Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Temple To Comfort Food.

There are some restaurants that have kitchy relics of the past plastered on the walls. There are some that claim to have good Southern food. There are even those that claim they’re down home good.

Ann’s Country Café doesn’t say any of that. It doesn’t have to.

The tucked back eatery on 79 in Pine Bluff is across the street from two other eateries -- Leon’s Catfish and El Sol. In comparison, it appears from the street to just be older. But inside, you’ll find something else.

Not that there are high dollar amenities. When you hear “country café” you might think of calico and gingham and curtains in the window. Here, it’s country -- as in crossing the country. The décor is classic highway -- gas station signs, cola signs, and more. And it works here.
Take your seat in any of the red and yellow booths that line the walls or the green tables for four -- and you’ll find out more about this place -- namely, the prices. As in, they’re pretty darn low.
My traveling companion and I stopped in one afternoon in October for dinner on the road. He was looking for something light -- I wanted comfort food. We both got what we wanted. Right off the bat, we had ourselves a couple of thirstquenching drinks -- hefty servings of cola and iced tea in big tumblers. Our waitress and hostess sat down club crackers and butter while we waited for our food. I noticed one of the older men at another table dutifully buttering his crackers as he waited -- maybe it’s a local thing.

Our food came out much quicker than I expected. My $5.75 plate dinner special included country fried steak, creamed potatoes with white gravy, corn, macaroni and cheese, and a hot roll. Other choices available this day included catfish, chicken strips, green beans, and baked beans.

I didn’t realize the size of the endeavor I was undertaking at first. But after a while, I realized that my chicken fried steak took up far more room on the plate than anything else. Part of it was artfully concealed under the mashed potatoes. We’re taking about a slab of steak larger than my hand. Good eatin’. And it was tasty, too. The macaroni and cheese was tender, the corn buttery, and the potatoes seasoned (it bothers me when there’s absolutely no salt in potatoes, the way it bothers me to see a dog without a collar roamin' about in the city).

My traveling companion’s light salad choice from the Dieter’s Menu was also a surprise. For a dieter -- there’s a big old hunk of chicken salad, tangy and slightly smoky -- a welcome surprise. It was served on a bed of lettuce and tomato with hard boiled eggs.

I must say -- while he was able to consume all of his meal, I left far more of my dinner than I would have liked. This was a meal for a big man, and it got me good.

While we ate, we listened in around us. No need for music here. There was a TV turned on in the corner, but most of the people in the restaurant were engaged in a bright conversation about who did this and that. This is certainly a local favorite. Our hostess asked if we were from out of town,
and was surprised to find we’d come down from Little Rock for this treat.

If you get a chance to go, block out some time. You’re going to want to check out all the neat memorabilia on the walls. And if you have a group -- there’s a private sitting area there for you too.

On a separate visit, I did try the Reuben -- a pretty decent Reuben for a good price. It comes with big thick fries meant for dipping.

Ann’s Country Café also celebrates the fact that you can order breakfast any time -- and its nine different omelets. They also make a mean eight ounce burger (that’s half a pound for the unawares).

And don’t worry about saving up too much. With my rather large repast, the salad plate and drinks, our meal came to less than $14.

You’ll find Ann’s Country Café at 3714 Camden Road, just off I-530 on Highway 79, west of the interstate and east of the high school -- right over from the Holiday Inn Express. Open 6am to 8pm Monday through Friday and 6am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday. The number is (501) 879-0057.

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