Chez Anh is a tiny, modest restaurant of lime green walls with blackboard and bookcase, filled, respectively, with the day’s specials and a motley collection of garage sale cookbooks. Outside is made cheery with hanging flower baskets and smart grey awnings. Garage doors let in the summer breeze. Dogs are parked on the sidewalk most days, patiently whining, while owners pick up banh mi to go. I’ve yet to visit when the place is busy, though Facebook posts indicate that happens, and certainly at my every visit the kitchen has run out of things – vegetable broth, fried dough for the pho, and bean sprouts at my meals here, beef broth at my friend’s. Owned by an Ottawa U business school grad (and former contestant on Masterchef Canada, as it happens) and located a few blocks from Carleton U, I suspect Anh Nguyen’s little place will be mighty busy come fall, when campuses are crammed again, and running out of broth won’t be profitable. The concern then will more likely be running out of buns and meat.
For the unversed, a banh mi is a Franco-Vietnamese sub. It begins with a baguette, or baguette-like bun, stuffed with Vietnamese meats, sausage and/or paté, fresh and pickled vegetables, a spicy lubricant of some sort, and sprigs of herbs, usually cilantro. And it typically only puts you back two toonies — perfect for students’ pocketbooks. Ideally, the bread should be soft within but have a good crust, and the fillings and flavours well balanced. Quality meats would be nice, but for a filling, four-buck sandwich, what can you really expect?
Chez Anh is the newest find for the banh mi sandwich, and quality meats it has. Nguyen opened Chez Anh in May in the former Sunnyside Soup & Sandwich in Old Ottawa South. Keeping with the spirit of the address, his shop sells soup and sandwiches, but with a Vietnamese theme, offering banh mi, Northern style pho, rice wraps, and vermicelli bowls, along with Franco-Vietnamese sweets.
The pho broth is fragrant of warm spices, amber-clear, and well-seasoned, but also lighter than what you may be accustomed to, not as rich, in keeping with the northern style of broth. The noodles are soft and slippery and share space with lots of crunchy green onion. And the meat is delicious, soft and flavourful, none of that cardboard stuff you get in many places. If you like herbs with your soup – Thai basil and cilantro – you’ll need to ask for them: they don’t typically appear. Neither does hot sauce or hoisin, though both are available if you wish. Also on offer is very good kimchi, which you can use to add some chili hit. But before you start loading up, you might just pick up your spoon and chopsticks (lime green, to match the walls), put your head down and start slurping. You may find it needs for nothing. The broth, on its own, is on the salty side, but together with the bland noodles, balance is found.
That quality of the meats and mayo make the sandwiches shine as well. Good too are Anh’s spring rolls, which come with the bun cha, or vermicelli bowls. The fresh rice paper roll ups are herb-free, and though I don’t miss the herbs in the soup, I do in these.
There are daily and/or weekly specials announced on the blackboard. Bahn mi tacos, say, on one of my visits.
You’d be wise to save a bit of room for dessert. The panna cotta browned with Vietnamese coffee is a bit on the stiff side, but the flavour is wonderful. So are the macarons, green with matcha, and I’ve enjoyed a coconut square, chewy and buttery with a crunchy top.
The latest announcement is that Night Market Nights will begin this weekend.