By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com
WEST PALM BEACH — It only took 35 years, but we’ve got Valentine’s Day figured out.
The secret is that it’s Valentine’s Day, so don’t even think of going out at night when everyone else is crowding into overbooked restaurants where the service and food are certain to be substandard because it’s all too much to handle.
So Fran and I opted for an afternoon visit to the Norton Museum of Art, a bonafide Florida attraction. Culture in the land of schlock? It resides here in Florida’s largest art museum.
We’d seen a memorable Monet exhibit there a few years back, and the current feature commemorating 100 years of fashion photography in a showcase of 80 of the most famous photographers from the Conde Nast collection was a study in genuine modern artwork with the lens as the pallet.
But what made the day was the serendipity of discovering the Serenity Garden Tea House & Café a few blocks from the museum.
This is one of those places that transports you, in this case away from the usual South Florida T-shirt and flip-flop state of mind. Sitting in the enchanted garden, soaking up the sun on a chilly afternoon, it is easy to imagine we are in a traditional English tea garden. Though in this case it would be more properly placed on the Emerald Isle, as proprietor Audrey Farrelly is from Dublin.
It reminded Fran of a similar tea garden in Fremantle, Western Australia, which was a frequent stop for her with our daughter in a stroller during five weeks there while I covered the American’s Cup yacht races in 1987.
It is rarity in South Florida where you can experience a genuine high tea. At Serenity Garden, tea is king – or perhaps queen – and the choices are extensive, covering front and back of its own menu. The recommendation for the Lady Grey, flavored with herbs and lavender, was spot on. The pot came encased in a cloth tea cozy that kept it warm and also secured the top of the pot nicely.
The lunch menu is varied, and our choices of the homemade quiche and the honey baked ham and brie cheese sandwich with mango chutney were both excellent (it’s a rare treat to get to write mango chutney).
Farrelly told an interviewer that she wanted a place where guests can linger with their lunch or tea, the opposite of the frantic fast-food experience.
The charming setting in a 1920s Florida house and its garden on a quiet side street achieves that very well. On this occasion, it brought welcome serenity to the high-pressure experience that Valentine’s Day has become.
Check out Fran Davis’ photo gallery from the Fashion Photography exhibit at the Norton Museum.