Home-cooked Eats

Rick and Ann's is located at 2922 Domingo Avenue in Berkeley, across from The Claremont Resort. Mastercard/Visa/American Express accepted. Open from 8-2:30 and 5:30-9:30 daily. 649-8538.





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Frozen chicken pot pies and boxed macaroni and cheese are common items

in students' freezers and pantry shelves. Justification for these culinary

(ahem) delights is simple - they're cheap, easy to make and for some, they

provide a taste of childhood cuisine.

But while these ubiquitous kitchen staples are cot effective,

the real deal is harder to come by. Diner-themed restaurants frequently

offer macaroni and cheese or meatloaf on their regular menus, but their

authenticity in terms of freshness, quality and popularity tends to be

questionable.

Enter Rick and Ann's, a cozy American food restaurant located

across the street from the Claremont Resort. Opened in 1989, this ode to

comfort food serves hearty breakfasts, lunches and dinners that offer

diners a healthy, filling meal.

Initially, Rick and Ann's looks like a deli or bakery counter.

Through the entryway, however, is a long dining room where customers sit

either at private tables or at the long banquet table running down the

center of the room. While munching on complementary nibbles like house-made

bagel chips and carrot and celery sticks, obligatory perusal of the day's

specials yields a mix of daily soups, salads and dishes that are comparable

in price to most of the regular menu but intriguing in their creativity and

detail.

Before dinner, a soup or salad gets diners in home-cooked-meal

mode as Rick and Ann's whips up a soup of the day ($2.75/cup, $3.50/ bowl),

along with Solomon's Onion Soup ($3.75) and a variety of salads. While

there is the common house salad (mixed organic greens tossed with house

vinaigrette; $4/ small, $4.75/ regular) and Caesar salad (romaine hearts

tossed in anchovy-garlic dressing, served with croutons and parmesan

cheese; $7.25/ for one, $9/ for two), Rick and Ann's also makes up a trout

salad (smoked trout tossed with green beans, cherry tomatoes, potatoes,

calamata olives, capers and salad greens, served with a lemon-dill

vinaigrette; $8.25) and a fresh beet and fennel salad (marinated beets,

fresh fennel, pecans, cherry tomatoes, mixed organic greens and goat cheese

served in a lemon vinaigrette; $7.25).

Since it was a cold evening, my companion and I skipped the

salad and decided on Solomon's onion soup, which came in a bowl capped with

melted Swiss and Romano cheese. The soup was steaming and thick, filled

with long, slippery onion strings and strong broth. Its familiarity was

also a plus, as the smoky, biting flavor reminded me of the

under-appreciated onion soup my mom cooked up when I was a kid.

Fortunately for diners with big appetites and hankerings for

simple fare, Rick and Ann's dinner entrees are sizable and tasty, while not

overwhelming the senses. Favorite Mom's macaroni and cheese ($8) is creamy

and tender, as cheddar cheese béchamel sauce coats fresh, steaming

macaroni. The macaroni comes with juicy, smoky, sautéed vegetables and a

soup or garden salad, creating a meal that is indulgent but well-balanced.

There are also several different burgers, including the

hamburger (made with 1/3 pound of Niman Ranch ground beef; $6.25), victory

burger (made with 1/3 pound of ground turkey and spices; $6.25) and veggie

burger ($6.25).

Other tempting food affairs include the Southwestern chili

plate ($8.50) and the Virginia plate ($13.50), both of which we tried. The

chili plate consists of a damn-that's-good bowl of vegetarian chili served

with a warm, crispy, chive-topped, cheese quesadilla, a garden salad, salsa

and sour cream. The chili, like the onion soup, came buried under cheese

and was a hot, smoky mix of beans, tomato chunks and sweet corn. Held

together by a spicy yet sweet sauce, the chili was much milder than the

menu led me to believe. It did come with a small mound of cut chiles, which

(had I braved them) would have heated things up.

As for the quesadilla, it was crispy yet pliable, cheese-filled

but fairly greaseless. Cut into tortilla-chip sized pieces, the quesadilla

was a tasty utensil for scooping up the chili.

Our second entrée, the Virginia plate, was a succulent mix of tradition

and innovation. Featuring Niman Ranch pork chops and sweet potato biscuits,

the plate also came with a sweet-tart fruit chutney and sautéed greens

topped with bits of bacon. Though the pork chops were the dish's main

element, the biscuits were the tastiest part. Wedge-shaped and yellow, they

were cinnamony and well-complemented by the pineapple tartness of the

chutney. The pork chops were also very tasty, smoky and meaty, though a bit

dry.

Once dinner is done, diners can choose from a lengthy dessert

menu that has standard goodies like apple-rhubarb crisp ($4) and various

berry pies ($4) with a bunch of other identically-priced deserts that vary

from sharp to sugary. All can be had alone or with ice cream ($1).

Appetite and soul satisfaction can be had - at the same place -

in Berkeley. Eating at Rick and Ann's brings out the tastiest of meals and

moods as yummy, filling dishes evoke in diners a feeling of home which is

not easily evoked by cardboard boxes and foil tins.

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