White linens dress every table in a corner of Prairie Ink Restaurant.
Tables are set just so with ever-so delicate vintage tea cups and saucers straight from grandma’s dining-room hutch.
The room buzzes with conversation, neither loud nor hushed.
Ladies, some sitting three generations at one table, are dressed in their finest brunch attire with not a hoodie or pair of yoga pants in the bunch.
And then tea is served.
Welcome to High Tea Tuesday, a popular weekly get together where past meets present inside McNally Robinson’s eatery.
“It’s a great, great spot to have a visit,” says High Tea regular Pearl Richards, who sipped and nibbled with her sister and two girlfriends during a recent visit.
Today pinwheel dijon egg-salad and pesto chicken and cranberry salad sandwiches, quiche Lorraine mini-tarts, cucumber-wrapped smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and bites of grilled grass-fed beef and scallops are served.
“You are absolutely brilliant, it’s brilliant,” Richards gushes, aiming her adoration at chef Karen Nielsen, the brain behind High Tea Tuesdays.
Nielsen, who has worked at several high-profile Winnipeg restaurants over the years, started the tea party in January 2013 at Prairie Ink. In part, she wanted to boost business during a typically slow time in restaurants; the time after lunch and before dinner.
Winnipeg tea culture has been brewing for years. Shops like The Canister and Cornelia Bean have been in Winnipeg for years. New additions include DAVIDsTEa and locally owned Tea Story Café, the latter of which opened a second location on Corydon Avenue a few months ago.
Today at Prairie Ink, high tea is sometimes sold out up to two months in advance. The 42-guest party costs $16.50 per person and Nielsen rotates the menu every week from 500 possible tea party recipes.
Meanwhile, tea is served from a collection of antique cups and saucers, all donated by tea partiers, she says.
“That’s the kindness of our guests.”