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The Heights of High Tea

At Lovejoy's Tea Room

The last time I went out for high tea was in Portland, Oregon a few years ago. A charming British waitress seated me on a sunny garden patio and brought me a pot of Earl Grey and a scone with clotted cream. The setting seemed so relaxing, so quaint, so European . . . until I overheard the waitress screeching into the phone in an accent no more British than Madonna.

At Lovejoy's Tea Room at the corner of Church and Clipper, the waitstaff doesn't need to put on an act to impress. Genuine service, good food, and a homey setting does the trick.

A frequent destination for event-specific, female-only affairs (everything from baby showers to, as on one recent visit, a first-time meeting of an online curly hair support group), Lovejoy's is laid back and cozy. With antique tables and sofas filling the room and tea sets lining the walls, Lovejoy's feels more like your grandmother's house than the dining room at the Ritz Carlton.

Although a traditional British tea is served in the afternoon, Lovejoy's begins its tea service at 11 a.m. and offers six different types, ranging from the Queen's Tea ($18.95 per person), an elegant smorgasbord of tea accompaniments, to the Wee Tea ($8.25) for children. A no-fail starting point is High Tea ($14.25, or $26.50 for two people), which arrives on a three-tier platter, accompanied by the pot of tea of your choice. In addition to the traditional crumbly scone with decadent, lick-the-bowl-good Double Devon cream, High Tea comes with your choice of two sandwiches, coleslaw, spring greens, preserves, and a buttery shortbread biscuit.

Dainty, crustless tea sandwiches like cucumber and cream cheese, tomato and hard cheese, and smoked turkey and Dijon mustard are all excellent, deceptively light-tasting fare. But the smoked salmon and haddock sandwiches rise above the rest, with a sprinkling of salty capers that cuts through silky cream cheese you'd never find at a deli. The butter and cream-laden tea services are filling, but if you'd prefer a hot meal, Lovejoy's offers a menu of "Heartier Fare" such as Shepherd's Pie ($7.95) and Sausage Rolls ($7.95).

During the meal, the waitstaff refreshes the pot of tea from time to time, so your cup stays nice and hot. For the pot, you can choose from a list of several different tea varieties (black, green, flavored, tisanes, and oolong), but the mellow Tea Room blend of black teas is always a good choice. No matter what you order, the tea arrives at the table perfectly brewed and ready to be strained into your cup.

Tea at Lovejoy's is far from the stuffy, intimidating scenes of Merchant-Ivory films. There is no butler. The teacups don't match. The room's a bit cluttered. But the food is comforting, the tea is hot, and - best of all - no one's faking a thing.