brenda’s: french food for the soul

There’s food.

Then there’s good food.

Then there’s really good food.

Then there’s absolutely amazing, out-of-this-world, I-need-to-have-second’s food.

Then there’s Brenda’s french soul food.

The end.

(No, not really. Don’t go yet!)

Brenda’s bright red exterior is hard to miss…along with its unique, wonderfully flavored New Orleans-inspired dishes.

Yeah. It’s that good.

Normally, I would enjoy writing a longer introduction, but I’m going to skip the details and cut right to the chase: Brenda’s: French Soul Food restaurant is located on 652 Polk St. in SF’s Civic Center. If you’ve never been there before, then go. If you have been there before, then go again (and try their mac n’ cheese for me!).

But first, take note  - chances are, if you go around brunch time, there will be a line. And unfortunately, like many other San Franciscan brunch spots, Brenda’s doesn’t take reservations ahead of time (probably so that everyone has a fair chance at trying their absolutely mouth-watering beignets). However, if you don’t mind foregoing brunch and heading out for dinner instead, I’ll let you in on a little secret: grab a table on Sunday night around 6:15 p.m.ish, and you should beat the crowd by ten to twenty minutes.

Or actually, here’s a better thought: go for an early breakfast and just never leave.

Seriously.

Nonetheless, once you taste the food, trust me – even if there is a line, you won’t mind the wait.

There wasn’t a line when we went Sunday evening, but a little bird told me that the lines definitely do go out the door during rush hour.

Brenda’s specials for the day! Pork belly? Banana Foster? Yum!

Honestly, how can I even begin to describe the absolute gratification that you will feel when sinking your teeth into one of Brenda’s delectably scrumptious dishes? After all, this is not just any cuisine, but potentially THE best cuisine on earthSouthern comfort food. It’s food that speaks of nostalgic times…of sticky New Orleans summers and fresh roasted coffee…of lazy afternoons and long walks by the river…of grandma’s house and mom’s authentic cooking…

Ahhhhhh. (Mm, can I really just stay here forever and eat nothing else? Please, please, pretty pleeassse?)

And if the mere idea of eating comfort food is not enough to get you excited, then there’s also the strange sense of sweet peace and utter calm that, curiously enough, fills you up when you first walk through the door. I’m not sure what it is, but Brenda’s atmosphere is very soothing: it’s not too crowded, not too loud, and not too big – a place of refuge that even Goldilocks would have probably admired (and we know how picky she is). Like many bistro’s in SF, it definitely has its own quirky decor. However, it’s the little touches – the silverware wrapped in napkins stacked in old Café du Monde coffee cans, the oyster buckets containing much-desired hot sauces, and the faded brick walls covered in antique, vintage mirrors – that elevates the experience of eating comfort food to a whole new level. The restaurant’s cozy interior is what I’d call an artist’s studio mixed with French chic, and sprinkled with a garnish of contemporary touches, soft lighting, and a “darn-it-just-eat-it-with-your-hands” Southern flair.

Brenda’s atmosphere is perfect for a relaxing meal – not too crowded, not too loud, not too big, but just right…

Vintage mirrors and diner bar stools make this restaurant a blend of the “old,” the “new,” and the “just plain cozy.”

But of course, the decor is only an eighth of story – for, of course, there’s the food itself.

And by, golly! What’s a hungry girl like me supposed to do with such a mouth-watering menu? Should I try the Mac n’ Cheese with creamy gruyere, cheddar, and parmesan gratinee? The Cornmeal-fried Shrimp, Oyster, or Catfish Po’boy with chipotle remoulade on a toasted french roll and fries or cole slow? Or the sweet and savory selection of beignets, with classic flavors like plain, chocolate, granny smith apple, and crawfish?

OR (yes, I’m still going at it), should I succumb to the Texan girl in me and roll with the deep-fried chicken in the BFC – a whopper of a dish containing three pieces of Brenda’s secret recipe fried chicken, and served with its famous cream biscuit, hot pepper jelly, and collard greens?

Oh gosh, I can’t decide! I think I need some holy intervention now…

Too many choices and not enough stomach!

Waiting.

Waiting.

Twiddling my thumbs. (Where is that Holy Spirit at?)

Ah-ha! I feel it now. And it seems that Fate’s finger is on the Crawfish Beignet – served with cayenne, scallions, and cheddar – and the BFC. (Wow, what a coincidence! The Holy Spirit seems to be amazingly influenced by a number of Yelp reviewers too! What a crazy thought…how did that happen)?

Well, whoop-de-do – go ahead and give me everything that’s Southern, mouth-watering, finger-licking, stomach-filling, and tummy-expanding, and I’ll be the happiest person alive!

Done.

Now THIS is what I call edible gold (the Crawfish Beignets). Mmmmmm, yum! And they’re so fluffy too!

 Wow. Like that’s it. Wow.

Wowowowowowowowowow – geeze! One of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

I know I say that a lot, but seriously.

Like, wow.

Filled with the creamiest of cheeses…and so much flavor in just one bite!

It was my first time ever trying a savory beignet (honestly, I didn’t even know these existed!), and I must say that I think I actually prefer these to the sweet, sugary ones – a.k.a. the plain ones dusted with powdered sugar, the chocolate ones infused with rich, creamy goodness, or even the strawberry ones with whipped cream. Honest to God.

And that’s saying a hella lot.

Do you even know how much of a sweet tooth I have?

Do you? Do you?

If I had to choose between a sweet and a savory treat, I always go with the sweet one. And yet, here I am, announcing openly to the world that this little crawfish beignet (or should I say, big and puffy crawfish beignet?) has changed my preferences (and thoughts) on beignets forever!

Yeah. That’s a pretty darn Big Deal. And just to demonstrate, let me give you…

The Crawfish Beignet in 30 seconds:

Light. Creamy. Puffy. Savory. Goopy. Cheesy. Velvety. Tantalizing. Zesty. Spicy. Filling.

(Now say that five times fast).

What’s even cooler is that this dish is not a cream puff (which these adjectives may make it sound like) – nor is it chicken cordon bleu, which was the first dish that popped in mind when I first took a bite. Unlike the chicken cordon bleu, which naturally can be a bit heavy due to the breaded chicken cutlet surrounding the inside filling, the crawfish beignet was surprisingly light on the stomach; the dough was fluffy and crispy, and had just the right amount of crunch. The cheesy filling, on the other hand, was wonderfully rich and gooey, filled with succulent pieces of crawfish and oodles of melted cheddar cheese. After just half a piece, I already felt like I had eaten an entire meal; however, after waiting five minutes or so, the feeling had vanished, and was replaced with an eager anticipation of the next dish: the BFC.

Introducing the BFC: All chicken, all biscuit, and all yum. (Sorry for the slightly blurry picture; I was obviously so excited, I couldn’t hold my camera still).

Mmmmmmm. The BFC was not as new or exotic to me as the crawfish beignet, but boy, was it soul food through and through! While I can’t really speak from that much personal experience (for Texas, where I’m from, is more known for its BBQ and Tex-Mex than for its fried chicken), I must say that these lip-smacking morsels would have done the deep South proud. Whatever ingredients went into Brenda’s secret recipe did the trick: I couldn’t stop licking my lips even after I finished my drumstick. The skin had the most zesty, interesting blend of cajun spices and flavors that I’ve ever experienced.

(Ok, so I know I’ve already said that I had tried the best chicken in the world when I had sampled Coconut’s Slow Cooked Jerk Chicken – but Brenda’s fried chicken definitely makes the list. And paired with the hot pickled sauce – which, let me tell you, is a story all on it’s own – this chicken may actually surpass what I had believed to be the best chicken dish ever. So. So. SO. Delicious.)

Wow. So fabulously crispy and savory.

Then the collard greens! Oh, the collard greens! Mixed with bits of bacon (and bacon fat) and served in a porcelain ramekin for easy digging-into – erm, I mean eating.

Healthy? Errr…maybe not this vegetable dish, which was served with pieces of juicy bacon.

And then, of course, we musn’t forget one of my favorite southern comfort foods ever – hot buttery biscuits that practically melt (and crumble) in your mouth. While biscuits are usually served with gravy, I’m glad that this one came alone – I could easily focus purely on its flaky texture, rather than be overwhelmed and smothered with too much cream sauce.

And Brenda’s didn’t do no skimpin’ either – we received a huge chunk of biscuit, which, let me tell you, the both of us finished easily.

Drool.

Restaurant Summary

10,000 stars. ‘Nuff said.

Atmosphere: Casual, cozy, open, chill, relaxed
Quality of Food: Absolutely amazing; the menu is relatively small, but the quality of the dishes is phenomenal
Service: Wonderful!
Price Range: $5-12 for breakfast and brunch; $8-17 for dinner
Overall Rating (out of 5): 42
Recommend for a Newbie? Absolutely. Stop reading this and go there now.

Brenda’s: French Soul Food is located on 652 Polk St. between Eddy and Turk. The breakfast special is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. M-Fr. The brunch special is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The dinner special is served 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wed-Sat.; 415-345-8100.

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