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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Anis Café & Bistro

anis4Good-tasting food has a funny way of staying alive in memory. In your mind’s palate, you start with the flavor, and then fill in the time, surroundings and state of mind.

And so I have a memory of what seemed to be the ideal croque monsieur. This French quick lunch staple is essentially a ham and cheese sandwich that has been slicked with white sauce (béchamel) and lightly broiled or baked. The world is full of lousy ones, as well as a few good ones that turn up in surprising places.

The good one I remember so fondly came on a thick, burning-hot earthenware plate. It was an ugly thing, flat and spotty, the edges of its pain de mie (soft white bread, like our sandwich bread) curled from the heat and tinged with spots of glazed white sauce. A dark ring of near-black sauce surrounded the sandwich. A few sad parsley bits were there for false cheer.

It was a weird mix of crisped crust, lava goo, funky molten cheese, sweet shaved ham. Every bite was rich, different, dangerously hot.

Where was I? France, but where in France I couldn’t tell you. It was when I was there 25 years ago as an exchange student. I was traveling in some provincial town, where I arrived late one afternoon, starving, and all the restaurants were closed save this one café. The man there said the kitchen was closed, but he could offer me a croque monsieur, take it or leave it. It was kismet.

I’ve spent far too much of my life looking for this croque monsieur and never finding it, my own weird ham-and-cheese odyssey.

jpgI did not find it yet again at Anis Café & Bistro, the popular and charmingly ramshackle little French joint on a side street in Buckhead. As you can see from this particularly poorly lit picture, Anis serves the more-is-more version ($10) popular in America. It is springy, corpulent, piled high with Black Forest ham. The glossy gruyère cheese seems little different from Swiss sandwich cheese. Indeed, it is fairly easy to peel off, slice by holey slice.

This is an OK sandwich, and to some people it might be a praiseworthy croque monsieur, but I’ll keep looking.

anis2My dining companion, the lovely Peach Buzzer Jennifer Brett, chose the more satisfying lunch entree, this homemade ratatouille ravoili ($12), served with fava beans and capers in a nice, bright tomato sauce. Anis is best when it primps.

But it does seem a little more attention to detail would benefit this kitchen. The salade maison ($6) featured straight-from-the-bag mesclun mix with lots of algae-like wilted bits.

But the service is excellent, and the meandering setting with its Citroën Deux Chevaux parked out front, delightful patio and bright main dining room is always a pleasure. In a city with few French restaurants of note, it’s nice to have one that at least helps me remember a way in which French food once spoke to me a long time ago.

21 comments Add your comment

Jim R.

November 19th, 2009
9:04 am

Why John Why? This charming place right around the corner is busy enough witout you telling eveyone where it is. We eat there regularly and are rarely if ever disapointed with food or service. Sitting in the grotto with a glass of vin ordinaire it is hard to believe that you are in the middle of Buckhead. Don’t go there gentle readers..No one goes there because it is too crowded! There is a McDonalds right around the corner! With a drive thru window! JK..Also love Basil’s right across the street! Both of these restaurants usually have the owners on hand checking and greeting.

Jim R.

November 19th, 2009
9:21 am

FYI-The Barbeque Salmon w/ Jalapeno Cheese Grits at Basil’s is a real treat. Goes great w/ a Martini on the deck.

Allen S.

November 19th, 2009
10:12 am

Like the ambience of a French Bistro, with plenty of parking, a Parkside setting, under the same ownership as ANIS?

You must try AMUSE! It’s at the end of Dutch Valley Road off Monroe Drive in The Belvedere building. Just opened, it already has amassed a loyal clientele of devotees. Brunch on the patio overlooking Piedmont Park is a treat on a warm afternoon.

JIMBOB

November 19th, 2009
10:23 am

Wow, that $12 lunch looks tiny.

Reality

November 19th, 2009
11:24 am

JIMBOB, are you serious?

David

November 19th, 2009
1:48 pm

meandering setting? What did you mean?

John Kessler

November 19th, 2009
2:25 pm

Guess that was kind of a stupid description…I meant the dining space has an odd but appealing flow. If you come up with a better adjective, I’ll change it…

foodfight

November 19th, 2009
2:52 pm

J.K. I agree with Jim R. Please stop sending folks to our favorites. Yesterday, Nuevo Laredo and now, Anis. You will chase me to Amuse and Canoe (when it reopens).

DivineProvidence

November 19th, 2009
3:01 pm

Jim R, you needn’t worry about this place being discovered — sounds like you’ll have plenty of seating options.

Jim R.

November 19th, 2009
3:25 pm

Stick with meandering setting, the layout fits the space which at one time was a house. It is not the product of some architects thesis on practical seating laid out in a perfect grid to maximize efficiency and minimize the thinking process needed by a cookie-cutter waitron practicing corporate required smiles while attempting to win more company pins to display on their lapel.

BPJ

November 19th, 2009
3:29 pm

My wife and I have enjoyed Anis for years (she’s from Paris). Yes, occasionally the kitchen can be a bit careless, but that’s the rare exception. A particular favorite of mine was the “poulet d’Avignon”, roast chicken with olives. It dropped off the menu a few years ago, but they did agree to make it last time I asked.

Redan Randy

November 19th, 2009
6:05 pm

My experience at Anis was wonderful! Chef Gomez took great care of us. The mussels were delicious, and the creme brulee was amazing! The service was superb!

Keith Johnson

November 19th, 2009
7:44 pm

I agree with Randy, as my families experience when we visited for our 18th anniversary was outstanding. Chef Gomez took care of us and our daughter with great attention to detail, and the meal as well as the presentation was very memorable.

The ambiance and service were both enjoyable, and never wanting for more.

I look forward to our next visit!

amy

November 20th, 2009
10:48 am

if you are ever in las vegas and still looking for a croque monsieur, the sidewalk cafe at Paris makes a delicious one.

Erik

November 20th, 2009
3:57 pm

Le Giverny on Clifton Road (a perennial favorite) does a decent croque monsieur.

Dunwoody Don

November 20th, 2009
5:30 pm

My wife and I have also searched for a croque monsieur similar to the glorious one served us in an out-of-the-way greasy spoon in Normandy one lazy afternoon in the Fall of 2005. Pastis’ [Canton Street in Roswell] version is similar to the one John describes at Anis. Has anyone reading this had better luck in this area?

M

November 20th, 2009
6:44 pm

Try Mosaic right around the corner – one of my favorites.

Roz

November 21st, 2009
2:28 pm

NOTHING beats eating mussels and having a glass of french wine with your favorite friends on a crisp sunny afternnoon at ANIS.

BB

November 23rd, 2009
10:49 am

Carpe Diem Decatur used to have a wicked-good croque monsieur, complete with ham and maybe a little roasted pork, cheese (gruyere or swiss) and topped with a bechamel, broiled to perfection. And though perhaps not truly authentic, really good and rich. It’s still on the menu, just haven’t had it in a couple of years, but definitely worth a try!

Honey Gfroerer

November 24th, 2009
10:13 am

I have celiac disease and am therefore gluten intolerant. I am always looking for restaurants that are knowledgeable about the gluten free diet. Some of them have gluten free menus; other restaurants have chefs that are able to offer delicious meals that are gluten free. Can you please help us by asking abou this and printing the info in your restaurant evaluations? It would be so very helpful to the thougsnads of metro Atlanta individuals who are required to eat gluten free diets…and the restaurant owner who would attract many new patrons. A simple comment such as “GF Friendly” or “GF Knowledgeable” is all we would need. Thank you so much! Honey

Kate

November 25th, 2009
5:30 pm

Field Good, in Alpharetta, has memorable Croque Monsieur – the chef is French. When the Croque Monsieur is heated it crisps up perfectly. I daydream about it. His pastries are also beautiful jewel-like creations.