suit their individual tastes.
“A lot of tea houses have specific guidelines for brewing, but we will mix and match any of our teas,” Moongauklang notes. “We are like the Willie Wonka of teahouses.”
For Pom Pom’s signature sandwiches, Moongauklang also likes to experiment with flavor combinations, merging Eastern and Western influences to create mouth-watering sandwiches like the “Fu Man Chu” (Asian pulled pork, watercress, goat cheese, ginger-cranberry chutney and red onions on the diner’s choice of breads).
“I like to combine things that people might not think should go together,” she says. “In my house, they do.”
For those looking to create their own sandwiches, Pom Pom’s has a variety of meats and cheeses that can be pressed between pieces of white, wheat, pumpernickel or rye bread. Veggie options are also offered.
The average price of a sandwich is around $6.95. For an extra $2, diners can make it a combo plate, which comes with a choice of side dish (like pasta salad, potato salad, peanut noodles or coleslaw) and a house-blend tea or soda.
Assorted soups are offered daily during the fall and winter, but only on weekends during the spring and summer. “It’s too hot for people to enjoy soup during those months,” Moongauklang says.
Pom Pom’s also serves breakfast, but don’t expect to see mundane dishes like scrambled eggs and bacon on the menu. The a.m. selection includes unique dishes such as the “One-Eyed Wong” (a variation on what’s often called a “Toad in the Hole,” which Mookgauklang says is two pieces of fresh bread with a hole in the middle, filled with a soft-boiled egg) and potato pancake “Napoleons.” Orlando Weekly recently selected Pom Pom’s as the “Best Unconventional Breakfast” in the city.
But Pom Pom’s is more than just tasty sandwiches, interesting breakfasts and drinks. Moongauklang, who has been described as the Margaret Cho of tea, says her restaurant provides an intimate and friendly atmosphere where members of the GLBT community can meet and interact comfortably.
“A lot of people don’t go out to the club and drink anymore,” she says. “It’s very comfortable here, and it’s easy to talk to the person sitting in the seat next to you.”
The teahouse’s clientele is as eclectic as the menu. “You never know who you could see,” Moongauklang says. “A politician could be sitting next to a DJ having a conversation; it’s a good ol’ neighborhood juke joint.”
Moongauklang is involved with numerous area charities, and once a month she displays work from a local artist. The artwork is submitted by both up-and-coming and established artists. Art is all affordably priced, regardless of the artist’s status.
“The art shows are fun and popular,” Moongauklang says. “A lot of artists sell all of their pieces.”
September’s featured artist is Angie Folks, the official photographer of Come Out With Pride 2007. Her exhibition is a conceptual photographic series titled Labeled. The next art opening, which takes place October 13 from 9-11 p.m., features the work of openly gay, self-taught artist Daniel Wooley.
For those brave enough to stomach anything, the teahouse holds a monthly “Gross-Out Food Challenge.” “Gross-out” items have included such “delicacies” as black eggs and pig snout.
Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria is open seven days a week. Hours of operation are Monday- Friday, 11 a.m.-8pm; Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, visit www.MySpace.com/PomPomsTeahouse or call 407-894-0865.