Culinary cage match: afternoon/high tea

Stomachs, let's get ready to rumble!

When I thought up the idea of Afternoon Tea, I wondered aloud if perhaps it was a little too genteel for the rollicking, tumultuous affair that Culinary Cage Match has become. The bruising, winner-take-all battle that often describes high-powered chefs working grand rooms being cut down to size by machine gun-like blows to the belly by the little guy, ultimately felling the giant. How was the calming effect of an afternoon cup of tea and some scones going to elicit a brawl? Or was it simply time, as someone remarked, to “let out my inner old lady?”

The first thing you probably already know about Afternoon Tea is that it is not the same as High Tea. High Tea basically includes a full meal eaten around dinner time, whereas Afternoon Tea is more to hold you over until a late dinner, or until your late afternoon nap, whichever comes first. At Pineapple Blossom Tea Room, owner Frances Brown makes sure you’re comfy and satisfied, although snoozing after a big pot of tea may be frowned upon. The tiny room has only about a dozen seats, and there are books for you to read, if you like, along all the window sills. This gives the place an air of, well, literacy, which is also often frowned upon in today’s world — where reading anything not off a computer screen is seen as gauche.

The Full Tea Service will run you $16.95 a person, and it will fill your belly, so arrive hungry. The pot of tea probably has four or five cups-worth, so also be prepared for a little, ahem, cleansing. There are half-a-dozen little two- or three-bite sandwiches, like the afternoon-tea-must-have cucumber, spread with an herbed honey mustard, as well as very light ham, chicken or turkey with surprisingly different spreads, on the, yes, dainty little crustless triangles of soft bread. There are also about 10 teeny pastries, including a lush lemon cream mini, and a couple of scones to top off the traditional big-ass silver three-tiered thingie that they’re served upon. Frances bakes the little scones to order, and they are two hot, delicately moist bundles, served with “cream and jam,” which means plenty of butter. The coconut and other island flavors in the pastries reflect the owner’s Caribbean heritage, and there is even a Caribbean Tea Service for three dollars more, which includes tea and cakes (I couldn’t bear to use the word “pastry” again) from the tropics. The room is informal, but there are sophisticated touches like embroidered tablecloths that made even a brute like myself want to lift my pinky high.

At the Biltmore, Afternoon Tea is $21.95 and served until 6 p.m. To quote: “A traditional English High Tea experience held amid the historic grandeur of the Biltmore lobby. Guests revel in the splendor of the vaulted ceiling arches while enjoying an eclectic selection of imported teas, finger sandwiches, freshly-baked scones and delicate pastries. Weekdays, guests are serenaded with live classical guitar music.” Guess you’ll have to bring your own book.

Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables; 305-445-1926.  Pineapple Blossom Tea Room, 8214 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-754-8328.

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Published: 8/08