"What smell is that?" I asked, handing her one of the small laminated lunch menus kept on the table (just like Winstead's).
Debbie paused for a half beat, then said, "Fresh eucalyptus and Oil of Olay."
Bob nodded as if that pronouncement made total sense. I did note a floral arrangement that included a few branches of eucalyptus in the restaurant's glassed-in foyer (the "holding pen" on busy weekend mornings), but The Classic Cookie's dining room smells more like a bakery: cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and a few soft notes of burnt toast and fried potatoes. A display case filled with freshly baked muffins and cookies overwhelms the east side of the dining room.
The Classic Cookie's original owners, Hugh and Jo Ann McNamara, started their business as a bakery specializing in cookies. They added a few lunch items only after moving into the whitewashed building at the corner of Gregory and Wornall in the 1980s. When they sold the operation to current owner Leslie Stockard in 1998, she expanded the menu considerably. That same year, "Fran and Lynn," who co-wrote the "Ladies Who Lunch" column in The Independent, announced that The Classic Cookie's dining room was "an environment guaranteed to be 100-percent testosterone-free. If the man in your life suggests lunching here, quit planning the wedding." The ladies were implying that any potential groom who wanted to eat in this sweet little tearoom would probably be more attracted to his best man.
It wasn't the restaurant's supposed lack of testosterone that kept me away from The Classic Cookie for many years. The name of the place was just a little too precious for my taste, and I cringed when friends would get all fluttery and say, "At lunch they give you a basket of cookies and muffins!" I don't pretend to be loaded with machismo, but even I draw the line at petite cookie baskets and paper napkins gaily tied in ribbons.
But one Saturday morning I was going out to breakfast with a couple of friends, and we couldn't agree on any restaurants except the ones we didn't want to go to, including Sharp's in Brookside (which doesn't tie its napkins with ribbons but does attract a few sexually ambiguous bridegrooms) and the yuppie-packed Eggtc. When someone suggested The Classic Cookie, I was too tired to argue.
To my great surprise, the little bruncheonette wasn't the prissy tea room I'd expected. In fact, most of the men eating breakfast with their wives that morning looked heterosexual to me. The jury's still out on the bearded man sitting by himself eating a banana-nut muffin and reading Thoreau.
Obviously there had been a lot of changes since Fran and Lynn gave their early castrating opinion of the place.
"I had to really work to change the perception that this wasn't a ladies' tearoom," Stockard tells me. "And now I think my customers view it as a comfortable, casual neighborhood place that serves breakfast and lunch" (with cookies).
At lunch the next afternoon, Debbie clapped like a little girl when our waitress dropped a lilac-colored mesh basket filled with cookies and tiny muffins at the table.