Decemburger: Annies Cafe & Bar

 
First came 50 Burgers, 50 Days. Then Novemburger. 2011 wraps up with a burger a day for Decemburger.
 
Day 2: Annies Cafe & Bar
319 Congress Ave. 472-1884, www.anniescafebar.com.
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. 7:30 a.m. to midnight Friday. 8:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday. 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 12.02.11
 
Annies is like the efficiency apartment of restaurants. Everything happens in one room: the cafeteria-style lunch line and pizza oven, the horseshoe-shaped zinc bar, the espresso machine and bakery case and the sprawling footprint of banquettes, four-tops and bar tables where the waitstaff takes over at night. It’s all there, and in the lull between a line-out-the-door lunch service and the more placid dinner hours, Annies makes a serene office space punctuated by the languid sax and stand-up bass thump of parlor jazz. Whenever I met with cookbook authors or winemakers when I wrote for the American-Statesman, I steered them toward Annies. It’s the most cosmopolitan urban space downtown, and I thought the 20-foot ceilings, exposed brickwork and 10-foot-tall windowed stable doors would make the East Coasters and urbane Californians feel at home.
 
The burger: Annies specializes in brasserie foods: roast chicken, steak frites, French onion soup. And what is a burger and fries if not ground steak frites in a convenient handheld edition? If only it were so. Annies Bistro Burger ($11 at lunch, $12 at dinner) does everything right except the meat, which was overcooked a shadow-peaked dark brown on the outside and tired gray inside, a rigid minus sign on a plate teeming with pluses. With a fluffed sea-salt bun, well-cooked skin-on shoestring fries, first-tier tomatoes and leaf lettuce, robust white cheddar and a sweet toss of caramelized onions and mustard seeds, this burger deserves a better main ingredient. Console yourself with a sea-salt caramel tart ($3).
 
Fries or rings? Pardon me, but here we call them “pommes frites.” Thank you. And they deserve respect, not just for taste and execution but for the fact that they make for a completely filling burger plate. But this is Annies, and I can’t stop there, not faced with the lunchtime salads that have kept this place going for three decades. A cold penne pasta ($3.10) shines with olive oil and basil, punctuated with shredded parmesan and a scatter of walnuts. Tomato-brie soup ($3.50/cup) beats an onion ring any day, the color of a warm summer sunrise with bright acidity tamed by the tannic cream of soft cheese.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
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