The backburner: A dining column – Nov. 3

Amber Gibson

As the temperature drops, why not treat yourself to an afternoon tea? While there’s nothing wrong with a butternut squash bisque or hearty chili, afternoon tea is daintier and more luxurious. You can eat, drink and warm up without stuffing yourself and spoiling supper. If you take my favorite Northwestern shuttle bus to the Gold Coast, there are a couple great options for tea within walking distance.

The Palm Court at the Drake Hotel (140 E. Walton St.) serves afternoon tea for $35 from 1-5 p.m. every day. You’ll munch on finger sandwiches, scones and an assortment of pastries along with your choice of tea. There are more than 20 teas to choose from, including classic black teas like Darjeeling and Earl Grey, to caffeine-free herbal infusions and tea-tinis. The dress code is dressy casual, so no ripped jeans or sandals. If you’re looking to book a reservation for December, you’re probably already out of luck, but it’s worth a try. Every day in December, the Palm Court is sold out, serving 500 teas a day.

The lobby and restaurant might look familiar, and that’s because scenes from “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “What Women Want” and “Risky Business” were filmed there. Ladies, don’t forget to check your makeup in the powder room, which was named a finalist for America’s Best Restroom in 2009. And keep an eye out for famous guests. Both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana have had tea here before. More recently, Aretha Franklin and John Travolta have stopped by.

For more budget-minded tea sippers, trek a little farther north, to Old Town, where Delightful Pastries Bakery & Cafe has introduced a new afternoon tea menu this fall. For $10, you’ll have your choice of 12 organic looseleaf Rishi teas along with your choice of three mini-pastries. Pastry choices include a classic Italian tiramisu, lemon mousse parfait, chocolate mousse with fresh berries and caramel panna cotta. Chef and owner Doba Bielinski loves mini-pastries because they give customers more choice. She likens them to the “sweet table” tradition popular throughout Europe. For an indecisive diner like myself, this is the perfect solution. I can have a taste of everything without feeling like a glutton.

– Amber Gibson