It can be hard to explain the appeal of Andre's Confiserie Suisse to some of my peers and younger friends. The tiny restaurant in Cherry Creek — which closes at the end of this month after 49 years in Denver — is more of a happening place for the senior set, often packed with gaggles of cool grannies during the few slim hours of its lunch service each day. When I ask my mom, sisters or the few select friends my age who also enjoy dining at this adorable and delicious joint if they want to grab a bite at Andre's, I lovingly refer to it as the "Silver Head Club." I've been having lunch at the Silver Head Club almost monthly for the past decade. I have a strange feeling that many fellow Andre's regulars have been doing the same — if not for multiple decades.
The restaurant and bakery is known for its unique mix of Swiss, German and French cuisine, along with an always fresh-made and extensive collection of sweet treats, cheeses, chocolates, tortes, pies and more. You can select miniature tarts, rum balls, Zurcherli, macaroons and mohrenkopf from the bountiful pastry display case to go, or place an order ahead of time. Good luck getting in the door to pick up your order, though: There has never been a day when I've stopped by Andre's for lunch and haven't encountered a packed lobby and a long line of diners waiting for a seat.
Still, I hunger for a sit-down lunch at Andre's. The menu changes daily, offering just two dainty plates consisting of a main dish and two side items; all meals come with a choice of beverage and dessert. It'll cost you about $20 per person — which in Denver 2.0 seems more than reasonable. The staff is a seemingly ageless group of younger women — it's like the Denver Diner in that you're always served by ladies — who are simultaneously kind and bossy, able to elbow through the tight rows of wooden tables and chairs with ease. Andre's longtime chef and pastry master, the Swiss-born Bruno Gegenschatz, makes appearances on the restaurant floor, too. A floppy figure in a white chef's coat with white sprigs of hair on his temples to match, he's like a living caricature of a chef. Silver Head Club members fawn all over him when he bends his tall frame down to greet them tableside.
Andre's keeps its daily menu updated online, allowing folks to choose what day(s) of the month they'd like to make a trip based on cuisine. (The old-schoolers can also call each day for information.) I prefer to be surprised by what's listed for the day on a little chalkboard menu just inside the door. The quiche is always tiny, hot and perfectly crusty (it's just called "cheese pie" when it's, well, just cheese). The patty shells are an even combination of baked-in crunch and doughy goodness. Though the main dishes are often dairy-heavy and gravy-happy, the petite serving sizes keep the richness from being overwhelming. It's always a nice collection of salty, savory, hearty and light, all on the same diminutive plate. (I'm a fan of ordering "double salad" for my two sides, to keep the veggies in balance, though the salad is draped with a delicious dressing that surely cancels out my healthy notion.)
The dessert is possibly the best part of the Andre's ritual. There's no menu for the pastries and delicate, chocolate-covered options: instead, once plates are cleared, the waitresses bring out trays of choices. From there, you point out your pick, and she gently grabs a mocha square or strawberry frog with a set of tongs and serves it up on a little white plate. Because these sugary delicacies are made daily, I am often heartbroken to find that by the time I get to Andre's at the end of the lunch rush, I've missed out on my favorites, the marzipan potato or the Napoleon, with its layers of flaky pastry and fresh cream topped with a pinky glaze.
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I'm one of those annoying pro-coffee types who acts like I invented the addiction (which maybe I did, considering "coffee" was the first word I ever spoke), so I can't wax poetic about Andre's without mentioning the iced coffee. Poured over little nuggets of chewable ice and topped with fresh, heavy, unsweetened whipped cream, it's almost better than dessert. A quick stir and the coffee, ice and cream coalesce into some kind of enticing, counterfeit milkshake. At Andre's, all of these tasty little moments come together to create a one-of-a-kind dining ritual. A ritual that usually takes under an hour to perform, from front door to checkout.
I wanted to document the Andre's experience for posterity, hence my amateurish photos of everything Andre's. I am achy at the thought of never eating here again (though the original Andre's in Overland Park, Kansas, isn't that far away, I suppose). Since learning of its closure at the end of this month, I had planned to enjoy a weekly meal at this semi-secret stash spot of buttery goodness. The food is something I dream about — but, like many experiences that linger with me the longest, it's really about the atmosphere. So many of new Denver's food-oriented spaces feel sterile and unwelcoming; bourgie coffee shops seem to think metal stools are comfortable and that wannabe Thomas Edison light fixtures equate with ambience. But I'll take the pseudo-Swiss-chalet feel, wood-paneled walls, dollhouse furniture and paper placemats of Andre's over shiny metal dining areas overwhelmed by the audio and visual pollution of flat-screen TVs any day. Not to mention my appreciation for the presence of the Silver Head Club: What a joy it is to look around a restaurant and not see a bunch of tables full of people my exact age who look just like me.
It's a strange feeling to know that a building you're physically able to stand in one moment may not be there the next. Though no details have been shared about the future of this modest, pointy structure once Andre's serves its last luncheon, it's not hard to guess its fate. Andre's original home is long gone, and it's been in this second spot for decades, as the one-story brick shanty has slowly been encroached upon by towering office buildings and luxury apartment fortresses. There's no way a place so representative of Cherry Creek's (and Denver's) humble past could survive this latest construction boom. It's just not big and obnoxious enough to remain on the map in these new-Denver times.
If there's a heaven where old versions of Denver go after they die, I know Andre's will be there serving up Walliserschitten with sliced beets and salad. Oh, and a never-ending tray of Napoleons and, of course, a fountain frothing with iced coffee and heavy cream.