Mad Hatter’s Tea House

This past week I was down in San Antonio, Texas. While I was there, I shopped El Mercado, La Villita, and had some great tacos. I also visited with my best friend, Valerie, who lives in SA.

While I was hunting the web for a nice place to have dinner with Val, I stumbled across the website for The Mad Hatter’s Tea House. Immediately intrigued, I checked out their express lunch menu and found that they did a “high” and “afternoon” tea:

Tea parties for 2

Served at your table on a 3 tiered tea service, including 2 iced teas or a pot of hot tea to share.

High Tea
With spinach & chicken salad tea sandwiches, smoked jalapeño Tuna Salad Tea Sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese tea sandwiches, a scone of your choice to share & 2 petite feures $18.00

Afternoon tea
With smoked salmon & cream cheese tea sandwiches, cucumber & cream cheese
tea sandwiches, 2 scones of your choice and 2 petite feures $18.00

Kids Tea
with peanut butter & jelly tea sandwiches, ham & cheese tea sandwiches, turkey & cheese tea sandwiches and 3 petite feures $18.00

Awesome! That cinched it. I was going to have to go there for lunch the next day.

The first tea house I’d ever been to was on Vancouver Island, about 30 miles northwest of Victoria – a place called The Marginson House. From my diary of the trip:

We were tired, hot and sweaty, but happy when we finished our hike [around the bay]. I wasn’t sure that we’d be let in at a tea house I’d heard of, but we decided to try.

Like many Americans I had the mistaken impression that afternoon tea, or high tea,  was necessarily a fancy thing. In reality it’s simply a mid-afternoon or early evening snack – a pick me up of caffeine and food to fend off the afternoon blahs. In working class environments it was simply the main meal after sunset. It’s not as common today, and the term (in the U.S.) has come to sometimes mean an elaborate afternoon tea. That was not the case at the Marginson House or this past week at the Mad Hatter’s Tea House.

The hostess of the Marginson House had no problem whatsoever with our attire and assured us that others had come by even less dressed. We sat out on the covered porch and had the “high tea”. I started with Earl Grey tea while Jeff (not a tea drinker) had Koala sparkling raspberry-guava juice.

First our hostess brought out a small tray of mini sandwiches, fruit and tangy cheddar cheese. After our hike, we were starving, and this was just the perfect thing. The tiny crust-less triangle sandwiches were turkey and sorrel, salmon salad, egg salad and cucumber and salmon. There was an “open sandwich” too – smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill on whole grain, a tiny mushroom tart and a curry-stuffed filo triangle. It sounds like a lot, but they were all tiny and really added up to maybe a sandwich and a half.

When we finished with the sandwiches our hostess brought out scones with clotted cream, pear and ginger jam and blackberry jelly. Lastly, we shared a slice of sponge cake with jam and cream.

It was wonderful and very leisurely. I had two or three cups of tea which, at the time, was quite a lot of caffeine for me. I joked that I’d be bouncing off the walls and so chatty that Jeff would have to stuff a sock in my mouth. (As it was, it probably just countered all the carbs. )

The Marginson House was also a Bed and Breakfast, complete with picturesque climbing roses, herb gardens, vegetable gardens and a giant  garden chess set and tennis court. I can’t find the web site for it, so maybe it’s not longer an active B&B; this was nearly ten years ago.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea House seems to have started out a local breakfast and lunch place for downtown San Antonio workers. Located at 106 Auditorium Circle, and across from the Municipal Auditorium, I found it a bit challenging to find parking but it was generally a nice area.

In the U.S., “tea house” was often used to denote an alternative to more rowdy and masculine venues and catered to the female traveler, offering soups, salads and sandwiches in a more genteel atmosphere. The Mad Hatter’s Tea House offers the same soup, salad and sandwiches offerings, but in a decidedly more modern, hip (and male friendly) atmosphere. The setting has a lobby-like feel, and is surrounding by the offices for San Antonio’s Men’s chorale, Children’s choir and a dance troupe. There were a couple of comfy seating areas perfect for power lunches or for chatting, traditional tables and high chair, bistro-style seating by the windows.

I was a bit confused at first, until I realized that I had to go up to register to order. I explained that I knew the afternoon and high tea’s were meant for two, but that I wanted to do that anyway. The guy at the register didn’t seem to think that was odd at all, and told me he could pack up any extra to go for me. Nice.

I had the high tea, with the single scone and more sandwiches. I chose a “champagne darjeeling” off the menu, which seemed to confuse the person taking my order until he looked at the menu and saw it listed under “oolong”. He then pointed me to a cabinet where I could pick out my own mug or teacup. Feeling silly, I picked out a frilly number.

The food came out pretty quickly. The blueberry scone with strawberry jam and butter was delicious – one of the better scones I’ve had in a while, in fact. It was the last one they had, so I expect others found it yummy too. The sandwiches came out on the traditional three-tiered tray. All were excellent, but I especially liked the spicy tuna the best. For dessert there was a small square of petit feurs which was a bit overly SWEET for me. I ate only half and snarfed down the strawberries instead.

The only down side to the experience was that they forgot to bring me my tea! I had to get a glass of water at first and then remind them of the tea. But once I did they brought it out pretty quickly. It was a nice, loose-leaf tea, properly steeping with a timer on the tray next to the cast iron teapot. I’m pretty sure it was a green tea and not a Darjeeling, but I could have be mistaken. It was a nice, though I tasted some bitter tannins – I wasn’t paying attention and I think I oversteeped it.

I think I can forgive them the little misstep there – I may have caught them at an off moment, since they were dealing with a cantankerous register. Judging by the many awards for the place, and the long line that started forming at 11:30 a.m., it’s certainly a popular place. I’d like to try them again, and this time have one of their many sandwiches.

Mad Hatter’s Tea House serves high tea starting at 11:00 am. Breakfast begins earlier and while the web site (as of this blog post) says they close at 2 p.m. they’re now open til 9 p.m. for dinner. Friendly service, nice atmosphere, I’d recommend it if you’re ever in San Antonio.