Getting schooled

Posted on 05 May 2011 at 4:37pm

There’s not much of a church school left at Saint Ann — other than a heavenly way with comfort food

SIZZLE | Bacon-wrapped chicken and jalapeno? We are so there. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

OVERALL RATING: 3.5 Stars
Saint Ann, 2501 N. Harwood St. Open daily for lunch and dinner; Sunday brunch . 214-782-9807.
A hipster vibe in this converted schoolhouse undergirds some enjoyable American classics and thoughtful bar food. And the garden dining is great.

Food: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 4 stars
Service:3.5 stars
Price: Moderate

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I went to Catholic school, so I can tell you from personal knowledge the food in the cafeteria there was nothing like it is at Saint Ann. Although located in a renovated church school opened in 1927 to serve Hispanic kids, it feels more hipster-chic than institutional drab. A Plexiglas floor reveals a gravel substrate two feet below; comfy stuffed chairs and sofas in the bar area make waiting for your table seem less like sitting outside the principal’s office and more like Friday afternoon in the teacher’s lounge. And a decent-if-unexceptional, but inexpensive, by-the-glass wine selection gives you more drinking options than we had hanging outside the senior’s parking lot after class.

The vibe of the place has moved from whack-your-knuckles nuns to slap-yo’-mama good food. Saints preserve us!

At essence, Saint Ann is more sophisticated pub-grub with a cool atmosphere than schmancy fine dining destination. But it is a destination nonetheless: Nuzzling its front patio away from a one-way street and facing the distaff side of the Crescent, it takes a bit of navigating to find, but is well worth a trip.

The kitchen sexes up many of the dishes with indulgent ideas. The unmissable app is the grilled sizzlers ($8.50) —bacon-wrapped chicken nuggets that get a kick from jalapeño and garlic. Ignore the sports bar pedigree and revel only in the execution: potent, fatty, flavorful blackened nuggets dipped in a soothing ranch. The quesadillas ($8) are more like cheesy crepes with a pico-tang from the chipotle crema and cilantro.

The centerpieces of the menu, even at dinner, are sandwiches, soups and meal-sized salads (there are as many to choose from as dinner entrées). The onion soup ($5.50) was only average, but the diced vegetables floating around the lentil soup-du-jour imbued a hearty warmth that was especially welcome on the chilly day we sampled it.

The au jus ribeye French dip ($12), sliced thin and baked with cheese on a baguette scored with its bite from horseradish. But it’s hard to resist ordering something called a “dirty burger” (that’s where my mind goes), so I didn’t. A half-pound gourmet patty dressed with thin, crisp planks of bacon and gooey white Vermont cheddar came on a bun that seemed tailor-made to hold all the flavor. (Over- or under-sized buns, or limp ones that break apart when you pick them up, are Kryptonite to a super burger.) The waffle fries outshone the sweet potato fries, which were underwhelming.

Spaghetti is the cuisine of the church school, and this version ($10.50), served with an oily Bolognese sauce, wasn’t too traditional — it lacked comfort-food cred, even as I respect the effort. The bold flavor of pesto on the linguini ($14.50) was well to my liking, and the medallions of chicken conveyed an herbal freshness.

I wanted more of a sear on the scallops ($15), though they tasted great with cilantro lime crema, despite resting on a bed of slight undercooked grits. By the time I got to the dessert — a chocolate croissant bread pudding rich enough to  run for president — all other minor sins were forgiven.

Saint Ann’s charms carry it a long way, from the menu on lined grammar-school (complete with grade and corrected spelling), but I wouldn’t go back if the food didn’t draw me. School may almost be out for the summer, but Saint Ann has class to spare.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

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