Perhaps because I am not a particularly large person myself, I've always enjoyed the deceptively dainty aspect of high tea. Sure, individually, each part of a tea can be adorably diminutive—the wee finger sandwiches, the delicate porcelain teacups, the bite-sized pastries—but taken as a whole, tea is for neither the faint of heart nor small of stomach.
This thought occurred to me as I sat with my friends before the three-tiered silver tray of goodies that graced our table at the Crown & Thistle, a lovely tea room in a Sparks strip mall that offers a traditional English high tea ($21.95) on Saturdays at 3 p.m.
We'd already demolished servings of a cranberry-flecked green salad and a rich, hearty tomato soup; now we faced (moving from bottom to top) two kinds of scone, individual banger rolls in buttery pastry, three varieties of finger sandwich (ham and apricot preserve, cucumber-dill, and herbed cream cheese), and a darling assortment of cookies and tartlets. We'd also been making good headway through the Crown & Thistle's impressive list of loose teas, all of which are available for sale in the lobby. The kitchen will only serve one pot of tea to a table at a time, but you can change your type of tea between rounds, and we'd so far tried a deep Irish Breakfast and a creamy, delicate lavender Earl Grey.
I'd come with some of my best-dressed girlfriends, as well as a native guide: a friend known by all in my social circle as English Steve, despite his repeated grumblings that, since he's the only Steve we know, we might stop referring to him by his nationality.
I think he may have been a little put off by the hyper-femininity of the Crown & Thistle at first—murals of the Scottish countryside adorn the purple walls, and floral motifs are worked into every bit of silver and porcelain on the table—but once that pot of Irish Breakfast arrived, he settled into a blissful communion. And when the dishes of clotted cream and lemon curd showed up to accompany our scones, he looked a bit like an American traveler might upon seeing their first hamburger in a month.
"This is just like what my mum might serve my father on a Sunday," he said, flecks of sausage roll crumbling into his beard. Myself, I was enamored of the buttery lavender shortbread and the sweet little lemon-and-blueberry tartlets.
When we left, two hours after our arrival, we all stopped to purchase tea to take home. There were jams and such for sale as well, but no one could imagine eating another morsel by this point, no matter how tiny and delicate it might seem.
Crown & Thistle, 10 Fila Way, Sparks, 410-472-4566. Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Afternoon tea served at 3 p.m.