It doesn't advertise. It doesn't have an outside phone number. Its entrance is literally hidden at the back of the gifts department on the second floor of the Neiman Marcus store in the Galleria Mall. And yet, every day at lunchtime, every seat at the twin curved counters of the Little Mermaid is occupied, and more eager patrons are queuing up in front of the cash register, waiting to pounce on any vacancy in this cramped, wood-paneled nook. How to describe these patrons? Well, to overgeneralize, they are mostly women of a certain age (50s and up -- sometimes way up), a certain income level (likely big, big fans of eliminating dividend and estate taxes), and a certain social station (their day planners are full of words like foundation, fundraiser, and gala). Their fashion sense can best be described as expensive casual: Yes, many are wearing slacks or even jeans, but the crisp blouses, tailored jackets, gleaming purses, and the glint of a brooch make it clear that these ladies like to shop at... well, Neiman Marcus. And what could be better to fuel yourself for an intense afternoon of shopping than a smoked turkey Reuben with homemade Thousand Island dressing? Or a ham-and-hogwash sandwich (hogwash being a tangy-sweet, horseradishy sauce) on grilled egg bread? Or perhaps one of the Mermaid's salads: Niçoise, cobb, or caesar -- the latter available with grilled chicken or shrimp? The homemade soups are always excellent, so one can't go wrong with the Mermaid Sampler: a cup of soup, half a sandwich, and fresh fruit. Ladies who really know their lunch always order a side of the orange soufflé; it may look like a Jell-O mold, but trust us, it's much, much more. And if a lady just wants tea -- including a warm scone with crème fraîche and those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off -- does she have to wait until 4 p.m.? Hell, no! Says right there on the menu: "Tea Time Anytime." The cakes certainly look tempting, but a full slice is huge. That's why these ladies almost always travel in pairs: the better to split a slice of deliciously moist carrot cake, my dear! Now, let's have a look at those new hats that just came in.
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