Dining » Restaurant Reviews

Tea Room Sympathy

Our reviewer eats humble pie -- and fabulous pastries -- at Andre's Confiserie Suisse.

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As much as I hate to admit that I'm ever wrong, I'll gladly eat humble pie when it's the alternative to eating something less appetizing. After all, as Confucius said: "Admit that you do not know what you do not know, for that is knowledge." And for years -- 16 to be exact -- I avoided Andre's Confiserie Suisse because I assumed it was a stuffy, uptight "Ladies Who Lunch" spot. It was a perception grounded in my own prejudices, since my knowledge of the popular European-style pastry shop and tea room was practically nonexistent, even though it was just around the corner from the Plaza apartment I'd rented for more than a decade. Sure, I had dashed in from time to time to buy a box of chocolates or a birthday cake, but I'd never given a passing look to the dining room at the back of the building.

When I finally took my place in the fast-moving lunch line last month, I wondered what had been keeping me away. After all, I love the elaborate Swiss pastries and candies that owner Marcel Bollier and his family create and sell in big, shiny glass cases in the retail area in the front of the building.

As I waited for a table, I realized I was right behind an old lady with a walker, in front of a bickering middle-age couple, and barely a foot away from an imperious-looking 60-ish matron with the worst facelift I'd ever seen. I suddenly I remembered how my friend John had described the restaurant's patrons: "The Bad Hair Capital of Kansas City," he grimaced. "Crotchety old ladies with frizzy perms and hideous Johnson County housewives with ratty bleach jobs or maniacal frosted heads or shellacked with so much hairspray their heads look like the glazed pastries in the display cases. It's like something out of that Joan Crawford movie, The Women."

I'm happy to report that after several lunches at Andre's (the restaurant stopped serving dinner nearly a decade ago so that Marcel and Connie could spend more time with their children), I saw that the clientele is far more varied and interesting than John's caustic description. I saw plenty of men in suits (the restaurant is close to several midtown office towers) and a few under-30 diners mixed in with the Ladies Who Lunch crowd (some of them were in desperate need of a good hairdresser) who still dominate the dining room.

"Yes, there was the perception that this place was a little-old-ladies' tea room that followed us for years and years," says Marcel Bollier. "But the customer base has changed dramatically over the years. Now you see more of a mix of men and women, different age groups and backgrounds. The perception started, I think, because this restaurant is a tea room. That sounds ladylike."

But in Europe, the words "tea room" don't evoke images of pink-cheeked ladies poking trembling forks into Napoleons. In Copenhagen, for example, a tea shop can be a classier version of an American luncheonette; think Nichols Lunch serving open-face sandwiches and boiled cod with mustard sauce.

And Andre's isn't at all ladylike in decor, with its simple wooden walls, uncloaked tables with paper napkins, and a ceiling hung with flags representing the different Swiss states. The menu is equally no-frills: only four dishes, all priced the same (about $10.35), all including a beverage and dessert from the pastry tray.

Because the menu is so uncomplicated, it's not written on paper but announced orally by the server (ours on one visit was actress Cynthia Hyer, a veteran employee, who brought a sense of drama to her description of a Swiss-style pizza in a pastry shell). Two of the daily offerings never change: a wedge of quiche Lorraine baked in traditional style with eggs, cream, cheese, and bacon, or a triangle of a meatless quiche. The other two items change daily, based on the tastes of Marcel's mother, Elsbeth (the wife of the late Andre), who oversees the menu planning.

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