With laced-covered tables, draped flower garlands, commemorative plates of the royal family, and a life-sized flaming-red English telephone booth, Vienna Cafe & Bistro feels like a throwback to another era. One could envision sitting in front of the mock fireplace with an English grandmama and a hot cup of tea listening to stories about the war. Certainly not your typical South Florida eatery.
The comfortable bistro serves an array of fare from all across the globe: traditional British roast beef with homemade Yorkshire pudding, French croque monsieur, Italian prosciutto caprese, and Maryland crab cakes.
The highlight of the Cooper City eatery, however, is the high tea service.
It's all about attention to detail here. Tables are set with fine bone china. On a recent visit, we were greeted by a full set embellished with contrasting roses set against a bright-green leafy background encircled by 22-karat-gold scalloped edges. Part of the Royal Albert Old Country Roses collection launched in 1962, it's just one of the authentic porcelain options available from the display in the back of the restaurant.
Several variations are offered, from afternoon tea with scones and Devonshire cream and a selection of finger sandwiches to royal tea, which swaps out the hot beverage for mimosas. My guest and I opted for the high tea.
For the beverage, our server gave us options: classic PG Tips (the most popular brand of tea in the U.K.) or a box of custom blends to sample.
After we chose the blends, she brings out what looks like an ancient medicine box of tea.
Clear glass vials topped with corks contain aromatic blends of loose leaf.
Hot cinnamon spice smells like Christmas. Imperial green: the Caribbean with notes of pineapple.
We go traditional with the Earl Grey, a citrusy and floral blend of black tea and bergamot.
Returning with our matching teapot and bags, she rattles off the starters. Diners get a choice of soup (ranging from autumnal butternut squash to classic French onion) or salad to start while staff prepares the tower. Several rotating soups are offered daily, as well as three set salads: house, caesar, and Sonoma. Known as rocket salad in the United Kingdom, the latter features spring mix, golden raisins, chopped walnuts, apples, and Gorgonzola with a homemade honey balsamic dressing.
The starters are good, but the tower is the centerpiece. With three tiers of elegantly decorated platters on the same Royal Albert china, the presentation is impressive -- sophisticated.
Classic finger sandwiches are on the bottom. Tuna and cucumber as well as egg salad and watercress are served on multigrain bread (on this visit, the watercress was subbed out with sprouts). Both are enjoyable, but the croissants used for turkey and tomato and Havarti with red onion are better.
Freshly baked scones are in the middle. Served warm with clotted cream and jam on the side, they were the pinnacle of the meal. Slightly sweet and buttery with bursting blueberry, they were a stark departure from the chalky versions found at most commercial bookstores and coffee shops.
The top tier finishes it off. Garnished with strawberries and grapes, chocolate bombs (white and milk chocolate mousse layered atop chocolate cake and covered in chocolate) are offered as petit fours.
Although the title here is a bit of a misnomer -- full tea would be the appropriate title for what's offered -- the custom stems from the English aristocracy during the 19th Century. With the introduction of kerosene, late dinners became fashionable, leaving long lapses between meals -- an interval filled with afternoon tea.
Legend has it, the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting, started the practice by asking her servants to sneak her tea and snacks in the afternoon due to "a sinking feeling." She eventually began inviting other ladies of leisure to join in the afternoon parties; they quickly became au courant with the upper and middle classes. Although the custom died out, it's now back. Over the past few decades, teahouses have been sprouting up in villages across the U.K.
Stratford-Upon-Avon-native Sandra Guerra and her husband, Hector, bought Vienna nearly 11 years ago, turning the comfortable coffee shop into a quaint European-style bistro.
Sandra, a former beautician, had already retired from owning salons. With plenty of leisure time, she and Hector would spend ample time at the already established café. Together, the Guerras would ruminate on what they would do with an eatery of their own, and it was Sandra's dream to own a "proper" teahouse. When the previous owners expressed a sense of fatigue, Hector told them to give him a call if they ever wanted to sell.
They did, and Hector made an offer.
"I thought Hector was crazy," says Sandra. "But it was the best thing that could have happened."
Vienna Cafe & Bistro is located at 5724 S. Flamingo Road, Cooper City. Call 954-680-6599, or visit viennacafeandbistro.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.