Most locals have never heard of the Pardee Home Museum in Old Oakland, right off Hwy 980 near Oakland's Chinatown/Downtown district. It's not a mansion, but a charming, low-key, "frozen in time" snapshot of one of CA's leading EBay families, who lived in the pretty little Italianate from 1850 to 1982, when the last Pardee died.
We've enjoyed tea shops from Monterey to Victoria BC. So we will go out on a limb and state that Pardee Home Museum's volunteers make THE BEST high tea you can imagine. And they do it on their own dime! It's as if you were in their home and a group of good cooks were in friendly competition to see who could produce the best "goodies" that day.
You need a minimum of four people, maximum twelve. NO exceptions. The dining room isn't large, although on a nice day you could arrange to be served outdoors in the garden. For the very reasonable price of $25/pperson, you get a private high tea (there is a low tea, but why bother when you can get the real deal?) at the date/time of your choice, and afterwards, a private tour of the museum.
Now for the details:
The tea is English Breakfast. They brew it in the kitchen and will bring out as many refills as you want. Our group of six drank four pots, but we're all tea lovers. High tea takes a minimum one hour; we went a bit longer.
The food: OMG, what food! (and yes, we all consider ourselves foodies. The list of the last places each of us dined at is Cotogna, Quince, Aziza, and Commis, just for reference)
Savories – All were delicious, fresh, and generous.
- Open face, crustless rounds with cream cheese and good quality lox
- Triangular sandwiches with ham, arugula. White bread on one side, the other a thin dark pumpernickel.
- Cucumber sandwiches. Open face, crustless; a superior creamy spread topped with beautifully folded, paper-thin cucumber slices fanning in a spiral to cover the top. These were hands-down the best cucumber sandwiches any of us had ever had.
- Mini-puffs of paté a choux filled with finely minced chicken salad
- Mushroom toasts rolled into little logs, tied with chive strings. Beautiful and delicious.
- Crisp cheddar cheese wafers. Delicate and definitely not packaged or a mix.
- Filo pastries with a creamy artichoke heart filling.
Sweets – Again, far superior to the usual.
- Pavlovas. Individual meringues with whipped cream and fresh fruit. You can make pavlovas ahead of time, but you can't fill them until the last minute because they'll soften. These were tender and crisp, just as they should be.
- Lemon curd tartlets. Meyer lemon curd with a really superior pastry shell. Possibly used a little rice flour or nut flour, the shell was crisp but very delicate and thin.
- Cheesecakes with a chocolate swirl on top. A very nice little cheesecake. Anywhere else it would have been the star – but at Pardee, it was barely noticed.
- Almond brittle. If you have never had the homemade version of Almond Roca, you might not realize that (a) it isn't super sweet, and (b) it is NEVER hard. We swooned over this, and mind you, three of us buy Enstrom's nut brittle by mail because we like this stuff so much. But this was better, because homemade and fresh wins every time when it comes to brittle.
- 3 types of cookies: White meringue kisses, chocolate macaroons (with flour giving it the chewy texture I prefer), and a barely sweet, nut-rich wonder called WBC, or "World's Best Cookie."
So…$25 gets you stuffed with superior munchies, along with a tour of the Pardee Home Museum. Bring a flashlight, because there's lots of dark corners full of quaint stuff. It's like visiting a dusty old antique store – except this one feeds you very, very well.
To have such a unique treasure in our own backyard is remarkable. All of us had a fabulous time, and want to urge others to gather their own little group together, and go! (And leave a generous donation – these volunteers work hard, and deserve to have their efforts appreciated)
Remember that the selection of dishes changes regularly. You may get something entirely different. But trust us, these folks are REALLY GOOD bakers, all of 'em.