November 14, 2011 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
It’s hard to find a place where everybody knows your name when you’re a vagabond.
I’ve lived in seven different cities since I graduated high school. By the time I became familiar with my surroundings in one place, it would be time to load up the Mercury Tracer and set up house in a new neighborhood in a new apartment with a new roommate. No time to become a regular at a local neighborhood restaurant or bar.
But my life has changed in the past few months. I have a roommate for life. We rent a house in south-central Louisville, an area in which we’d like to stay for awhile. Even the dog seems OK with his new hood.
It’s time to adopt a neighborhood favorite as “our spot,” and Annie Café is in the running.
This Vietnamese restaurant is wedged on a busy block of Woodlawn Avenue between Southern Parkway and South Third Street that also contains Sunergos coffee shop, a Penn Station sandwich shop, and a grocer that sells hard-to-find items such as camel meat. Annie Café stands out for its quiet atmosphere, quick service and consistently good, authentic and inexpensive cuisine.
Annie Café is a great place to bring someone who is relatively new to Vietnamese food. The less-experienced food can flip to the back of the menu to the selection of familiar Chinese food dishes that the restaurant offers, such as sesame chicken or moo goo gai pan. These dishes come with rice and a spring roll and are just each $5.75 during lunch.
The real deal, however, is in the traditional Vietnamese entrees that make up the majority of Annie’s menu. Noodle dishes make up the majority of the selections. The pho, a northern Vietnamese noodle soup, is only $6.50 and comes with your choice of meat. Then there are dishes with rice noodles, vermicelli noodles, egg noodles, stir-fried noodles, crispy noodles, dry noodles. With all of the entrees ringing in at less than $10, it’s pretty inexpensive to experiment with so many noodle variations.
Let’s not forget about the equally tasty dishes without noodles. The com ga xao gung, aka ginger chicken on steamed rice (E.26 on the menu, $6.50), is a sweet and tender alternative to a bowl of noodles. The com tom nuong, grilled shrimp on rice with vegetables and Annie’s sauce (E.23, $7.25) sounds equally delicious.
My last trip to Annie Café was part pleasure, part medicinal. With the region’s erractic weather patterns, my allergies have at times turned me into a mouth-breather. So I began my lunch with the hot and sour soup ($2.50), a bowl of which is strong enough to clear my clogged sinus passages.
The Hubs and I were pretty sure this was a fresh batch of soup, judging from the slight crunch of the vegetables and the steam rolling off of the liquid. Large chunks of vegetables and tofu were jammed into the bowl, which made this a very hearty appetizer that required more chewing than I’m used to with a soup. The broth was opaque with spices that tickled the back of my throat.
To give my mouth a chance to cool off, I ordered the bum tom nuong, vermicelli noodles with grilled shrimp and vegetables (E.3, $7.25).
This dish is unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. A handful of plump grilled shrimp sprinkled with crushed peanuts and a heap of shredded lettuce, cilantro and cucumber sit atop a knot of tender noodles. The dish is served with a small bowl of a light, sweet sauce that I pour over the whole thing. The dish is slightly chilled because of the vegetables, which made me think of it as a kind of noodle salad. The vegetables were very crisp and fresh, crunching with every bite. The shrimp were well-cooked. But it’s the sweet sauce, which I somehow manage to get all over me on every visit, that unites a bowl of assorted ingredients into one fresh and interesting dish.
I look forward to seeing more of Annie Café. I’ve been at least three times already, and have never been let down by the friendly staff or consistent meals. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the place where everybody knows my name. Or at least order.
Notes about Annie Café
- The restaurant is closed on Monday, which is a bummer since I have a craving for it RIGHT NOW and it’s Monday.
- The Hubs and I often make an afternoon of going to Annie Café, having coffee at Sunergos and taking a nice walk if the weather permits. The food at Annie Café is filling, yet light enough to make a short post-meal walk seem manageable.
- It’s hard not to compare Annie Café to Vietnam Kitchen, which is arguably more popular. Both serve delicious authentic Vietnamese food at reasonable prices in the south end of Louisville. Overall, the quiet Annie Café is less expensive and not as overwhelming as Vietnam Kitchen, which can get packed even on a weekday night. But Vietnam Kitchen offers a larger menu. Basically, you’ll get a good meal at either place. It really depends on your preference.