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Monday, April 13, 2009

A Cup of Big Apple Tea

At the end of last weekend, I received a call from a dear friend whom I had not spoken to in a few months. I was very glad to hear her voice, but she was on a mission and had called with one very specific and important question:

"Do you remember what street Alice's Tea Cup is on?"

Back in 2004, while we were both in school studying theatre, we had the bright idea to do go and explore New York City's theatre world for about a month as an independent study. Our professor loved the idea, so off we went. Since both of us like tea (she, too, is a youthful Tea Time subscriber!), part of our explorations led us to Alice's Tea Cup.
This is one of my absolute favorite tea rooms. As the name suggests, everything in the restaurant centers around the theme of the mad tea party in "Alice in Wonderland". The tables are a mismatched collection of dark wood pieces. I use the term "tables" loosley because one of them is actually an old converted sewing table, complete with a foot pedal. The china is also a hodge podge of different patterns and shapes. The walls are painted with bright colors, and are also adorned with photographs of real people posed in scenes depicting the mad tea party. The words from the book make up a border that travles all around the restaurant. TeaMuse.com put it best by saying, "The d├ęcor welcomes females and males of all ages, as it's neither frilly nor consciously upscale...Haley and Lauren have provided a center for enjoying tea and friends without pretension."
They serve breakfast, lunch, a variety of tea options, and dinner. The scones are to die for. They are, hands down, the best scones I have ever had, and I have yet figure out how to replicate them in my own kitchen. They have an extensive menu of well over 100 teas, all of which you can purchase from their gift shop area to take home with you.

Once my friend and I discovered Alice's Tea Cup, we made a second visit before returning home. I was so excited to learn that she had made it back to New York this past week and had some time to catch the train to Alice's for a cup. Once I looked up the address for her, I was also excited to discover that, not only has Alice's has branched out and now has three locations across NYC, but they have also made available franchising opportunities. I must say, my mind reeled with thoughts of opening my very own Alice's Tea Cup here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

Like I said, this is one of my absolute favorite tea rooms. I have been back to NYC twice since then, and made a point to have tea at Alice's both times. Since I haven't visited since 2005, I don't think it's fair to do an official review, but be on the look out for one as soon as I make my next trip up north. For now, I'll just say that if you're in New York City, it's definitely worth stopping by. And if you happen to visit one of the newer locations, I'd love to hear about it.

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 1
102 West 73rd Street
New York, New York 10023


Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 2
156 East 64th Street

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 3
220 East 81st Street

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Madeline's Tea Room - Palestine, T.X.

Before I begin this review, I would like to say a special thanks to my husband, who is so generous in being my partner in tea room exploration, even if a particular location may not be his "cup of tea". His manners are well enough that I can be seen with him in public, and he makes me laugh when he licks the spread off of his crackers or slurps his soup when he thinks no one is paying attention. :-)

Madeline's Tea Room
Corner of 287 South and FM 2419
Palestine, TX

Madeline's Tea Room is located about a mile or two headed out of town, so you're probably not likely to just happen upon it if you were visiting this area. But, with the help of my handy-dandy GPS, we found it without a problem. As we got out of the car, I smiled as I took in the exterior of the building, which had a very welcoming country cottage appearance accented with beautiful flower beds and white fencing and latticework.
As we walked across the porch and in through the screen door, I began to wonder if we had come at the wrong time. There was no one to be seen inside (well, there was only one other car in the parking lot), and the place was dark. Reservations were not required, so we were arriving unannounced, but I checked the sign again, and they were open according to their schedule. We stood in the doorway for a moment looking around. At last, a cheery voice from the back welcomed us in, and we were seated by the proprietor who went about explaining to us that Saturdays were usually very show days when she gets a head start on her baking - as she hastily plugged in and turned on the lights and music.
A quick glance around the room reveals a heavy floral and pastel Country/Victorian decor that is geared more towards a feminine taste. It was at once elegant and cozy, which is a nice combination. The tables are covered with solid pastel tablecloths which are again topped with smaller lace cloths. Each table holds a small candle "lamp", a fairy figurine, a sweet little bouquet of flowers, a glass containing Sweet 'N Low packets, and is already set with your silver and napkin.
After we were seated, our hostess asked us what tea we would like, and then proceeded to list the three options they had for that day. I was a little confused by this. They have nine different teas listed on their menu: three decaf, three black (two of which are variations of Earl Grey), and three green. But, I just ordered the decaf Apricot and didn't ask. After our iced tea arrived, suddenly the limited selection made sense to me. After perusing the tea menu, my husband ordered the chicken crepes lunch plate, and I ordered the La-Tea-Da afternoon tea, which, in addition to the standard finger sandwiches, scones, savories and sweets, comes with a small cup of the soup of the day. Our hostess noted that the La-Tea-Da would take a little longer to prepare, but that was not a problem since we were in no hurry.
The food was presented beautifully. My three tier set-up was topped with ivy and a beautiful bow, and each plate was garnished with fresh fruit. A particularly nice touch was the devonshire cream served in the tiny pink tea cup and the lemon curd in the little martini glass. When our hostess brought the food to our table, I giggled on the inside when she asked me if I knew what a scone was. On the subject of scones, these were not my favorite at all. They were more of the texture of a roll than a scone, and not particularly flavorful. With that said, however, the rest of the food was wonderful, and Madeline's does live up to it's slogan "Best Chicken Salad in Town". The potato soup had caraway seeds in it, which is a new take on potato soup for me, but I liked it so much, I think I'll have to try it the next time I make potato soup. I was not able to finish all of the food, but I did at least get to taste everything. Oh, and I did get around to ordering a pot of hot Mango tea which, much to my relief, came with a sugar bowl on request. I just can not take Sweet 'N Low.

*A side note: I did make a trip to the ladies room during our visit - which was very clean - and was surprised to find a sigh over the toilet paper that read, "Please do not put paper in pot." Right next to this sign was another that read, "Please put paper in trash can." I was a bit shocked by this and thought, "Surely they mean paper towels or something like that," but since the sign was over the toilet paper roll, and I feared what might happen if the toilet stopped up, I followed the directions. Ewww.*

We were the only patrons at Madeline's Tea Room during our time there, which puzzled me a little. Palestine is a very small town, and since the goal of our two hour road trip was to go exploring in a town we had never been to before, I do not anticipate a return trip in the near future. However, if you are ever in that area, a stop over at Madeline's Tea Room will offer you some very nice food. Just wait to use the restroom elsewhere.

I give this tea room:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Taking a Step Back

Well, "To Tea or Not to Tea" has been up and running for a little over a month now. In that time, I have discovered a nice handful of other tea related blogs, written by some very friendly, knowledgeable, and well written people, that I follow daily. I have learned quite a few things from these new connections, and look forward to seeing what new things there are yet to be discovered.

I feel that now is a good time to take a step back and do an inventory of my own little space here as well, and get some feedback from you, the reader. Take a look at the Tea Time Tunes at the top of the page. It contains a short list of songs that go well with a nice cup of tea - for me. However, those songs are up there for you! What songs go best with your favorite cuppa? Please send along any requests and I'll do my best to get them plugged into the rotation. Also, are there any tea topics in particular you would like to see addressed in this blog? Any other comments/constructive criticisms in general that you would like to share? Send them my way!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hey, There Are Old Country Roses In My Cabinet...

At different points during my childhood, when holidays would roll around, or we would have family gatherings that were more significant than our every-day events, we would have the special occasion to bring out the china. If company were coming, my mother would pull out the Japanese china set that was left to her by my great-grandmother. Easter dinner at my grandparents' house always called for my grandmother's pastel floral Mikasa set. I loved these times, and eating from these dishes always made me feel quite grown up and ladylike. I looked forward with eagerness to the time when I would get married and pick out my formal dinnerware.
I had always assumed that I would go to college, graduate, and get married. Of course, things usually don't go exactly as planned. Towards the end of my college days, with no marriage prospects on the horizon, I began to see that my life's schedule was not going to be as on target as I had planned. No getting married right out of college, no setting up house for my new family unit, no picking out a beautiful china pattern....

Wait a minute...

Who was is that decided that you couldn't begin collecting your china until you got married? Really, it is just the way things are done, it's the traditional way. I didn't have any clue if I'd ever get married, but I decided that didn't need to stand in the way of having a formal china set of my own.
And, of course, it all started with a tea set.
In my quest to choose the perfect pattern, after leafing through tons of glossy sales magazines and scouring the internet, I landed on Royal Doulton's Old Country Roses. I know, I know, not very original, but keep in mind that, in the beginning, my search was for a tea set, and they make anything you could possibly want for a tea set in this pattern. The variety of pieces available, and the fact that I felt pretty confident that the pattern wouldn't be discontinued in the near future, really helped make the decision easy for me.
That Christmas, my grandfather gifted me with my very first china tea pot.
From there, the collection has grown modestly. In the beginning, I had concluded that I would choose a different pattern for my dinnerware and leave the OCR to the tea set, but my aunt convinced me that it made more sense to stick with the same pattern.
The last time I pulled out my china was for a Christmas Tea for a small group of family and friends. Oh, what wonderful memories center around a beautiful place setting, a steaming cup of tea, and warm conversation with those you love.