If there's one question I get asked more than any other -- after "What's your favorite restaurant?" -- it's "Where can I get afternoon tea?" More people call me about tea than about Baltimore's seafood restaurants, or Sunday brunch, or anything else food-related you can think of.
If they want elegance above all else, I recommend the Harbor Court Hotel. Not only is afternoon tea served every day, special occasion teas are offered every month or so: a Russian tea in January, for instance, or a Mother's Day tea in May.
You can't have an afternoon tea just anywhere. You need atmosphere. Brighton's, the Harbor Court Hotel dining room where tea is served Monday through Saturday, provides plenty of that. The ornate room, with its marble floors and crystal chandeliers, has flowers everywhere: on the draperies and on the Villeroy & Boche china, real ones on the table, botanical prints on the walls. It's a pretty room, and very pretty food is served in it.
But first you pick your tea. No tea bags here. You have eight different choices, from the fragrant, faintly flowery Harbor Court blend to chamomile. For a little more money you might also have a glass of sherry or champagne.
Then your waiter brings you a dainty plate of savories. Perhaps a quarter sandwich of smoked Gouda, fresh basil and tomato -- crusts cut off, of course. And a triangle of whole wheat bread with herbed cream cheese and a bit of salami, packing intense flavors for such a tiny bite. The tea sandwiches might be supplemented with two baby asparagus spears wrapped with good prosciutto. And there's always a little glass bowl of fresh fruit -- pineapple, raspberries, kiwi and grapes. Harbor Court's tea also includes an absolutely wonderful currant scone, soft and hot, served with unsweetened whipped cream as a makeshift Devonshire cream.
These are followed by desserts, beautiful but almost too much of a good thing. There's a slice of banana-walnut bread, which is innocent enough, but with it are a miniature cream puff, a tart shell filled with intensely chocolate mousse and pistachios, and a small lime cheesecake with whipped cream. They are all lovely, down to the candied violet on the chocolate mousse tart, all delicious and all very, very rich. I -- and probably most adults -- would just as soon have had another scone. (Which is perfectly possible. When I asked the waiter what would happen if I asked for three more of everything, he said, "Well, I don't know about three more, but one more . . .")
Only two things slightly, and I do mean slightly, marred the experience. One was simply odd. The dining room was almost completely empty; but while we were eating, our waiter came to our table, picked up one of the unused chairs and carried it out of the room. Without saying a word.
The other was a little more serious. As soon as our plates were removed but while we were still lingering over our tea, the waiter brought us the check without our asking for it. I suppose the
staff wanted us out of the way so they could set up for dinner -- at least that was the impression we got.
Tea at Harbor Court
Where: Harbor Court Hotel, 550 Light St.
Hours: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday in Brighton's, Sunday in the lounge.
Credit cards accepted: All major credit cards.
Features: Afternoon tea.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 234-0550.