Tea and Chromosomes

The final course was the cutest of all--a three-tiered silvery tray of toy-colored petits fours (bite-sized iced cakes), shortbreads, cookies, chocolate candies, and decorative gummy cinnamon hearts. It was darling. Yet, I must admit, even as I admired the impressive display, some part of me was all cuted out and yearning for mannish things: Motor oil. Jackknives. Prostates. Whatever.

But no one promised me a rose garden. No one did. Except that one guy. And all I got out of him was a set of used dentures and a Stutz hubcap. But let's not get into that. Let's get into Murray's, which in the afternoon, clear of steaks and cigars, shows its feminine petticoats.

This pink watered-silk palace of the 1950s is a perfect place for tea, and the mirrored, tasseled, white-glove ambiance is priceless. Here, too, I found a higher-than-average number of hats in the crowd, most notably an Easter bonnet with flowers on a little girl and a white heart-shaped cap with a long white feather on a lady in a lavender suit. At Murray's they serve tea weekdays from 2:00 to 3:30; one can choose à la carte tea options (e.g., just a cup of tea, just a scone), but the high tea is the three-course "Queen's Favorites," which runs $9.95.

Diana Watters

Location Info

Map

Buckingham BeeTea Room

2179 4th St.
White Bear Lake, MN 55110

Category: Coffee Shops

Region: White Bear Lake

Murray's Restaurant And Cocktail Lounge

26th S. 6th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Steakhouse

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Cafe Latte

850 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Murray's actual tea leaves a lot to be desired--individual pots with Pickwick teabags! Yuck! But the warm, buttery scone was the best I had on my high-tea excursions, as hot and flaky as a Spice Girl in summer. The emerald cucumber sandwiches were sprinkled with dill, the double-decker egg-and-tuna-salad sandwiches were appropriately crustless, and a perfect single orchid was perched in the middle of each plate. My tuxedoed server said it was good luck to eat the pink flower, so I did. It tasted like celery. Such is the magic Murray's works upon you: You lift your faceted, footed water glass, toast the circlet chandeliers, and eat a corsage.

For the final course, the server brought out a tray of pastries; I picked what he claimed was a "cannoli," actually a praline tube filled with whipped cream--good in a sugar-rush sort of way--and the worst strawberry tartlet imaginable: It tasted exactly like perfume. I liked the flower better.

My final stop was at Café Latte, where they serve high tea every single day from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. But I made the mistake of going on a Sunday afternoon, and Café Latte on a Sunday afternoon is a nightmare voyage into the decaying heart of the American Dream. (Or at least it's really crowded, and the harried staff shoot daggers with their eyes when you order this pain-in-the-patisserie presentation.) For $9.95 you get a pot of hot water with a tea ball of loose-leaf Taylors of Harrogate, served on a silvery tray with a bowl of sugar packets and a bundled roll of tableware, cafeteria-style. On another doily-covered plate, there's a cold mini-scone, two shortbread cookies, a half-size slice of nut tart or fudge cake, a pair of chocolate hearts, and--Mildred! get the smelling salts!--cucumber sandwiches with their crusts still on.

These disheveled cucumber sandwiches may have been the best-tasting I had, but they were, nevertheless, a scandal. Imagine: Two slices of white bread spread with a red-pepper-and-herb cream-cheese blend, piled high with cucumber slices, then cut into sloppy fours; the disgracefully crusted quarters stacked two together and united in their shame by a toothpick. They were about as ladylike as a big rig jacked across four lanes of traffic.

Intolerable. In fact, coming off the high-tea circuit, I find nearly everything intolerable. Noise. Gears. Ladies without hats. Plates without hearts or flowers. You see, frequent high teas are spectacularly narcotic. They create feelings akin to the ones you'd have upon sliding into a bathtub of warm petroleum jelly. From these soothing emollient shallows, all life looks crude. Not only does it become impossible to conceive of anything as violent as using one's teeth to chew on bread crusts, but the very possibility of skateboarders seems abhorrent.

I started out asking, "Why Skater Pain?"--and now I can only fan myself listlessly and ask: Why, why must this grim, gray earth be so persistently unattractive? Note to Metro Transit: Hand-knit bus cozies would greatly improve the look of your fleet. Note to U S West: Even the plainest telephone pole would be improved by the addition of a few inexpensive doilies. Note to readers: While it might seem obvious that the quickest understanding of teenage boys would be gained by close examination of scones and tea rooms, that common-sense approach has mysteriously proved fruitless.

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