Arrayed in Ana’s Cafe are the tools of the pastry chef: a giant floured cutting board, a stainless-steel glazer, a deep fryer brimming with hot oil. The tools get used a lot.
I first noticed the pastry-making station in the back corner of the cafe on a Sunday morning visit in March. I ordered my meal (biscuits and gravy — more on that later) and sat back, watching as customers entered the restaurant and walked straight to the pastry case.
A couple ordered two dozen beignets, and the staff was sent into a frenzy of mixing, rolling, cutting and frying. Ana Rogers, the energetic Portuguese owner of the cafe, rushed around, speaking to customers in two dining rooms, asking whether their orders had been taken.
It was a hectic sight, but a glad one; it’s not often you see restaurants coaxing pastry out of the rawest of ingredients. And it was clear that Rogers’ customers were taking notice.
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Southern staple done right
The made-from-scratch pastries were not the only thing that impressed me that visit. When I see biscuits and gravy on a menu, I have a hard time ordering anything else. It’s the kind of dish chef Thomas Keller described in a 2012 Los Angeles Times essay: “The real test of a chef doesn’t come from elaborate dishes with luxury ingredients such as foie gras and caviar but from how well he uses the most humble foods in the pantry.” Not much to biscuits and gravy: flour, butter, milk, sausage, seasoning. Done right, though, it can be a delight.
The biscuits and gravy at Ana’s ($2.99) checked all the right boxes: the gravy was viscous enough to coat the biscuits but not too runny. The biscuits were, like the beignets, made from scratch. They were big and soft and had a subtle sour note. Big pieces of sausage patty had been torn off and stirred into the gravy. The gravy was flecked with plenty of sharp black pepper, and red pepper flakes in the sausage gave the dish a throaty heat.
What was most impressive about the dish, though, was the gravy ratio. I finished my biscuits (really one biscuit, but it was so big that cut in half it was like eating two) and still had gravy leftover, even after some aggressive sopping. Too many times in the past I have run out of gravy before finishing my biscuits. It is not a good feeling.
Eyeful in a case
Rogers, who used to own Grammy’s Donuts in Bay St. Louis, said her customers have been asking her recently to add some traditional hole-in-the-middle donuts to her pastry rotation. She started serving them on weekends (a dozen is $7.49 for glazed or $8.49 for mixed) and gets whimsical with the selection. There are some loaded with M&M’s, others with shredded coconut, cereal or white chocolate pieces.
I decided to go with a more traditional choice on a recent visit: a chocolate croissant. The croissant came drizzled with a semi-soft chocolate glaze. The croissant was buttery and flaky, and had a sweet chocolate center. Like the biscuits and gravy, it was a relatively simple thing, but done well.
Beignets (three for $2.49) are made to order, and customers can watch the dough being rolled out and cut on the big cutting board. When I visited, Aivie Mallini, a native of the Philippines, was preparing some, flattening the dough out with long passes of a rolling pin.
The pastry case holds other treats: cinnamon rolls, apple fritters, danishes and twists. Most of the pastries fall in the $2 range.
Rogers said she wanted to open a cafe where families could come and socialize. With many of her relatives back home in Portugal (she is one of 11 children), her customers, she says, have become her family. She has decorated the cafe with photos of them, along with a signed black-and-white photo of a band called Tennessee Express.
“I love talk,” she said. “I love social.”
The two dining rooms are cozy, with tables and chairs arranged close together. Windows surround the two rooms, but they’ve been tinted to shade out the sun. Weekday mornings are less hectic than the Sunday I observed. I most recently visited on a Friday at about 9 a.m., and the cafe was filled with the sounds of customers chatting, dishes clanking in the kitchen, some sort of machine humming, and Rogers socializing.
Where: 2400 McLaurin Street, Waveland
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday 6 a.m. to noon