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"My mother doesn't like to be locked into schedules," says Marcel, "but we do have a two-week listing of dishes we'll be offering so our regular customers will know when we'll have their favorite things."
After a few lunches, I can understand why this place has a following. The British food writer Elizabeth David once described Swiss food as "rigorous and rustic," and that's the best description for this restaurant's solidly built quiche (quivering and hot in a buttery crust), its fluffy omelet (cooked with fresh spinach and sliced mushrooms, oozing with cream and cheese), and its flaky croissant pastry wrapped around a slice of ham and melted Swiss.
On one visit, my friend Jacquie ordered the Friday seafood special -- a casserole of baked codfish in a white wine sauce. She thought it might arrive bubbling in a little casserole dish, but at Andre's the food is prepared as it would be in Switzerland, so Jacquie was surprised when her plate arrived with a perfect little codfish fillet blanketed with a wine and butter sauce. And in terms of a dish en casserole: It's baked in a large casserole and spooned out for each individual plate, with a dollop of marinated beets as an accompaniment.
The portions are more European than Midwestern too. "Order an extra salad," my friend Sally advised me on a different lunch visit, "or you'll be disappointed." I soon saw why. The green salad, dressed in a piquant housemade vinaigrette, was about the size of a good teacup (and two salads were still about half the size of a typical Kansas City green salad). But that's fine, since these lunches, including a decent slice of pork loin roasted with a crusting of Dijon mustard and ladled with a sauce of robust red wine and the juices of the cooked meat, aren't hearty platters of food. They're just the right amount to lead up to the main event: dessert.
Dessert is what sets Andre's apart from any other restaurant in town. The story of the tea room and the wildly successful candy and pastry operation connected to it is, in a hazelnut shell, about a pastry shop that almost didn't make it. "When my parents opened the original pastry shop in 1955, the things they made were very, very different from what was being sold in American bakeries," says Marcel. "They had a difficult time at first, so in 1957 they opened the tea room, with just a few tables at first, to bring people into the pastry shop."
Now I suspect that it's the exquisite pastries that lure diners to stand in line -- often for as long as 20 minutes -- for the tea room, since each lunch ends with the presentation of the tray, typically laden with a half dozen or so little works of confectionery art: a glossy little "Matterhorn" of whipped chocolate cream and cake; a cream-layered Napoleon iced with a ribbon of pale pink fondant; a fudgy nut brownie ("But we're not allowed to call it a brownie -- it makes Marcel cringe," whispered the servers on two different occasions) topped with two puffs of whipped cream; a lemony citron tart; a crescent of pastry baked with firm slices of sweet apple.