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I’ve discovered a pleasant way to idle away a Sarasota afternoon in February--get up a little party and have a lavish tea in the historic Powel Crosley mansion on the bayfront served by Simply Gourmet. Hats are not required and I saw hardly any when my friend Rosemary and I went. But I did spy plenty of good jewelry. The experience was less Downton Abbey-ish than Sarasota casually elegant. 

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Servers (some British) poured orange pekoe tea from “Brown Betty” pots (ugly, but they keep the tea hot) and then laid the impeccable tables with petite sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, cakes, cookies, brownies, all meticulously staged for optimal eye appeal. My favorite was a round silver tray upon which were flat seeded biscuits stuffed with thin slivers of cured salmon. These divine biscuits are a signature pastry that Chef Larry Barrett makes daily. He has a secret for keeping the biscuits from rising that makes these buttery little coins of rich deliciousness look the way they do. Honestly, Downton's Mrs. Patmore couldn’t do better.

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Chef is also a culinary historian and has fashioned this tea after a big public tea party that Queen Elizabeth hosts every spring for 8,000 people in the garden at Buckingham Palace. There were only 100 at my tea party. (More exclusive, don’t you know.) Tables were set up in various rooms and terraces on the upper floor of the 1929 house, and either before or after eating, guests could take a self-guided tour of the glamorous Flapper-era estate. Tea is served every Tuesday and Wednesday of this month. Always at 2 p.m. Always just  for 100 guests.  $35, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Crosley Foundation. Eat all the salmon biscuits they’ll give you.

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