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Since that first visit, when only the price wowed me, I've sampled just about everything on the menu, and I liked almost everything I tasted. The menu offers a few salads, and the dressings include a delicious herbal vinaigrette. (Like the other dressings, though, it comes served in a little plastic cup — a touch that's more clinical than cozy and earns another presentation demerit.) The four variations on lasagna include vegetarian and gluten-free versions, and there also are several macaroni-and-cheese options.
Now, I had a Depression-era grandmother, too, famous for her chicken and homemade noodles and layer cakes, and I can assure you that lasagna was not in her repertoire. She also wouldn't have prepared macaroni and cheese with anything as exotic as radiatore. But the chunky, rippled noodles at Anna's Oven are a good choice for the thick, creamy cheese sauce — cheddar, provolone and American — spread over them.
The chicken and noodles are house-made, in a heavenly broth (though the noodles I tried were too feathery), and the meatloaf dinner is solid and old-fashioned. This is uncomplicated comfort food, served in big portions. So if the microwave that's humming away in the kitchen somewhat dispels the myth of a gingham-clad Anna toiling benevolently to make a hot-food oasis in the Dust Bowl, well, that meatloaf really is pretty good. The roasted fresh vegetables served with meals are excellent, and the mashed potatoes — Yukon Gold spuds whipped up with milk and butter — are better than anything my grandmother ever made.
The restaurant makes two versions of rotisserie chicken, the better of which is the fragrant, mahogany-brown 10-Spice bird, moist and succulent and deftly seasoned. The blend, manager Jamie says, is secret, but I detect the aroma of ground ginger and, perhaps, a little savory. It's one of the best dishes on the menu.
The featured dessert always seems to be a crumbly cobbler made with blueberries and pineapple — an interesting combination of sweet and tart but a shade gummy. Better is the chocolate sheet cake with the sugary cocoa glaze, which evokes a simple church-supper dessert. It's delectable with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Anna's Oven is less a traditional restaurant than an inspired idea: "Let's open a dining room that serves hearty, inexpensive meals and raises money for charity!" And at these prices, you could almost call it Mother Teresa's Oven. It's the only restaurant on 39th Street where picking up a fork really is an act of charity, which makes its eccentricities a little easier to forgive.