On June 26, 1959, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh made their first and only official visit to Chicago – a 14-hour, whirlwind trip culminating in a formal banquet hosted by Mayor Richard Daley at The Drake Hotel.
Nearly six decades since the Queen touched down in the Windy City, The Drake is still earning mileage from her historic visit. “Come sip tea where the Queen dined in 1959,” beckons the hotel’s website. At both The Drake and Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel, traditional afternoon tea service remains a popular ritual with tourists, holiday shoppers, and area residents, who often book weeks in advance to dine in splendor on finger sandwiches, pastries and scones, accompanied by a pot of hot, steeped tea.
Now, with a handful of North Shore establishments getting in on the act, local anglophiles can partake in the great British tradition of afternoon tea without ever trekking downtown.
At Lake Forest’s newly renovated Deer Path Inn – built in 1929 to resemble an English manor estate – formal afternoon tea, priced at $45 for adults and $27 for children, is served on fine Wedgewood china in the hotel’s elegant English Room, Tuesday through Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. Taking great care to create an authentic afternoon tea experience for guests, Deer Path Inn General Manager Matthew Barba consulted with British Master of Tea Malcolm Ferris-Lay. As per tradition, scones should be served warm, and only after tea and sandwiches are brought to the table. Adding lemon and honey to tea – a custom often favored by Americans – is anathema to most Brits.
“According to Malcolm, one should never ruin the flavor profile of tea with something acidic, like lemon,” said Barba.
The Deer Path Inn has also added unique touches to its afternoon tea service, including a complimentary glass of prosecco, a menu of the hotel’s own in-house blended teas and fruit infusions, as well as seasonally inspired petit fours, homemade jam, lemon curd, and sweet cream served with scones from Bent Fork Bakery in Highwood. Artfully cut cucumber, ham and lobster-filled finger sandwiches are served on an elegant, three-tiered serving tray.
“Afternoon tea is more about the theater of it all,” said Barba. “We want to keep those traditions alive.”
But traditional afternoon tea doesn’t have to be posh; many country pubs in the UK and Ireland serve tea, sandwiches, and scones in more casual surroundings. At the Celtic Knot, a homey Irish pub on Church Street in Evanston, “Moira’s Afternoon Tea,” has been served every Wednesday and Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. since April 16, 2005.
“We named it after my beautiful mother-in-law, Moira, after she passed away in 1988 at age 80,” said owner Liz Breslin. “Our first tea service was on her birthday.”
Along with fresh, homemade scones, The Celtic Knot serves traditional finger sandwiches, mini-tarts and desserts with a pot of fresh tea for $19, or $12 for children. The Celtic Knot experience, said Breslin, is not meant to be fancy.
“When people think of afternoon tea, they think of a place like The Drake,” said Breslin. “We like to remind our customers that they’re still in a pub. Wear your jeans. Bring your kids.”
For do-it yourselfers, The Irish Connoisseur gift shop on Waukegan Road in Glenview stocks all the essentials for a traditional Irish tea. According to the shop’s longtime owner, Megan Van Treeck, Irish “teatime” is traditionally an early meal served to young children at around 4 or 5 p.m., typically comprising eggs, sausages, bread and strong Irish tea served black – never with milk. Van Treeck stocks traditional Irish pork sausages, black pudding, white pudding and bacon – all sold for $6.99/lb and sourced from Winston’s Sausages in Chicago.
“I probably sell about 50 pounds of sausages every two weeks,” said Van Treek. “Over the years, a lot of Irish stores have closed, but people still want their favorite foods.”
Van Treek also stocks popular Irish dry goods, such as McVities Digestive Biscuits, a selection of imported, “authentic” Cadbury chocolates, Barry’s and Lyons Irish tea, and, at the end of November, tins of Irish Afternoon Tea biscuits that quickly sell out before Christmas.
“There are Irish residents living in Chicago who come out and buy 10-12 tins at a time,” said Breslin. “It’s a tradition.”
Where to Find Afternoon Tea Near the North Shore:
- The Deer Path Inn, 255 E Illinois Rd, Lake Forest, (847) 234-2280
Tuesday- Saturday, 2-4 p.m. by reservation
- The Celtic Knot, 626 Church St, Evanston, (847) 864-1679
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2-4 p.m. by reservation
- The Irish Connoisseur, 1232 Waukegan Road, Glenview, (847) 998-1988
Open Monday-Friday, 10:00-5:30/Saturdays 4 p.m.
- High Tea with Gerri, 144 Old McHenry Road, Long Grove, (847) 948-1724
Monday- Sunday, 12-4 p.m. by reservation
- Pine Cone Cottage, 1029 Burlington Ave, Downers Grove (630) 963-9130
Wednesday – Sunday,