By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Feb 24, 2008 at 5:27 AM

Annona Bistro experienced some significant changes in its year and a half at 2643 S. Kinnickinic Ave.

The Bay View bistro began as a casual, counter service spot known for its predominantly Italian-style fare -- specialty pizzas, salads and paninis -- with hints of Croatian and Mediterranean foods on the menu; the kind of place co-owner Stacy Stangarone recalled from her days backpacking through Europe.

The neighborhood initially embraced Annona as a comfortable place to grab fast, but good, food. But as Stangarone's quality fare brought more and more people through the door, she watched Annona organically become a dinner destination rather than a quick stop.

"We realized that our clientele, at least for dinner, wanted to be served fully at their tables," she says. In early 2006 she hired servers to wait on her dinner guests and by 2008 she'd morphed Annona into a completely full-service, sit-down restaurant.

"It really changes the atmosphere," she says, noting the soft lighting and outwardly romantic feel Anonna takes on in the evenings. "During the day, we still like to keep it quick and casual, although it is full-service dining all day long."

And as the idea of the eatery matured, so did its menu. The award-winning black bean and sweet potato chili ($3.99 cup / $5.50 bowl) now has a permanent home alongside new sophisticated seafood entrees such as oven-roasted salmon, served over a bed of fettuccine lightly tossed in alfredo sauce ($10.99), and spicy shrimp spaghetti ($9.50).

"The menu has actually grown substantially since we opened," Stangarone says. "People who ate here early on might walk into the restaurant now and not recognize it. We still have good service, good home-cooked meals and good atmosphere, but we're so much more than we were when we started."

The popular Friday night fish fry offers two options -- baked ($8.95), with two cod fillets baked in white wine sauce with roasted garlic, onions, peppers and tomatoes, or fried ($8.25), with two beer battered cod fillets. Both come with rye bread tartar sauce, lemon and coleslaw and the choice of one large potato pancake, steak fries, mixed green or Caesar salad.

Stangarone also added a full-service, smoke-free bar to the premises, and with that comes a "really nice martini list," specialty drinks and six Bloody Mary varieties for the beefed up weekend brunch from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

When the weather allows, customers can dine outside on Annona's back patio, which seats 40. Stangarone opened the patio last summer, adding music, flowers and lights to her cozy spot hidden from the traffic of Kinnickinnic Avenue.

"People have told me that it reminds them of New Orleans," she says. "Well, I've never been there, but I do know that what we created has a really nice atmosphere and not a lot of people know about it yet. There are not a lot of patios in Bay View, so I'm glad to offer it."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”