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"Annie Cafe a delight and a bargain" - Courier-Journal Review

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If there’s a prettier shrimp dish in the world than Annie Tran’s version of tom rang muoi (salt-and-pepper shrimp), I haven’t seen it.

Tran, chef-owner of Annie Cafe, neatly butterflies the shrimp, leaving the shells intact, dusts them lightly with seasoning and fries them up. They arrive at the table as peach-colored curlicues plated with green herbs and slivers of ginger.

Pop them in your mouth, and the shell breaks up with a satisfying crunch that that yields easily to the sweet meat within. And those shells — the shells we usually peel away and toss in the trash — are as crisp as potato chips; they release pure, intense bursts of shrimp flavor that will drive any shellfish lover into ecstatic fits (tom rang muoi is listed as A8 on the Annie Cafe menu; $4.95).

At Annie Cafe, all the dishes are handsomely presented. The setting is a humble but pleasant storefront on Woodlawn Avenue (right next to a recently opened Sunergos coffee shop). The soothing soundtrack leans toward Vietnamese instrumental pop; lately the massive TV at one end of the room has been tuned to football games.

Recently it seemed the business was split about evenly between sit-down dining and carryout, and service has been spot on: efficient and informative.

The menu includes 10 or so appetizers — including spring rolls ($1.99), grilled beef on skewers ($3.50), crab Rangoon ($3.25) and a huge, eggy crepe (treading the line between crepe and omelet, really) stuffed with pork, shrimp and veggies (A7, banh xeo, $3.95).

Entrees include an assortment of soups, noodle and rice dishes, and abundant options for vegetarians. And though most of the menu is devoted to Vietnamese cuisine, it also offers commonplace Chinese dishes such as moo goo gai pan, General Tso’s chicken, and sweet and sour chicken as lunch specials (with fried rice and spring roll) for $5.25.

If those lunch specials sound like bargains, the dinner menu is even more remarkable: Only one item, com dac biet, an extravagant platter that includes shrimp, grilled and shredded pork, and a pork meatball, rings up for more than $8 — $8.25, to be precise.