Let’s just say you’re in downtown Austin with no wheels so you can’t really drive anywhere, but you’re hungry and need a spot to lunch.
You’ll likely end up at Annie’s Cafe & Bar at some point, on Congress between 3rd and 4th streets.
It’s not a bad place to find yourself.
Annie’s Cafe & Bar used to be Apple Annie’s, a long-time lunch spot on 6th St., hence the “established in 1982” signage, but this reincarnated American-French bistro opened only last June.
True to its theme, Annie’s has the requisite zinc bar, dark wood tables , chalkboard menus and butcher paper covered tables.
Zip in and grab a salad to go, bypassing the long line waiting to place a grill order.
If you place an order for the “made to order” lunch (mostly hot lunches, but also composed salads, pizzas and sandwiches), you’ll get a number to take to your table.
With any luck, a food runner will see your number before he or she frantically circles the restaurant several times holding your hot food, which is getting colder by the second.
One server, laden with a burger and a Margherita pizza, hunting her table number with the skill of an untrained but lovable Labrador, came up to our table number 36 and wondered if she turned it upside down, would it be 93?
Perhaps, but she wasn’t even looking for 93. She was looking for 39, which is 63 upside down.
The food, once it arrives, is fresh and visually appealing. The salad above is the farmer’s market salad upgraded with a grilled salmon fillet ($9.95).
The borderline-overcooked salmon sits atop peppery arugula and the salad is garnished with roasted golden beets and goat cheese, tossed in a mild horseradish vinaigrette.
The Thai chicken salad ($7.95) is striking, with sections of greens, red cabbage, and chilled rice noodles. The spicy peanut dressing is more sweet than spicy, despite it’s name.
The bistro burger ($11) is a fine specimen, with melted white cheddar and grilled onions.
On one visit the kitchen ran out of the sea salt buns and substituted foccacia, which was just as tasty as the bun.
The “frites” aren’t nearly as good as they could be, coming from a bistro.
And the bakery case is a little bare on two visits but what is there is tempting, with chocolate chip cookies and thick slabs of brownies.
Despite the unfortunate number system, Annie’s Cafe is extremely popular with the downtown Austin crowd, a mix of business people, ladies-who-lunch and hip young families with small children.
The food is fresh and far better than, say the Paradise Bakery chain (which Annie’s offerings remind me of) and the chocolate chip cookies are simply some of the best I’ve tasted.
If I could time my next visit when the cookies come out of the oven, I think I’d say they’re worth the trip alone.
Annie’s Cafe & Bar
319 Congress Avenue
P.S. About that number system: What do you think about restaurants that give you a number to take to your table?
A. Love it! works like a charm
B. Hate it! My food takes a tour through the restaurant before it lands on my table
C. Yawn… just not that big of a deal