Tea for two

Celebration: How better to express filial affection than an invitation to afternoon tea on Mother's Day?

April 30, 2000|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

There's something deliciously decadent about taking the afternoon off for a proper tea. It's a meal that nourishes the soul as much as the body -- ah, if only we could survive on steaming cups of freshly brewed tea, warm scones, Devonshire cream and dainty cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

This Mother's Day we suggest afternoon tea as a relaxing alternative to taking Mom out to brunch. Make your reservations now; the tearooms that are going to be open on Sunday, May 14, will be booked up soon if they aren't already. If they are, or if the tearoom of your choice is closed on Sundays, an invitation to tea on another day makes a lovely gift.

Locally, teas are offered for every taste: elegant hotel teas, filling pub teas, pretty little tearoom teas. Some are quite authentic; others are a romanticized and Americanized version of this British tradition. All are fun. Reservations are advised and are often essential. Happy sipping!

Bertha's

Broadway and Lancaster, Fells Point

410-327-5795

Monday through Saturday, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

This Fells Point pub offers a tea filled with quirky charm. On a chilly, rainy spring day, the setting was ideal: tea by candlelight in a cozy, wood-paneled room.

Bertha's staff is young and funky, but the meal itself -- a bargain at $8.75 -- is an authentic Scottish high tea. (The owner's mother was from Scotland.) It starts with savory items like sausage in pastry, tiny tomato tarts and Scottish eggs, which are hard-boiled and wrapped in sausage. Next come the scones, and then freshly baked sweets: miniature mince tarts, shortbread, macaroons and the like. The only concessions to modern times are tea bags and whipped cream substituted for clotted cream.

Why you should go: Bertha's crumbly, buttery shortbread melts on your tongue.

Brighton's

Harbor Court Hotel

550 Light St., Baltimore

410-234-0550.

Monday through Saturday, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

Nobody does a hotel tea better than Brighton's. It has more style than substance, but that's not a complaint. It's just not a meal designed to fill you up.

You're seated in a beautiful flowery dining room and pampered with attentive service. Watercress sandwiches, curried chicken in phyllo and a curl of smoked salmon on cucumber are artfully arranged on the savory tray. Our only quibble: The sandwich bread was toasted.

Savory items are followed by small, hot scones studded with currants and all sorts of decorative sweets, from mousse in a miniature chocolate cup to a tiny square of cream-filled cake.

Brighton's traditional tea is $17.50; for $24.50 you get a kir royale and liqueur-soaked strawberries as well.

Why you should go: The Devonshire cream, a heavenly cross between whipped cream and sweet butter.

The Enchanted Herb Garden and Tea Room

Valley Village Shopping Center

9131 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills

410-998-9200

Tuesday through Sunday, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

The Enchanted Herb Garden takes a Zen-like approach to afternoon tea. Above all, it should soothe the spirit. The tearoom is simply furnished in lavenders and pale yellow with decorative painting on the walls and the murmur of a fountain in the background.

There's nothing simple about the fare here, though. For $12.50 you get a lavish tea of cucumber, tomato and cream cheese sandwiches -- crusts off, of course -- and scones, pretty little tea cookies and a healthy slice of a fine lemon tart.

The choice of loose teas is extensive, from Fortnum & Mason's Queen Anne to Zydeco ginger tea, with many herbal choices. (No surprise there, considering the name of the shop.) The owners are new, and they bend over backward to please.

Why you should go: Tea tastes better when it's served in bone china cups.

Gertrude's

The Baltimore Museum of Art

10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore

410-889-3399

Wednesday through Sunday, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

Gertrude's, the handsome museum dining room, is a relaxed setting for an imaginative afternoon tea. Strict traditionalists might not approve, but instead of cucumber, Gertrude's pretty tea sandwiches consist of shrimp salad and open-faced turkey, mango and asparagus. The savory tray is garnished with cucumber slices topped with a cube of chicken salad.

Sweets are next and include tea breads, meringues, chocolate-dipped strawberries and tiny squares of cream-filled cake. The warm scones are a Southern version, something like shortcake biscuits. Yum.

Your choices are a tea with sweets for $12, a traditional tea for $15 (described above) and a salon tea for $20 that includes strawberries and a kir royale. The only downside was that our tea came in plain metal teapots.

Why you should go: If there's a prettier setting than the museum's sculpture garden, which the dining room overlooks, I'd like to know about it.

Heritage Tea Room

421 St. John St., Havre de Grace

410-942-0290

Tuesday through Saturday, 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.

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