Scratch the surface of Modern Woman, and you're likely to uncover an old-fashioned girl -- a closet romantic whose secret fantasies involve roses, moonlight, and afternoon tea, with those tiny crustless sandwiches. Probably it's in the DNA. Whatever the cause, our own unending quest for a proper ladies' tea sent us to Lake County recently, to the fanciful His Majesty's Tea Room (63 West Main Street; 888-606-6036).
Proprietor Michael Loparo opened her Victorian parlor in downtown Madison six years ago, and women -- and the guys who humor them -- have been beating a path to her door ever since. Snuggled inside a painstakingly restored, circa-1875 brick building, the room is a nostalgic cocoon, where snowy lace swags flounce across 10-foot-tall windows, cherubs encircle gilt-framed mirrors, and dear little sugar cubes nestle inside dainty porcelain slippers. It's enough to make a princess bust her bodice.
To quench milady's thirst, more than 75 teas are available, including traditional black and green varieties, caffeine-free herbal blends, and fruit tisanes. Popular choices include chocolate-raspberry truffle, black currant, and the astonishingly floral Victorian Rose -- served, in summer, with a miniature rosebud gathered from the nearby garden.
Menus for the four-course afternoon tea ($15.95 per person) change monthly and often embrace a seasonal theme. April's offerings, for instance, include Easter Egg Sandwiches; white-chocolate-apricot scones, with apricot preserves and lemon cream; Ambrosia Salad; carrot-shaped shortbreads; and that perennially light and lemony tearoom favorite, Daffodil Cake.
In the midst of all this femininity, manly tastes aren't entirely neglected: Those who crave something more robust than finger foods will find a luncheon menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches, including the strapping Lord Vincent -- roast beef and horseradish piled high on a crusty roll ($7.95).
Other reasons to visit include the May 3 opening of the Queen's Cottage and the Page House, Loparo's two nearby bed-and-breakfast inns (tours and refreshments are on tap). Mother's Day will be observed with a special luncheon on May 10. A Strawberry Festival is scheduled in June, and there will be a series of Dickens Teas in December. Most special events include musical entertainment, ranging from Renaissance troubadours to award-winning violinists.
His Majesty's Tea Room is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; reservations are recommended. The spot is shuttered during the first week of August and from mid-December to mid-February.