Anna’s Oven: 1809 W. 39th St

 Posted by at 6:26 am
Jan 192012
 

Anna’s Oven, a strange combo of tasteful cafe, comfort food emporium and charitable endeavor may have good food but I’ll probably never find out. It’s not the menu or the concept that rubs me the wrong way, but the execution is simply substandard due to an apparent lack of good management and oversight.

Rear exterior

The space has been attractively renovated and is barely recognizable from its days as Matchstick BBQ, a short-lived but fairly solid breakfast and smoked meat joint on 39th Street West. Given the name and the interior vibe, I would assume that Anna’s Oven specialized in fancy salads, vegetarian fare and overpriced soups, but the menu trends toward updated versions of American classics: meatloaf, roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and desserts like cobbler and bownies.

Interior

Menu Board

They open up at 11am and I strolled in about 11:40, eager to try the meatloaf, which Mr. Ferruzza enjoyed on one of his visits. Alas, they were out of meatloaf, which I assume meant that it hadn’t been made yet, given that they had recently opened and there was only one table occupied. The woman at the counter also warned me that they did not have chicken pot pie, which had been prominently advertised on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk. So I opted for chicken and noodles ($7) since it is a relative rarity on local menus and they advertise that the noodles are house-made.

The woman from the counter ran the front of the house by herself on my visit and spent a lot of time talking up the charitable aspect of Anna’s Oven with the few customers that strolled in. The business apparently gives a percentage of sales to the Friends of St. Anne, an organization that supports the work of a girls school in Kenya. Being a curmudgeonly old cynic I don’t pay much mind to this sort of thing. After all, what an odd choice of charity. It may have personal importance to the investors of Anna’s Oven, but I have no assurance that a religious school in Africa is more worthy of funds than Harvester’s, Big Brothers/Sisters, Amnesty International or the Heifer Project. Let’s be clear: I think charitable business ventures are an excellent idea, but this one seems too specific. I don’t want to research the charity before spending my money there. And it certainly doesn’t give them a pass to be a crappy restaurant.

Anyhow all this chatting about St. Anne’s really cut into the time the server was spending with other customers as more people slowly drifted in. She was supposed to bring out a bottled beverage to my table that took longer than the 25 seconds it should have taken. When she wasn’t with customers she was mincing garlic on a cutting board behind the counter and ignoring everyone. Basically you can forget about getting any attention once you leave the counter.

We must have waited 30 minutes for our food, so long that it almost became funny. While we waited I witnessed the wrong order being delivered to another table in the joint, and the wrong order given to a person waiting for takeout. Food was returned to the kitchen and fixed or remade apparently. This didn’t bode well. At least I had a bottle of Boulevard Wheat to keep me company.

Imagine my lack of surprise when the chicken and noodles arrived and the waitress explained that these were “not the usual noodles” because “they didn’t leave us any from last night.” What I received was a bowl of store-bought rotini with bits of chicken distributed throughout and maybe a 1/4 cup of watery broth hiding underneath. It was certainly not “yummy thick broth.” There was not even any garnish. Wanna see it?

Chicken and Noodles

This should really be obvious, but if you advertise house-made noodles in your dish and intend to substitute dried pasta, you should inform the diner first.

Where's the broth?

The dish was completely substandard and highly disappointing. It reminded me of something you make at home when you’re drunk and only have pasta and a leftover chicken carcass. I was annoyed, which you can probably discern from the general tone of this post. But there was no manager to speak to, just an unavailable server and a guy in the kitchen.

Menu | Anna's Oven 2012-01-17 22-37-27

But hey the salad was good.

Chef Salad

That little bowl in the background is the standard order of regular mac and cheese. Yep, the same store-bought noodles with a thin, slightly sour cheese sauce, and no garnish. This food is literally beige, would it kill them to put a parsley sprig somewhere? The mac didn’t taste all that bad, but was severely underseasoned and didn’t exhibit the best qualities of homestyle mac and cheese: cheesiness, salt. And where was the buttered bread crumb topping as promised on the menu? It certainly didn’t make me want to order the $68 party portion.

What am I getting at other than to complain? For starters, it’s clear that Anna’s Oven suffers from a lack of proper oversight and training. Why were there no processes in place to ensure that meatloaf, pot pie and homemade noodles are available every day when they open? Why did the cook and/or server not feel obliged to inform me that they were serving me something different than was advertised? Why was this place so goddamn slow? Other than providing a forum to feel good about charitable endeavors, are the owners invested in the success of Anna’s Oven? Does this place have a manager? After being there so long, my lunch felt like an obligation, like being at a timeshare presentation or worse, a bad community theater production against my will.

Not long ago, I found a hair in a dish that I ordered from a local restaurant. For many people such an occurrence is a dealbreaker, but after noticing it, I simply removed the hair and proceeded to eat my lunch. The restaurant is a place that I have enjoyed multiple times without incident and I trust them and know that they take pride in their food. But when that trust has yet to be developed, when owners’ work ethic is undetermined and their purpose unclear, missteps turn into grave errors.

Almost certainly, I caught Anna’s Oven on an especially bad day. I’m reasonable, I normally would go back to try more dishes and give them a chance to shine before writing this up. After all plenty of people in town seem to like it. But given this one experience I just can’t justify returning. It may not be fair, but there are too many other deserving lunch spots to try. That being said, I would love to hear others’ experiences at Anna’s Oven, mostly to see if I’m insane for being so turned off.

Anna's Oven on Urbanspoon

  17 Responses to “Anna’s Oven: 1809 W. 39th St”

  1. Why would you think they would have meatloaf and potpie at 11:40 am? Even if they started cooking at 11 am it takes longer than 40 min to prepare meatloaf and potpie even if you did it at home. Would you want left-overs from last night?

    I think you should give this place another try in the evening.

    Every resturant has shitty wait staff on Saturdays. They save their best staff work nights just like strip clubs.

    • If they can’t have what they’re advertising ready by the time they open then maybe they need to get in a little earlier to start the day. These are the dishes the dishes I’ve heard they are popular for … wouldn’t you want to have those ready? And the chicken and dumplings mess is ridiculous. They’d be better off to be “out of that” too.

    • You may have stumbled upon a good point, D. My visit was indeed on a Saturday and perhaps not indicative of the normal workday lunch hour. I won’t be trying them at night since this is a lunch-only blog but maybe I could be convinced to eat there again during the day. Maybe. Probably not.

    • because they’re advertising that they have it at that time, they should have it ready. when i’ve worked at restaurants in the past, cookstaff comes in early to prep things before open. it’s absurd to have menu items (or advertised specials) unavailable during any open hours.

  2. I appreciate your honesty about this place. It’s been on my radar but at this point I’d be very hesitant to give it a try. A bad day is one thing but it doesn’t sound like they had anything working very well. If you want good chicken & dumplings check out The Corner Cafe. Chain yes but oh so yummy!

  3. Jon and I went there shortly after the restaurant opened for business. But that was back when the woman who designed the menu and prepared the dishes herself was still there. She left a week after our visit. When we went it was divine – but that was in August…and we all know how quickly things can change in the restaurant business. We haven’t been back since August and now probably won’t.

  4. why does that look like canned chicken?

  5. @The D, Leo (my husband) worked at The Blue Moose in PV for several years as one of their kitchen managers/chefs. Not sure if you remember that, so I thought I’d mention it. Anyway, that place doesn’t open until 11 a.m. Mon – Sat, and yet, oddly enough, my husband’s shift often started at 8 or 9 a.m. on the days when he was working lunch.

    WEIRD, eh?

    Yeah, restaurants start their prep for lunch long before they open their doors. I mean this in the nicest way, but, damn…common sense, dude. Sometimes, I wonder if you’ve got any. O_o

  6. Dave, thank you for going there … so I won’t have to. Thought it looked cute on the outside–glad I didn’t go in!

  7. Dave – I’m so sorry you had a disappointing experience at Anna’s Oven. We are very proud of the comfort food dishes we serve, and are distressed that you were served a poor substitute for our chicken and noodles. Believe, me, this is not typical! We have addressed several issues since your visit, and truly appreciate your comments. Constructive criticism is always welcome. We believe our current staff is dedicated to consistently presenting the comfort food that originated with Anna, the grandmother of a couple of the owners. We encourage you to give us another try.

  8. I love Anna’s I go there about once a week…any new place is going to have problems at first…just like all of you when you learn something new your not that good at it…I think its funny how judgemental everyone is of a place that has some of the best food in town…and they have never ate there….

  9. Anna’s is a new restaurant still going through some growing pains and improving. They’re a small family owned type operation who cares a lot about how they are perceived too and appreciate direct feedback. Perhaps you mentioned this to the manager/owner?

    Aside from advertising outside without having the items available, I can’t imagine that was intentional. They are good people. I go there often enough that I’ve met a few of the staff. From what I understand, the menu may be updated with more items to add a bit of variety and they are working to reach out to their customer base more (at least that’s how it came off to me).

  10. I’m going to try it today…. Will post back about my experience with it

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