High tea, afternoon tea, dinner tea. Whatever you call it, tea service has its roots in Europe and has long been romanticized by diners on both sides of the Atlantic. Liz and Tim Koch brought tea service to Anoka with their Mad Hatter Tea Room in 1999 before selling it in 2001 to a mother-daughter team who were big fans of its tea service. After family tragedy struck the mother/daughter duo, the Kochs bought back the tea room in 2010. This spring they moved it from a cramped location on Main Street to a spacious historical building along the Rum River, near where it meets the Mississippi. There are many advantages to the change in locale: far more space, a lovingly restored historic building that allows The Mad Hatter to add lunch and dinner service along with Sunday brunch, and the addition of wine and beer.
Tea service still plays a primary role in the new location, and it’s a treat. The Queen of Hearts Tea is a traditional four-course tea balanced across sweet and savory. It gets off to a shining start with the soup of the day, which changes frequently. Pictured above (center right) is a smooth, silky ginger-sweet potato soup finished with paprika oil and shaved scallions, gently flavorful and appealing. It’s followed by three-tiered platters of the remaining courses, many featuring freshly baked pastry: savories on the bottom tier, in this case cranberry pecan chicken salad on a zucchini muffin, nicely balanced between sweet and savory; a lemon caper egg salad on a petite croissant, although the salad was a bit overwhelmed by the lemon; a strawberry and basil tartlet, refreshing with a perfectly crisped tart; and a lavender herb cucumber canape, a lovely play on the traditional cucumber sandwich. None of these is more than a bite or two, which works given the amount of food overall, and the slightly sweet savories hint at more sweets to come.
The scone service in the center tier includes a cream scone and a lemon lavender scone, served with lemon curd and whipped cream. Again, the sweetness is kept in check — no treacle here — and the scones are flaky and tender. The richer, denser Devonshire cream would have been a more traditional touch, but the whipped cream serves its purpose.
There are several varieties of tea offered, ranging from black teas like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, to flavored black teas, including Mad Hatter’s top seller Royal Wedding (with flavors of fruit and citrus), to green teas to rooibos teas. All are served in porcelain teapots rather than the traditional silver teapots, but they’re a beautiful match for the dinnerware.
On the top tier is the final course: dessert offerings of miniature chocolate petit pains and pink pavlovas with lemon chantilly and fresh fruit, baked on site and perfect, delicate pastries. Petit fours finish the course. Even though the tiers overall appear heavy on sugar, the reality is that the sweetness is kept carefully in check and offset with a savory counterpoint, so diners don’t leave in a sugar coma.
While the previous location was small and overwhelmingly Victorian in decor, the new location is more sophisticated and subtle. The Victorian touches have been kept to a minimum and fit the nature of the historic home. A more masculine “library” room is available to diners, with dark wood wainscoting and pressed tin ceilings. Owner Liz Koch says the downplayed Victoriana was deliberate. “I think of it as ‘humble fine dining,'” she says. “Besides, being in the restaurant business, I don’t like a lot of tchotchkes gathering dust.”
The food is surprisingly confident, given that chef Arren Caccamo was brought on board only two weeks before the reopening. “We had another chef we were working with, but our visions didn’t align,” says Koch. “Then someone suggested Arren, and it was a perfect fit.” Caccamo was born in New York and began hanging out at a culinary school at the age of three, which explains his ability to quickly adapt to a new kitchen and menu. “We make everything from scratch, we use as much organic as we can, and we can offer vegetarian and gluten-free options,” says Koch. What they don’t prepare on site they try to source locally, getting their meats from Anoka Meat & Sausage and their baguettes and sandwich breads (other than tea sandwiches) from Swedish Crown Bakery. “People in Anoka like to support the local guys,” said Koch. “Besides, their products are fantastic.”
Future plans include opening a small shop inside the restaurant to sell tea and tea accessories (as they did in the previous location), as well as hats — for proper attire during tea service. There are only a handful of places that regularly serve high tea in the Twin Cities, and The Mad Hatter Tea Room is one of the best. You don’t have to wear a hat to tea, but you might be inspired to.
The Mad Hatter
Tea room in Anoka
1632 S Ferry St
Anoka, MN 55303
OWNERS / CHEF: Liz and Tim Koch / Arren Caccamo
BAR: Beer + Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Required for tea
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / On request
ENTREE RANGE: $30 for four-course tea ($40 for gluten-free)
PARKING: Lot across the street