St. Paul's University Avenue corridor carries a lot of special memories from my youth. Back then, you could find me spending my allowance at Midway’s Title Wave and Urban Lights Music, or eating with my dad and mom at the McDonald's on Marion Street in the Rondo neighborhood, near my cousins’ house.
As I grew older, I became more aware of the rich culinary tapestry the street has to offer. From the delectable croissants at Trung Nam French Bakery to the Flintstone sandwich at Big Daddy’s Old Fashioned Barbeque, University is home to a wide array of delicious dishes you’d go on a quest for, like a crate digger would for records.
Relative newcomer Heritage Tea House & Cafe is a welcome addition to that rich culture woven along University.
“University Avenue is a great community,” Heritage’s owner, Raeisha Williams, tells me. “We are on University and Western, and this is a community that is ever changing, and we’re inside a historical building that was a dairy factory. It’s both adding the historical piece, and merging it with the future, and we’re excited to be here in St. Paul.”
With Williams at the helm, Heritage paints a vivid picture of home, family, and community, with colorful, plush couches used as the main seating for the space, and photos of family such as her aunts, uncles, and grandmother adorning the walls.
Williams wants you to know that Heritage is first and foremost a tea house. “In the early 1900s, African American women had tea houses at the peak of segregation, when there was nowhere to go for lunch during the day,” she says. “They opened tea houses that not only served tea, but soul food, as well. We want people to come in, get good food, kick back and relax. The Tea House is for the community.”
It’s that same spirit of home, family, and community that makes Heritage not only reflective of Williams’ family and values; it echoes throughout the space in the array of merchandise and literature that represents the African Diaspora experience. The teas offered at Heritage are their own house blends. Williams says they're in the process of doing more private labeling, and developing names that more uniquely reflect the culture at their core.
Visitors can take the plain-Jane route and order a pot of Moroccan Mint tea, or can go for the Hibiscus Punch. The latter (one of their more popular beverages) is also now available at Heritage’s U.S. Bank Stadium kiosk, to satiate your sweet tooth during Viking games.
“We’re also bottling up our Hibiscus Punch, and hope to offer it wholesale to co-ops and different grocers,” Williams mentions.
Also available at both the Tea House and their U.S. Bank Stadium kiosk are Heritage’s delectable wings. The two options—soul and jerk—pair well with their chicken and waffles. Served with a side of syrup and a huge dollop of whipped cream, the chicken and waffles will satisfy even the hungriest of appetites.
Elsewhere on the menu, salad and rice bowl selections (for those seeking healthier options) are offered, along with heaping portions of sides. Their Mac & Cheese is absolutely divine, and comes sprinkled lightly with smoked paprika and green onions. Seeking a sweeter offering? The Candied Yams is the true star of the show.
“The candied yams and greens are my own personal recipe,” Raeisha says, proudly. “Using the smoked paprika in the candied yams, and balancing it out with honey, helps give it that nice sweet and spicy taste.”
Big K.R.I.T once stated in his song “Soul Food” that “if it ain’t made with love, then it ain’t fit to serve.” Through delicious offerings, a comfortable atmosphere, and expertly served tea, Heritage Tea House & Cafe exhibits K.R.I.T’s sentiment on a communal level—and that love is paramount. Not only does love reverberate in the space, it’s reflected in the people it attracts, too.
Heritage Tea House & Cafe
360 University Ave W #103, St. Paul