1201 Anacapa St.
Hours: Monday and Tuesday 7 am – 4 pm; Wednesday through Friday 7 am – 7 pm; Saturday 8 am – 7 pm; Sunday 8 am – 3 pm.
Re-staking a Prime Corner
Some business locations have big shoes to fill and lofty reputations to conquer, when taking over the vacated space of a much-loved former resident. For many locals, the corner space at Anapamu and Anacapa Street was for years the site of the much-loved and frequented Coffee Cat, a hugely popular coffeehouse and gathering point until its closure in 2016. There is also the critical factor of its prime and historic location, catty corner, so to speak, from the majestic Courthouse, the downtown Public Library and, for more blocky utilitarian balance, Soviet chic County Government Building.
After the corner space languished in dormancy for two years, the renovated space flung open its doors as Café Ana in December and has been settling into its high-profile spot with a friendly ghost of a former occupant, has established an inviting vibe and a mission all its own.
As a coffee-cradling hangout, a small area in the corner, it pales by comparison to the Cat. With tall backless stools and no available AC outlets, the urge for laptoppers to caffeinate and linger is reduced—a strategic maneuver.
On the plus side, though, the restaurant aspect of the operation is a welcome addition to the area’s destination map, especially for a quick lunch in a stylish and central location, yet off the State Street grid. Café Ana, so named after the suffix connection of Anapamu and Anacapa streets and launched by the married couple Katherine Guzman Sanders and Julian Sanders, may be accused of wanting to be too many things to too many people—reaching out to the breakfast, lunch and dinner (lite) and selective beer and wine happy hours crowds, with coffee lurkers on the side (literally).
All things considered Café Ana may be at its finest in brunch mode. But the jury is still out, as the place continues to find its essence and gain land speed as a go-to spot in town.
A casual food service style flows from counter-ordering to speedy delivery, with a smile, tableside, although nobody came to check on us or refill water over lunch. My crafty pilsner had to suffice, for thirst’s sake.
As the menu is evolving, on purpose, with items subject to change and experimentation, which means what you see on the online menu may not be what you get on a given day’s menu. Such was the case with an addition on the “Plates” section of innocently dubbed “Meatballs.” On a recent gray, pre-June gloomy day, meatballs ($16) seemed an apt choice, but these were not your father’s midwestern-style meatballs. Rather, they were fashioned into a tantalizing mix of chicken and pork, smothered in a special tomato sauce and sprinkled with Pecorino cheese and with hunks of sop-ready bread, added up to what I suddenly realized were the quirkiest, tastiest meatballs in town.
On the soup front, I was lured in by the prospect of the cauliflower bisque, with caramelized leeks and chili oil, but was informed that the inclusion on the menu-in-progress was a bit premature and it wouldn’t be available until this weekend. With my palate spurned, I opted for–and was very satisfied with–the spring vegetable variation, a blithe blend of English peas, broccoli, fried olives and yogurt.
My companion’s gluten-freedom made her an odd-person out for some of the menu, but ordered a chicken sandwich ($15) sans bread, turning it into a delicately flavorful chicken salad on a bed—or “cup”–of butter lettuce, with herbed mayo and housemade potato chips.
From the more breakfast-leaning side of the menu, a house specialty is the inventive Mediterranean-eseque “Mezze” Breakfast Plate ($15), a happy heap of integrated flavor, with a soft-boiled egg, housemade hummus, baba ganoush, labneh, and dukkah seasoning, also made in-house. Toasts are a specialty in this house. French Toast makes an appearance from the more classic breakfast realm, as does the young, hip and classic-in-the-making Avocado Toast ($10, before additions), made unique with its off-the-radar additives of togarashi shichimi, pickled onion, and a welcome, though optional, visitor–shrimp.
Another smart move in the morphing from “the Cat” to “the Ana” was a reimagining and airing out of this prime space. Enlarging the Anapamu-facing windows allows for visual reminders of the splendor of the spot. Eating here and “being here” come together beautifully, here at the “Ana” corner.
HIGH POINTS: A small but inviting, creative and evolving menu, especially for lunch/brunch, and an ideal ambience on this magical and historic corner of Santa Barbara, catty corner from the Courthouse, Library, but an escape zone all its own. Plus: meatballs.
LOW POINTS: Chai Latte was a lotta latte, little chai. “Casual” service keeps prices lower, but with lowered expectations of being taken care of. Lingerer-deflective measures, including rigid chairs and outlet-free walls, let us know that coffee timing hanger-outers are a secondary interest in this venue.