Photos by Jason DeRusha
As a food writer, I admit my biases. There are flavors I’m inclined to like (bold over subtle), restaurant designs I prefer (unique and modern), and locations that come with expectations (if you open in the North Loop, you’d better be good).
The reverse is also true. There are flavors, designs, and locations I’m inclined to not like. I started at Minnesota Monthly years ago writing suburban restaurant reviews. It was a challenge. The hardest review to write is of a place that is … fine. Or good for the location—you like the food, but wouldn’t drive more than 15 minutes to get there.
This long preamble is to encourage you to drive to Anoka and visit the Mad Hatter Restaurant and Tea Room. I asked for restaurant suggestions on Facebook and got a ton from fans of the Mad Hatter. I was skeptical. A tea room? In Anoka? Pass.
But enough people suggested it, so I had to check it out. Owner Liz Koch is delightful—her energy and enthusiasm for service fills the room of the 155-year-old mansion along the Rum River. But it was the food that pleasantly surprised me.
Koch comes by her last name through marriage, but she’s always been a great cook. Her flavors are inspired by the south, with a cool interplay of sweet and savory.
The tea service is adorable: very nice tea served with everything you’d expect—scones, mini sandwiches, desserts. And everything is homemade, from a nice tart lemon curd, to a bright orange marmalade, to a cucumber salad with a lavender/basil cream cheese. And it’s quite good!
They also do brunch every day. Have you ever had a pulled pork French toast, stuffed with caramelized apples and onions, and dressed with a maple ale syrup? Whoa! It’s wonderful. The chicken and waffles comes with a honey Dijon dressing for dipping, the green goddess sandwich is inspired by the dressing an absolute basil/garlic/avocado explosion. So good.
I’m not one who always believes the will of the people is right: democracy doesn’t always rule when it comes to quality (as all of us who watch politics know), but this time my biases were wrong, and the people were right. Anoka is just 30 minutes north from downtown Minneapolis. Drive up 169, have tea, or have brunch, and thank me later. The Mad Hatter is worth the trip.
Mad Hatter Restaurant and Tea Room
1632 S. Ferry Street, Anoka