In celebration of my good friend Hannah’s birthday, a bunch of my friends wanted to get together to have high tea somewhere fun in downtown Chicago. With crustless cucumber sandwiches dancing in my head, I started to panic knowing that my participation might be limited due to a lack of gluten-free options. So, after some quality time on google, I found that gluten-free high tea in Chicago is surprisingly more accessible than one would think! The Drake, The Allium (Four Seasons) and the Peninsula all offer gluten-free menus for their high tea service. We settled on The Virgin Hotel’s Upside Down Tea Party, which isn’t your ordinary high tea- it’s a bit more boozy if you catch my drift…The Common Club on the 2nd floor is where the tea party happens from 2-5pm Saturdays and Sundays. We booked a couple of days ahead for a group of 12, and were seated immediately on a large banquet with individual tables set up for tea. The mismatched china patterns made me feel like I was in Wonderland with Alice and the Mad Hatter. While we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, the b-day girl had a mini photo shoot:Strike a pose! We all mentioned how glad we were to be inside, seeing as it was a balmy 95 degrees in Chicago that day!Part one of the Upside Down tea service has you pick whichever boozy cocktail you’d like. You can do the tea service without a cocktail for $25, or with for $35. (This is by far the most reasonable tea service we found price wise. ESPECIALLY with the inclusion of a cocktail.) These are served while you wait for the tea and treats. A close up of the flowers that were in some of the cocktails, they were almost too pretty to drink! (Almost)The tea service includes about two sweet and two savory goodies with a pot of tea each. Because we were a larger group, they served our goodies on trays. The glutenous items looked delicious, and the only gluten-free sweet was served with them (which irked me because it’s a cross-contamination no-no). The gluten-free treat was a marshmallow-less coco crispy ball, that to me, tasted of straight up honey. About half the girls LOVED these, and half could only taste honey… I gave mine away. Some of the glutenous items included a cheddar and pickle sandwich, egg salad sandwich, salmon sandwich… Pita with humus and biscotti, along with some sweets like cream puffs and scones.Now, for some food drama: I had called ahead to The Commons Club to see if they offered any gluten-free options at their tea service, because there was absolutely nothing about it online. To my surprise and delight, they said yes! All they needed to know was that they had a gluten-free guest in advance so that the chef could prepare the gluten-free treats ahead of time. Excited for the rest of my spread, I waited about ten minutes after the glutenous treats arrived, and was then presented with this:
A beautiful plate of fresh fruit and crudité in spicy humus, but alarmingly treat-less. When we first arrived our server asked who the gluten-free guest was so I knew they hadn’t forgotten about me. Curious, I asked our server if there were any gluten-free sandwiches on the way. He told me that while sometimes they do have gluten-free sandwiches, the kitchen had only provided him with the fruit and veggies. Reading the disappointment on my face, he offered to go back and ask the kitchen if they could make some gluten-free sandwiches.It didn’t take long for the girls to sweep through the goodies and as the tea arrived, I feared I’d never get my gluten-free treats… but then, our triumphant server returned! The kitchen was obviously able to find some gluten-free bread, and I was presented with two options: The cheddar and pickle (my favorite) and the egg salad sandwich. Crustless of course. The bread did have a slight staleness to it, but it’s rare to find a place that has fresh gluten-free bread. I would have toasted it to make the texture more appealing. Over all, I was a happy girl to be able to indulge in the sandwiches with the rest of my friends. I even got a couple of them to try mine! As a special birthday treat- our server brought out a glass of champagne with a candle on the stem and we all sang to wish Hannah her best year yet.
Final thoughts on tea- When booking ahead, should you have a gluten-free friend, make sure they know that a gluten-free service WITH sandwiches is expected for the full price of the service. I was not about to pay $35 for veggies and a cocktail, but I do understand that mistakes happen in the kitchen. What matters is that anyone who is gluten-free can fall down the rabbit hole and enjoy a spot of tea and a boozy cocktail at the Upside Down Tea Party. Click here to book your wonderland experience.
*This post was NOT sponsored, and all thoughts and opinions are of course, my own.
Have you had a gluten-free tea experience? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for another fun place to try!