People have heard of Annabel Lee Café. It’s been around since 1983—even when the owner was still working at a bank. However, restaurant manager Tanibel Lee explained that her mother had always been fond of baking. When she decided to take a break from her day job, she took a short course in baking. Her cheesecakes quickly became popular among her friends. What started out as a made-to-order cake business eventually grew into a small empire that needed its own space.
The store opened in 2002 with an auxiliary branch in Greenhills. Due to circumstances, the family scaled backed to keeping just their main branch in Timog to keep the quality intact. Two years later, they expanded from just desserts to serving savory dishes. Tanibel said that the market had started to change; they could not sustain themselves with serving gourmet food because it no longer fit the profile of their customers.
“We changed our menu to have it appeal to the younger clients who are not such avid gourmands,” Tanibel shares. “We had to change how we priced our food in order to fit in.”
A glance at Annabel Lee’s menu shows that they serve all sorts of things. The owners took a bit of inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, who, coincidentally, wrote a poem entitled, “Annabel Lee”. In a similar manner, American cuisine takes plenty of inspiration from other world-class cuisines. “Our menu is a mix of influences,” Tanibel adds. “We don’t shy away from serving all-time favorites, though; we’re in the Philippines, so there is a target audience for rice meals.”
For our dinner feature, Tanibel chose a few of the café’s best-selling dishes as well as some of her personal favourites. To start things off, she presented us with refreshments in the form of their Iced Lemon Tea (P90), Four Seasons Smoothie (P109), and, to my personal delight, Wintermelon with Grass Jelly (P90). I’m sure my fellow wintermelon tea enthusiasts will be equally pleased with this drink as well; this drink has actually been around even before the milk tea craze hit the populace. Wintermelon, as often said, is an acquired taste, but a learned appreciation for the drink will give one a healthy, refreshing alternative for carbonated drinks.
Wintermelon with Grass Jelly, Iced Lemon Tea, 4 Seasons Smoothie
Our soup course was Clam Chowder (P189) served in a bread bowl. The fantastic thing about this is that the taste of the clam is not overpowered by the soup itself; it is also unexpectedly light, which is pleasant in the sense that it will not fill you up too quickly. The Crak-A-Toa (P259) is one of Annabel Lee Café’s special concoctions. Basically, the dish is comprised of pizza crusts put together to form a mini volcano, and the beef inside represents the lava. It tastes as fun as it looks and is an interesting alternative to sidings such as cheese sticks and nachos (though Annabel Lee has their versions of those dishes as well).
For the main courses, we were served a sandwich, a pizza and a meat dish. Their B.E.S.T. Club (P199) is terrific. It is sure to give you a different clubhouse sandwich experience because it is stuffed to the brim with some of the best ingredients—you can’t go wrong with bacon and tomatoes—in town. The Italian Supreme Pita Pizza (P250) is a surefire way to educate carnivores into embracing some of the healthier flavors in life. It’s a feast of pomodoro sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and anchovies on thinly sliced pita bread. My companions, who are not at all fond of vegetables, found themselves enjoying the pizza.
Italian Supreme Pita Pizza
On the other hand, the Sizzling Butcher’s Steak (P459) is a fantastic choice for meat lovers. It is one and a half pounds of tender, juicy U.S. Beef served with tomatoes, mixed vegetables and fries in Annabel Lee Café’s special sauces. Tanibel is hoping that this dish will encourage people to get out of their steak-and-gravy comfort zones; after all, Annabel Lee Café takes pride in being able to bring gourmet food to the general public at more affordable prices.
Sizzling Butcher Steak
Of course, we could not afford to miss out on their very special cheesecakes. Tanibel presented us with two varieties: the No-Bake Cold Set Cheesecake in Blueberry (P120 – slice; P980 – whole) and the Oven-Baked Cheesecake in Double Dutch Chocolate (P220 – slice; P1350 – whole). The big difference in the pricing is due to the extra labor and ingredients put into creating the oven-baked cheesecakes; no-bake cheesecakes do not make use of eggs and flour to keep the taste subtle and light. The oven-baked cheesecakes, on the other hand, are the kind of cheesecakes that we are used to. These are heavier, much more filling and, in the case of the Double Dutch, must be shared with a friend. Personally, I like both kinds for different reasons—no-bake cheesecakes tend to melt in your mouth, and oven-baked ones never fail to give me the warm, fuzzy feelings that I associate with traditional cheesecakes.
Blueberry Cheesecake slice
Peaches a la Melba Cheesecake
Double Dutch Cheesecake
Tanibel and her family are also very proud of the interior of their café. The airbrushed paintings on the wall are all artist translations of sketches that they themselves conceptualized. “Everything about the café makes it cozier and more comfortable,” she adds. “Earthy colors make people stay longer and feel more at home.” Their brand of entertainment fits their ambiance, too; every Friday night, Annabel Lee Café turns into a piano bar where you can sing along with their hired performers.
What I admire most about Annabel Lee Café is their persisting desire to serve excellent food to their patrons despite having to change so many things regarding their menu and their prices. When you’ve been around for awhile, it’s not that easy to compete with all the popular restaurant chains that are emerging all over the place. I don’t think Annabel Lee has anything to worry about, though; they have a loyal following, terrific savory dishes and desserts, and a comfortable spot in an otherwise chaotic city.
Images by Nix De Pano.