Do you miss your grandma? Indiana? Iowa? Are you exhausted from the hip and trendy Albuquerque “scene”? Do you just want a homey nook where you can stare at some amateur paintings of geese or cats and slurp down a bowl of soup in peace? Welcome to Annie’s Soup Kitchen, your portal through time and space. Walk in, and “poof!” Albuquerque vanishes; you are now in a land of frilly curtains, heart-printed tablecloths, hanging gelatin molds and fruity wallpaper ripped straight from an old issue of Country Woman magazine.
I can’t quite explain this feeling outside of the context of nostalgia. I miss my grandma. I once lived in a small town in Iowa; I sometimes feel that if I see another restaurant with exposed ductwork and menu cards in the hottest new font, I’m going to go numb.
Let’s take the quiche: more of an egg pie, lacking in that savory, creamy, crusty trifecta that interlocks so perfectly in a superior specimen. I ordered the apple and sausage slice ($8.50 with a muffin or side of zucchini pecan bread), expecting large chunks of sausage and apple baked right into the custard. Not so. What I got was an egg pie topped with Swiss cheese and a scant sprinkling of apple and sausage bits, with a prominent flavor of nutmeg. To quell my disappointment, I stared off into a thick-handed winter snowscape painting, in which the course of the river, as my stream ecologist friend and lunch companion pointed out, was highly unrealistic.
Annie’s Soup Kitchen is an Alibi reader favorite, winning the category of “Best Quiche” this year and, in past years, “Best Soup.” I had been there once before to lay waste to the quiche and was feeling oddly stoked about going back.
My friend and I tried two different kinds of soup that were also fine—the French onion and lemon chicken broccoli ($5.95 by the cup). The French onion was the better of the two; properly sweet and dark and cheesy, but we were hoping for a more pronounced flavor from the lemon chicken.
For the main course, my friend ordered the open-faced turkey avocado sandwich ($8.95) with green chile sauce, swiss cheese and salad garnish. Here he became disgruntled. The iceberg lettuce dampened the flavor of the tender meat and chile sauce; the black olives were of the canned grocery store variety; the bread, erroneously “French” (see above).
The thing is, our grandmothers could also make this persuasion of food: “French” bread, white and soft as cotton; canned olives; iceberg lettuce; basic foods that failed to excite us. The food at Annie’s is not good per se, by our post-convenience, post church-potluck standards. But still, it’s a comforting cuisine for some of us, a food we experience all sorts of Proustian flashbacks while ingesting, and once in a blue moon, long for.
Nostalgia. How else to explain East Germans pining for their clunky old Trabants, Chef Wylie Dufresne sneaking slices of American cheese, and hipsters snatching up cassette tapes and typewriters any which way they can? Oh, childhood nostalgia, to be whisked back home to past worlds of someone else’s design.
And that brings me to the triumphs of Annie’s Soup Kitchen and the thing that they nail in any milieu: their coconut cream pie ($5.95). Like a dream of home—just the right degree of sweetness, a two-inch-thick layer of whipped cream over a cool lush coconut pudding, that unlike other coconut cream pies in town, doesn’t coat the inside of your mouth. It’s just a smooth, plush, eatable piece of pie.
The blackberry crepes were also gratifying ($7.95)—two thin, whole-wheat pancakes, stuffed with a warm, cream cheese filling, soaked in a deep, garnet-colored blackberry coulis, garnished with fresh blackberries and whipped cream. The crepes themselves were less eggy and elastic than I fancy, but the combination of flavors—the mildly tart, perfectly sweetened blackberry sauce, the rich, faintly salty cream cheese and the rosettes of melting cream—was lovely.
So I may very well return to Annie’s Soup Kitchen when I need an antidote to hip urbanity, when I want to revisit a long lost culture, chat up some octogenarians or am simply longing for the perfect piece of coconut cream pie.