Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

Road trip! Kitchener to Chicago

A couple weeks ago, we traveled from Kitchener, Ontario to Chicago, Illinois to attend the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Convention. “We” included me, my husband Murray, and our friend Maddy, a devoted Blackhawks fan from New Brunswick who we dubbed our adopted-for-the-weekend ‘daughter’.

Spending a couple of tranquil hours having afternoon tea wasn’t on the agenda for our hockey-themed weekend, but just before pulling out of the driveway to begin the nine-hour trek to Chi-Town, I dashed back into the house to make a quick search through my collection of Tea Time magazines; I was almost positive a recent issue had featured Chicago tea rooms.

Not that we’d have time to stop for bite-sized crustless tea sandwiches, scones smothered in clotted cream and preserves, and a pot of Assam or Darjeeling, and probably not likely that my Blackhawks-loving travel companions would even be keen to fit such a civilized pit stop into the trip, but on the off chance it might happen (or the very good chance I’d have my fill of hockey talk after one day of convention-ing and be looking for something else to do!), it seemed smart to be prepared with a few possible tea places to visit.

After a quick search, I found the magazine (March/April 2012, Volume 9 – Issue 2, for any inquiring minds that want to know!), and we were soon en route to the Windy City!

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Article in Tea Time magazine highlighting tea rooms and cafes in Chicago

Bruce Richardson’s article in Tea Time magazine featured places to find a good cup of tea in Chicago.

The article in Tea Time was written by Bruce Richardson, tea guru and author. He’d highlighted several places for afternoon tea that piqued my interest, including the Palm Court in The Drake Hotel (140 E. Walton Place). Tea is served there daily from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

I tucked the notion of a visit to The Drake in the back of my mind. Well, maybe closer, say somewhere middle to front!

About 700 km and a day later, we were in Chicago with a few hours to fill before heading to the Convention. And we needed to find a place to eat lunch! And I had a restaurant suggestion! The perfect storm for this tea lover!

“How about afternoon tea?” I suggested innocently. “Maybe The Drake? I’ve read it’s a nice place.”

Glory be! My travel mates were game!

Murray is a tea drinker, and he loves to eat! Afternoon tea usually provides more than enough food. Maddy had never experienced afternoon tea, but she was intrigued enough to give it a try.

Within a few minutes, we’d made a reservation for 1 p.m., which gave us some time to explore the Navy Pier.

The plan was that following tea, we’d head straight to the Blackhawks Convention. To say we were appropriately dressed for tea would have be a stretch. (As it turned out, two of us weren’t even appropriately dressed for the Convention, given that 99.99% of that crowd was wearing some form of Blackhawks logo-ed attire! As I owned nothing of the sort, at least I tried to fit in by wearing red!).

Having been for afternoon tea many many times, I know it’s an occasion to wear something nicer than what we’d all donned that day. After arriving at The Drake, ascending the short staircase off the main lobby to the Palm Court where afternoon tea is served, being pleasantly greeted and shown to our table by the host, then opening our menus and seeing the Dress Code staring us in the face, I was grateful the host made no mention of our shorts, sportswear and beach sandals!

The Dress Code for afternoon tea is printed in The Drake’s menu.

Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

A little underdressed for afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Had we been chastised or turned away for our attire, plan B was to go in search of a Chicago hot dog vendor! (Deep-dish pizza was on the menu for supper!). Since we were ushered to our table with not even a hint of disapproval by the Palm Court’s host, the three of us had a sheepish chuckle over our fashion faux pas, covered our shorts with our cloth napkins, tucked our sandaled feet under the table, and turned our attention to the tea menu!

After choosing our teas, our server asked if everyone was okay with the sandwiches listed in the menu: egg salad, smoked salmon, roast beef, and tomato and cucumber. The typical format at a tea is a set menu, so everybody gets the same sandwiches, scones and sweets. At past teas I’ve attended, either when making the reservation, or just before the food is served, the question has sometimes been asked if there are any allergies to be aware of, but this was more than that, the server explained. This was also an opportunity to request more of one type of sandwich if we weren’t partial to something that was being offered. Nice touch, I thought!

Not a big fish/seafood lover, Maddy asked to substitute another roast beef sandwich for the smoked salmon. When the three-tiered tray arrived, not only was there still the full complement of original sandwiches – but another plate with three additional roast beef sandwiches for Maddy was placed on the table! (Murray helped her polish them off!)

The sandwich plate served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago featured four types of sandwiches.

Scones and banana bread were served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

An assortment of sweets was served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

We split some of the desserts so we could all have a taste. As you can see in the photo, there were a couple of two of them, and one of two different desserts.

The tea and food were delicious! My pictures don’t do everything justice. Sometimes at a tea, when the food is initially set on the table, it doesn’t seem as though there will be enough, but in my experience, looks are often deceiving and it is usually more than enough. That was certainly the case this time, and on top of that, we were asked if we wanted more of anything. Again, not something typically offered.

Any leftovers can usually be boxed to take home, but we’d managed to polish off everything but one lone sandwich. Had one of us had an ounce of room, it would have disappeared too!

The remnants of afternoon tea!

The service was attentive, efficient and friendly. It was nice to have our tea pots refilled quickly with hot water soon after we poured our first cups, without having to ask to have this done.

The ambiance in the Palm Court was lovely. The room was beautiful; a massive floral arrangement in the middle commanded attention. There were a variety of seating arrangements. Small to large groups of people including women, men and children sat relaxed, chatting, and leisurely sipping tea and enjoying the finger food on their three-tiered trays. About an hour after we arrived, a harpist began playing, adding to the elegant atmosphere.

A harpist plays during afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

A trip to the ladies’ washroom before leaving was well worth the visit – and merited a few pictures! Each private cubicle housed not only a toilet, but a vanity, stool and sink.

The private cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at The Drake Hotel are worth checking out!

Inside one of the cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at the The Drake Hotel

Our admiration of the washroom was echoed by a few other women who came in while we snapping pictures.

I’d definitely recommend afternoon tea at The Drake. Dress up a little to fully enjoy and honor the experience! The venture will cost $38 a person ($20 for junior guests from 4 to 12 years old). This is on par with or slightly less than teas I’ve had at other hotels in large cities.

In his article about tea in Chicago, Bruce writes that Chicagoans often choose The Drake as a place to mark celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries. He writes, “This is a place where memories are made.” I’d heartily agree, and add, for out-of-town folks too!

How I spent the summer of 2010

A picture tour of some of the highlights and favourite memories of the summer of 2010:

A favourite way to spend a summer night in our newly landscaped backyard! We just didn't do this often enough!

* Wright Landscaping

Hot dogs taste best cooked over an open fire and eaten outdoors - slathered in condiments!

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Reasons why I haven’t posted for awhile

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted something (anything!) on my blog.

I’ve got excuses! Lots of them.

* I’ve been busy with my work blog – Everything Eggs.

* I had to develop recipes to teach a couple of Afternoon Tea classes – one at Thyme to Cook in Guelph and the other at Household China and Gifts in Waterloo.

Triangle- shaped herb-crusted egg salad sandwiches pair perfectly with a cup of tea!

* I’ve been doing some recipe development and food writing for Roomplanners‘ e-zine.

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The County Grapevine reveals charms of Prince Edward County

I’m a food magazine junkie, always on the lookout for the latest issues of my favourites, or the arrival of brand new publications.

A quick perusal of the magazine shelves at a Kitchener grocery store tonight rewarded me with a newbie – The County Grapevine. This newcomer focuses on the food, wine, art and culture of Prince Edward County (PEC) in southern Ontario.

It seems I’m a little late getting to the party on this one; the issue I picked up is for Fall/Winter 2009/2010 (it’s a biannual publication). The magazine has been around for a while. How did I miss it??

So where exactly is Prince Edward County? PEC is an island at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is surrounded on the north and east by the Bay of Quinte, and is west of the St. Lawrence River. Its mild climate (by Canadian standards, that is!) has made it home to numerous vineyards and wineries.

What initially attracted me to The County Grapevine as I leafed through it in the store was the article Steeped in Tradition by tea expert Melody Wren. As a tea lover always looking for new places to enjoy a good cuppa’, I was interested to read her review of tea rooms in PEC.

Since bringing the magazine home, I’ve read and enjoyed a couple light-hearted pieces – “I was a teenage waitress” by comedian Deborah Kimmett and “Table Manners: The Lost Art of Dinner Parties” by sommelier Natalie MacLean.

I also noticed that food stylist and blogger Ruth Gangbar was credited for food styling in the magazine.

Tomorrow I’ll have to take some time to savour the food and wine articles!

The County Grapevine is available free in Prince Edward County and surrounding areas and can be purchased at Chapters, Indigo, Metro, and stores within the Loblaws chain.

Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City

I had read many positive reviews about Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City, so this past weekend on a recent trip to NYC, I decided to check it out with my sister Loreen who lives on Long Island.

We’d made reservations for the 5 p.m. seating on Friday afternoon. Weekdays there is also a 3 p.m. seating, while on Saturday and Sunday the options are 12, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Reservations are recommended (Ph: 212-533-4466). I made reservations online a few days before coming to NYC. If you do this, you’ll need to call the tea house the day before your visit to confirm.

The tea room is located in The Inn at Irving Place (56 Irving Place, between E 17th and 18th Streets in the Gramercy Park area). It’s easy to miss as there is only a small sign on the exterior of the building.

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in the Inn at Irving, 56 Irving Place, New York City

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in The Inn at Irving Place

Once we found the location and made the climb up the steep steps to the front door, we were greeted inside and shown to our table in the front room. (I’m not sure if there is an alternate entrance to the tea room for those who have difficulty with steps.)

Lady Mendl's - interior

The interior of Lady Mendl's

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Fun, fun, fun! Sandwich cookie cake pans from Williams-Sonoma

How much fun is this sandwich cookie cake?? It would be perfect as a dessert for any occasion from a spring or Mother’s Day tea to a birthday party or backyard barbecue.

Sandwich Cookie Cake pan (image from Williams-Sonoma)

Sandwich Cookie Cake (image from Williams-Sonoma's web site)

I picked up the pans to make this fun dessert this evening, racing into the Williams-Sonoma at Sherway Gardens at 8:58 p.m. (the store closes at 9 p.m.). Just in time!


Sandwich Cookie Cake pan (image from Williams-Sonoma's web site)

The 9″ cast aluminum cake pans are exclusive to Williams-Sonoma and sell for $29.95 (US) for the pair. Bake your favourite brownie or chocolate cake recipe or mix in them, then sandwich the layers together with flavoured whipped cream, ice cream or buttercream icing.

Visit Williams-Sonoma’s website for more information and to read reviews about the pans. According to the online reviews, it’s really important to grease the pan well with cooking spray to remove the cakes easily.

I’ll have to hold off testing out the pans until next week as I’m off to New York City this weekend to take a Four-Star Breakfast cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education and visit with my sister Loreen who lives on Long Island. We’ve got afternoon tea reservations in NYC at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon on Friday.

Tea at the White House

I’ve had tea at the White House a couple times in the last few weeks.

Before you start thinking I must be politically well connected, no, I wasn’t in Washington sipping tea and exchanging pleasantries with Barack and Michelle at that White House. I was in Waterdown, Ontario at this White House.

Tea at the White House in Waterdown, Ontario

Tea at the White House in Waterdown, Ontario

Both times I visited Tea at the White House, I sat in the front room which surprisingly, given the size of the room, is able to seat 14 people. There’s not a lot of space between the tables, but considering the number of guests that came and went on both my visits, the tea room is a popular place and needs as much seating as can be squeezed in. (I’d recommend making reservations if you plan to visit, especially at lunch time.)

The menu can be viewed online. When we visited on Easter Sunday, I had the High Tea.

High Tea at the White House

High Tea (for two) at the White House

I’m not sure why it’s called High Tea as it’s actually an afternoon tea complete with sandwiches, scones, Devon double cream and preserves, loads of fruit, and sweets. Murray and I enjoyed it as an early supper, but if we’d visited in the early afternoon, we’d probably have shared a single order.


The scones are really good – very tender and with sugared tops. You can purchase scones to take home. I was tempted but managed to refrain, opting instead to purchase some loose tea – Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope Estate Black Tea and Gingia Assam Black Tea – in tin containers. (If you bring the containers back for a refill, you can purchase the next batch of tea at a discounted price.)

On my second visit a week later, I chose the soup of the day (a tortellini and vegetable soup) followed by the Devonshire Cream Tea – two scrumptious scones with Devon double cream and preserves. (Love those scones!)

I’d like to try the Gloucestershire Sandwich & Cheese Platter on my next visit. One such order had just been delivered to a table we squeezed past on our way out and the assortment of sandwiches, cheeses, crackers and fruit looked very inviting.

Tea at the White House is also a retail shop and offers loose tea, tea accessories, books about tea, and even tea-based beauty products for sale.

You can read reviews for Tea at the White House at Restaurantica.

Tea at the White House
279 Dundas St. E.
Waterdown, ON (on Hwy 5, north of Hamilton and on top of the escarpment)
L0R 2H0
Ph: (905) 690-9987

The Tea Room at Robinson-Bray House in Mississauga, Ontario

A couple weeks ago (the day after Valentine’s Day to be exact), Murray and I made the 50-minute drive from Kitchener into Mississauga (Streetsville to be exact) to have afternoon tea at The Tea Room in the Robinson-Bray House (223 Queen Street South, Ph: 905-542-7674).

Robinson Bray Tea Room in Streetsville (Mississauga), Ontario

The side entrance to The Tea Room at the Robinson-Bray House in Mississauga, Ontario

The house was built in 1885 and owned by at least two families – the Robinsons and the Brays. In 1983, it was designated a building of “architectural and contextual value” by the City of Mississauga. It now houses several businesses including a gift shop, spa and The Tea Room.

The Tea Room is in the back of the building. You can enter either through the front or the side of the House. When we left through the front after finishing our tea, I noticed that a large room at the front of the house was vacant. The space had a lovely bay window looking out onto Queen Street. My first thought was that it would be a lovely area for The Tea Room to expand or move into.

But I’m ahead of myself. Let me share our tea experience.

You could order off the menu but we really didn’t give it much consideration as The Tea Room was serving a Valentine’s tea ($23 per person) which sounded really nice. It started with a delicious garden salad with sliced strawberries and cucumbers and pralined pecans. This was followed by a two-tiered stand filled with tea sandwiches, and heart-shaped chocolate chunk scones served with devon cream and preserves.

Sandwich Plate

The tray of tea sandwiches included (clockwise from top right) egg salad on a mini croissant (which turned out to be a roll as you can see above), chicken and brie on a slice of baguette with sweet mango chutney, a roast beef and horseradish mayo wrap with caramelized onions, salmon mousse in a phyllo cup, and a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich.

Then, because we hadn’t eaten enough yet (!),  it was time to choose a dessert. I don’t recall all the choices; the first couple our server described were all we needed to hear. Murray chose a Chocolate Crepe with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries.

Chcocolate Crepes with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries

Chocolate Crepe with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries

I opted for the Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle, served in a tea cup.

Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle garnished with a chocolate-dipped cooked and berriees

The Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle was garnished with a chocolate-dipped cookie and berries.

A tart-sweet ending to a delicious tea.

Whipped cream, passionfruit custard, cake and berries - a tart-sweet ending to a delicious tea!

Everything was washed done with a pot of Earl Grey tea for me and Assam tea for Murray.

The Tea Room’s servers were friendly and attentive. The decor of the two-room tea room was nice enough, although nothing outstanding.  I’ll confess I wanted to straighten out the slightly askew picture hung off centre under a shelf on one wall of the room we sat in, but to Murray’s relief I managed to suppress the urge.

Other than the egg salad that was served in a slightly soggy mini roll instead of the promised croissant, the food was very tasty, especially the salad and desserts. Needless to say, we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!