There is no more civilized pleasure than taking time with tea–a pastime the British have perfected and Americans copy with limited success. But a proper serving can be had at Mary Ann’s Tea Room in St. Louis, one that would make Maggie Smith proud and without the cost of an airline ticket.
Most recently I discovered a hidden gem in the Central West End: Mary Ann’s Tea Room that has been opened for little more than a month. The lunch/tea room is located in a sunny, spacious greenhouse that once served as a flower and garden shop and can now seat 45 for lunch or tea. You enter through its sister store on McPherson, a boutique called Enchanting Embellishments and into a space that dazzles with Victorian elegance.
I felt pampered from the moment I was ushered to one of the carved, rosewood parlor chairs that encircle a table covered with crisp linen, fresh flowers, and an array of silver. Overhead bamboo-paddle fans whirled gently amid dangling chandeliers as gentle rays of sunlight played off the whimsical décor. I felt that any moment Mary Poppins would appear at our table, but instead a very patient, young man not only took our order, but explained that it took two years to design the space. Though the setting speaks of a bygone era, it does so with being starchy.
The assortment of entrees as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches are well-prepared and tastefully presented by a staff eager to please. Best of all, they offered my two favorites brands: Tea Forte and Dimah.
One more thing. . .wherever you chose to partake, conversation should be pleasant, witty and novel. That was Shakespeare’s advice.
As you clink spoon to china, you might bring up the matter of whether the Queen adds milk to her cup before or after her tea is poured. It’s afterwards. The MIFs (milk-in-first people) do so because the quality of their porcelain would not withstand the boiling water unmixed with milk. There is no such problem at Windsor or at Mary Ann’s.
And what is Her Majesty’s favorite variety? Darjeeling, according to a former palace chef, though it’s a secret blend created by Fortnum and Masons of London. Elizabeth II likes her afternoon cup served with jam sandwiches on de-crusted bread. Come to think of it, my young granddaughters have that same preference in snacks.
For a memorable afternoon, dress up and take your young daughter (or a grown daughter), or a special friend to tea. I could have spent the afternoon in the tranquil surroundings…but, sadly, we live in a more hurried time. Whether you’re there for lunch or beverage, you’ll find a moment of calm at Mary Ann’s Tea Room.
Mary Ann’s Tea Room: 4732 McPherson Avenue. Open: Seven days a week, 11a-4p. High tea by reservation at least 48 hours in advance. Available for special occasion events.