2013 | TicketSarasota.com
By The Scenestress
The "scene" doesn't disappear when the sun comes up. Sometimes I find there's nothing more pleasant than to swap the dance floor, bar or after-hours bash for some laid-back daytime socializing. A Tuesday afternoon last week was a blank canvas, and I decided to paint it ultra-classy. I busted out the real pearls and took myself to high tea at the Powel Crosley Estate.
The click of my heels echoed off the stone-tiled lobby, empty save for a table where Jamie Barrett was flashing her winning smile and checking in arrivals. I could hear the clatter of serving trays upstairs, where her husband,Chef Larry Barrett, was surely bustling through the kitchen and double-checking that every detail of the tea would make guests feel like royalty.
String quartet music wafted down as I climbed the stairs to the second floor and searched for "the Captain's Room," where my seat was waiting. A deep-voiced, broad-chested staff member, dressed all in black, motioned me toward the very end of the hall into a circular room, richly paneled with wood. A compass rose was carved in the middle of the ceiling, with the needle gently swerving back and forth as the wind coming off the water toyed with the weathervane on the roof. Porthole-shaped windows close to the ceiling let in frosty light from the blustery gray afternoon.
The five women already seated around the table were eyeing me, it seemed a little anxiously. "It looks like they flew in the English weather just for the occasion," I joked, and with their gentle laughter the ice was immediately broken. Three of the women wore straw hats adorned with wide ribbons and giant silk cabbage roses. They looked absolutely fabulous.
Within minutes after I settled in, the tea arrived. We passed around the sugar bowl, and were all a bit disappointed that it was granulated -- we wanted to count out our "lumps!" Savory sandwiches and sweet treats were on their way, but the fragrant liquid in our china mugs was really the centerpiece. Larry is said to be very particular about the preparation in order to achieve the perfect cup, only allowing the tea to steep in an precisely near-boiling temperature. Once I took my first sip -- rich, slightly sweet and very floral -- it dawned on me that this was how tea is really supposed to taste.
The first trays of sandwiches were whisked in -- beautifully soft turkey pinwheels, chicken and egg salad on light, airy bread and the finger sandwich I was really looking forward to: cucumber with cream cheese and chives. There was enough for all to try one of everything, and of course I did.
As usual at his "historic cuisine" events, Chef Larry paid our table a cordial visit, letting us know the sweets were on their way. He gave a little sigh as he looked out the window. "If I could take over this room," he said, gesturing grandly at the view, "I'd have two overstuffed chairs ... cognac ... cigars ... the end!"
We were nearly stuffed by the time dessert came to the table: trays of strawberry shortcake, coconut macaroons, brownies and fruit tarts, with marmalade and clotted cream to spread over raisin-studded scones. The conversation flowed, as mouths were less full, and I really did feel like I was surrounded by the old "upper crust" as we talked international relations, the economy, modern technology and retired husbands. I asked for refill after refill of tea for the excuse to linger as long as I could.