Just Mad About Madeleine

The Piper Palm House's new Café Madeleine makes for a sweet Sunday

Jun 28, 2000 at 4:00 am
I can only believe the reason there isn't a line outside of Café Madeleine waiting to get in when it opens at 10 o'clock on Sunday mornings has to do with people's not yet knowing that it's there or, as was the case with us, difficulty navigating the semirandom set of signs that kinda sorta points you to the restaurant, but not really. (Hint to drivers: Take the east point of the compass on the roundabout in the center of Tower Grove Park, then turn left and follow the road back to where it dead-ends. Hint to restaurant and city: Improve the signage.)

In any event, Café Madeleine is certainly worth seeking out, because the recently restored Palm House in Tower Grove Park is an oasis of serenity, a place to sip coffee on Sunday morning and eat, if not beignets, then spongy shell-shaped cookies appropriately called madeleines. Tall, restored nine-over-nine windows rise up to a vaulted ceiling that tops out at around 30 feet, and a gushing fountain in the center of the long open space supplements the piped-in light jazz with the visceral relaxation of flowing-water sounds.

As you'd expect, plants are all around, but the south wall also sports pedestals mounted with the deteriorating but still imposing busts of immortal musicians -- Gounod, Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, Wagner and Beethoven -- six decomposing composers, with apologies to Monty Python. (And given that only Verdi still has a nose, how do the rest smell? Awful, of course. It's funnier in the original German.) Tables are made of garden-furniture-style wrought iron, with a fresh flower adorning each and accompanying green-vinyl-wicker chairs in a nod to sensible longevity.

Light meals of salads, sandwiches and a ham-and-cheese Wellington and individual-size quiches are provided by LaCHEF, best known around town as a popular caterer. We brunched on the "Palm House Salad" (Romaine lettuce, hearts of palm, a quartered tomato, Gorgonzola cheese and capers), augmented by about a 4- to 6-ounce fillet of warm smoked salmon, and seven giant fresh strawberries served with powdered sugar and a big bowl of honeyed yogurt. Various sundaes and floats are also available if you're just in the mood for a sweet, as is a moderate selection of pastries and breads above and beyond the signature madeleines (the name comes from the daughter of the chairman of the fundraising for the restoration). Wine and champagne are served after 11 a.m., apparently because the state of Missouri still sees the need to protect its citizens from hooligans showing up soused for Sunday services.

Not that we enjoy standing in lines, but this is the type of place that ought to be SRO, especially because you can only enjoy it on Sunday.

CAFÉ MADELEINE, Piper Palm House, Tower Grove Park, 314-865-1095. Sundays only.