Tough Cookies

Apparently, Brookside has its own distinct smell. I didn’t know about it until the day I had lunch at The Classic Cookie Café with my friends Debbie and Bob. We sat down at a tiny table and started removing the festive little blue ribbons tied around our paper napkins — a decorative touch I hadn’t seen since my little sister’s 7th birthday party — when suddenly Debbie looked around the dining room, wrinkled her nose and said, “This place smells like Brookside.”

“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.


“Deepak Chopra says you should always eat something sweet first,” Debbie said before biting into a snickerdoodle. “It aids in digestion.”

I assisted my digestive tract by eating half the sweets in the basket before my soup arrived. That day’s potage du jour was billed as tomato bisque, so I expected it to be something rich and made with cream, but Leslie Stockard’s bisque is a purée of the ripe red fruit, lightly seasoned with basil — and delicious. Bob ordered a salad and a BLT while Debbie, fortified by a cookie, chose a healthy plate of mixed greens, vegetables and a scoop of chicken salad.

The Classic Cookie offers two kinds of chicken salad: the old-fashioned kind that my grandmother used to make with mayonnaise and celery and grapes, and another version, less conventional, made with mango chutney and almonds. It sounded good to me, but I don’t think many male customers order it.

“Are you sure you like chutney?” demanded Mary, our tan, gravel-voiced waitress. Despite my assurances that I knew what chutney was and was aware that the chicken salad wasn’t going to be “normal,” Mary cross-examined me until I nearly gave up and ordered a grilled cheese.

“We get a lot of people who order the chutney chicken salad, and they don’t know what chutney is and they get upset,” she explained. We compromised only when I agreed not to get the chutney chicken salad on bread — like a “normal” sandwich — and to eat it as a salad, even though the menu clearly lists both styles of chicken salad sandwiches. It was just like arguing with my own difficult mother, which probably wasn’t so good for my digestive system.

Debbie went on about Deepak Chopra while I watched a trio of well-coiffed, beautifully manicured matrons having lunch together, but not really. Two of the three were having animated conversations on their cell phones while their companion ate in silence. They didn’t smell like Brookside but certainly acted like it.

A couple of days later, I returned for another Classic Cookie breakfast, dragging along my sleepy friend. He perked up only when he saw his friend Gaby at the next table and they started gossiping about mutual friends. I couldn’t decide what to order: the herbed-potato-and-sausage casserole that I’d loved on my earlier visit, or an omelet, or the Breakfast Burrito filled with “gently scrambled eggs,” bacon, green onions and cheese. I hesitated about ordering potatoes, but I saw artist Jim Sajovic at the next table, and he assured me that I shouldn’t miss The Classic Cookie’s fried potatoes. “They’re the best in the world,” he said.

And they may be. The secret, Leslie Stockard confessed to me later, is that they’re fried in bacon grease. That makes the little spuds golden and crunchy on the outside, tender and soft on the inside — I could have eaten a silo of them.

Bob had the breakfast sandwich — egg, cheese and bacon on toast — and a bowl of fresh fruit and some yogurt and most of my potatoes.

While he and Gaby gabbed, I watched a beautiful blond couple who were freshly tousled, as if they had just rolled out of bed to stroll over to the Cookie for coffee. He scratched his head and read the sports section of the newspaper, and she chatted on and on about picking up their wedding invitations that day.

“Aren’t you excited?” she asked him. He nodded, without looking up from Joe Posnanski’s column.


A bridegroom with plenty of testosterone, if you ask me.

Categories: Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews