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Penny Ann's Cafe is a family affair. When you stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you'll likely find the restaurant's affable namesake taking phone orders, serving tables or chatting with regular customers.

You'll find Penny's mom doing the same, and from time to time, her father, too. If you peer into the kitchen, you'll spy Penny's brothers manning the stoves — even the house-made pies come by way of Penny's extended family. As a result, every meal is served with a healthy portion of charm and pride, and rightly so.

Penny Ann's specializes in American and Italian comfort foods, offering a menu that spans everything from burgers and wings to spaghetti and ravioli. The restaurant isn't quite a diner, nor is it quite a café, but sits neatly between the two. You can take your pick of seating at the diner-esque kitchen counter, a table and chairs, or a booth at the back of the restaurant.

With comfort food the order of the day, I began by ordering the 1/4-pound burger ($3.49; add 89 cents for bacon), which was a perfect example of the restaurant's overall approach. The sandwich didn't come with any fancy aioli or gourmet toppings stacked sky- high. This burger is as traditional as it gets — patty, bun, lettuce, tomato and onions — which is fine by me, especially when executed well.

With any of the sandwiches you should consider either the Penny-saver combo ($2.49) or combo plus ($3.49). For the extra outlay you receive a drink and a side order of fries or onion rings, respectively. While the french fries were more than acceptable, the onion rings were truly great. Big rounds of juicy onion, coated in a thick heavy batter, affording a rewarding crunch with each bite. They fared even better when dunked into an accompanying side of fry sauce.

While the burger was decent, the classic Reuben ($6.99) was a knock-out. A generous serving of fresh corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island, all stuffed between two slices of marbled rye and grilled up to gooey and golden perfection. It was the best Reuben sandwich I've eaten recently.

The only failing of the Philly cheese steak ($6.99) was of my own making. Despite recommendations of our waitress, I opted for provolone, which ultimately led to drier sandwich. That said, the rest of the sandwich was good, a huge serving of sliced beef, onions, peppers and mushrooms, served on an Amoroso roll directly from Philly. Don't make my mistake: Order this sandwich like Easterners do. Don't be scared of the Cheese Whiz!

The eggplant parmesan sub ($5.99) came on the same substantial Amoroso roll, and was thoroughly enjoyable. Thinly sliced eggplant is dipped in egg before being fried. From there, it's layered with provolone and a garlicky marinara, making for a hearty delight. Eggplant parmesan ($7.99) in the more traditional mold came served with a side of garlic bread, and was a tad too pedestrian. Staying with the Italian side of the menu, fettuccini Alfredo ($5.99) was the most disappointing item I sampled, lacking any real great depth of flavor.

The fried combo basket ($7.99) of fried food makes the choice between fish and chips ($6.99), shrimp and chips ($6.99) or chicken tenders and chips ($6.99) much easier — it comes with a sampling of all three on atop a pile of french fries. A trio of side sauces (cocktail, tartar, fry) stops the lot from becoming too dry. Again, while not gourmet, every item punched all the right comfort-food buttons.

But for the really good stuff, Penny Ann's Café serves killer desserts, specifically the made-from-scratch pies. Visit after visit, slice after slice, I was in heaven. Selections change daily, and a slice of any pie will set you back just $2.79 (99 cents more for ala mode). Even better, call ahead and the restaurant will bake you a whole pie for $15.

Penny told me that coconut cream was her personal favorite, and after devouring a slice I could see why. If you like coconut, you will love this creamy version. Then there was a warmed slice of peach crumble, a special that wowed with a scoop of ice cream despite its unconventional mix of fruit and custard.

Also, after seeing the utter dejection of a patron being informed the restaurant was out of the peanut butter pie, I made a point to order it the next time it was available. And one bite was all it took to see why the poor fellow had been so deflated. It was another fabulously decadent experience, a crisp crust, soft peanut butter filling, finished with a rich chocolate layer and a swoosh of whipped cream. Simply wonderful.

But the pie for me was the Key lime, an absolutely sublime experience, which moved my dining companion to declare it easily the best example she had tasted. I wasn't about to correct her, as it tasted shockingly good, all the way from the crust through to the creamy-citrusy filling.

What really sweetens the deal at Penny Ann's, though, are the low prices. Not one item on the menu is more than $7.99; most cheaper.

After my first lunch, a comfort food trifecta of burger, fries and a soda, I thought that I was practically paying fast-food prices, for immeasurably finer, home-cooked food.

In fact, the prices are so reasonable, I felt pangs of guilt on every visit. Mind you, every penny saved is a penny extra to put toward those delectable pies.

Restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at Send comments about this review to —


Penny Ann's Cafe

Food • HHhj

Mood • HH

Service • HHH

Noise • bb

Simple, well-executed American and Italian comfort foods. Come for the great sandwiches like the Reuben but stay and linger over the exceptional made-from-scratch pies.

Location • 1810 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-935 4760

Hours • Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $

Liquor • No

Reservations • Not accepted

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major