Brenda's, San Francisco

It was 9:30am when I arrived at the small eatery in the Tenderloin. Early enough to avoid the vagrant crowd that makes the neighborhood not so family-friendly but clearly not early enough to beat the family brunch crowd. About 30 people already stood in front of the building; a façade tightly squeezed between a Laundromat and a KFC/Taco Bell combo. And while it was Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff of summer, the prospective diners stood shivering outside under overcast skies and 44 degrees. Mark Twain was right.

At every gust of wind, people walked towards the door, checked their place on the clipboard and peaked inside the dining room. A helpless gesture repeated over and over akin to an anxious father to be, pacing outside the delivery room. Watched pot never boils.

And while the frequency in which names were crossed was painfully slow, the number of new ones added seemed to grow at full speed. Soon enough it was up to 3 pages long. “It must be worth it”, I kept repeating to myself as I battled the half of my mind trying to convince me otherwise. With few exceptions, I rarely wait long for a table. Curiously, it was the excessive wait time that compelled me to stay.

As I jumped up and down to keep my body temperature up, the stubborn optimistic in me kept thinking it would be any minute now. But it took one and a half hours for me to see my name crossed from that pesky list. I rushed inside like that anxious father, finally allowed to see his newborn son.

The dining room is packed with glass-covered tables, squeezing the maximum number of people in the tiny space; 30 in total. The room that already looks small from the outside reveals itself as half the perceived size once you get inside and realize a wall-to-wall mirror gives it a false sense of scale. Seating at the counter puts you about 10 inches from that very mirror–not recommended for diners with low self-esteem.

The atmosphere is cozy, like a small town diner. Service is friendly and fast; turning tables here is a must.

The menu

Brenda’s takes pride in offering a Creole-inspired menu in which no item sells for over ten bucks. In addition to the à la carte selection of beignets, egg plates and off the griddle dishes; daily specials are written on the mirror wall. The restaurant brings together New Orleans soul with refined French technique. There are plenty of options to choose from and some room for customization.

The meal

Brenda’s serves the traditional New Orleans blend of coffee and Chicory from Community Coffee. Full bodied and very rich, it has a bittersweet flavor that, although smooth, can be too bold for diners with a lighter palate.

If you like beignets, there is no shortage of options. Plain, filled with Ghirardelli chocolate, Granny Smith apple or Crawfish. If in doubt, the Beignet flight will guarantee you a taste of each.

Unlike the lighter, hollow plain beignets; their filled counterparts are as hearty as a small meal. The apple filling above is nicely spiced with cinnamon, honey and butter.

Daily specials often include Eggs benedict prepared 3 different ways; with molasses ham, florentine (spinach) or fried catfish. Instead of the classic English muffin, Brenda’s serves their benedicts on incredibly flaky, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. The combination of perfectly cooked eggs topped with a lightly spicy Creole hollandaise and biscuits is delicious.

While the molasses ham is tasty, it’s a little too sweet. The fried catfish on the other hand makes for a great complement adding a crispy texture and an additional southern flair.

Andouille and Cheddar Omelette. Filled with spicy sausage, cheddar, mushrooms, scallions and topped with sauce piquant. Served with soft hash browns or grits and a baseball-size biscuit.

Banana’s Foster French Toast. Thick slices of brioche served with caramelized bananas, butter rum sauce and whipped cream. Tasty but very sweet.

In short

Breanda’s French soul food brings a fresh angle to the San Francisco brunch scene. The appetizing menu offers flavorful, hearty dishes at more than fair prices. No wonder its popularity. You may consider getting off bed earlier and arriving before 9am, it will shave one hour or so of wait time. You’ll still have to hang outside a good 30 or 40 minutes–enough to wake you up in the cold morning breeze.

Brenda's is at 652 Polk St
No reservations are taken for brunch


eatrepeat said...

Lovely photos! I went to Brenda's in November and had the Banana's Foster French toast. It was super tasty but I could only eat half of it. Probably because my friend and I had to sample the beignets first. My favorite was the plain with a bit of the homemade strawberry jam.

Anna said...

I've been to Brenda's before and I'm wondering how much of all that food you actually ate. I ordered the flight, macaroni and cheese, and pancakes but I couldn't finish even half of it.

If you ever go back, try the watermelon sweet tea! Especially with watermelon season coming up, this drink will be amazing.

Cookie said...

I had Beignets for the first time this past weekend when I visited New Orleans. They're amazing! Super light and tasted almost like a marriage between a powdered donut and a churron! I can't wait to try a stuffed one with CHOCOLATE! I would totally be in heaven AND wouldn't even have to travel outside of my city!

hkydiva said...

I keep reading good reviews about Brenda's. I'll have to put it on my list of places to try when I get up to the city again.

Gina said...

Beautiful, as a nutritionist I am in love with those who can remember to ENJOY food! Thanks for your talent and passion!
Be Well!

A. Rizzi said...

oi. i couldn't move after leaving this spot. yea it's def. a good 45 minute wait on a quick day. satisfies the hangover for sure. love the site!