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Sep 3, 2007 03:23 PM

Brenda's French soul food

We were looking for a spot for breakfast today and decided to try Brenda's, which is newly opened on Polk just below Eddy's. Brenda's is open M-F for breakfast and lunch only, and we chose items off both menus.

Three of us shared:
an order of beignets
pancakes with fruit and nuts
biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and a side of grits
a po'boy sandwich with pickles and cole slaw

We also tried the house watermelon sweet tea to drink, which sounded better than it tasted.

Everything was good. Beignets were fluffy and comparatively greaseless. Not quite as good at the Powerderface beignets, but completely respectable.

Pancakes were fluffy with bananas, walnuts, and peaches cooked into them. Yum! No syrup required.

Biscuits and gravy were served separately, so you could assemble them yourself. Gravy was tasty if a bit thick, and biscuits like the beignets, were fluffy rather than heavy and greasy as they are at most places. The grits were our main bone of contention: they were essentially a bowl of polenta, and not what we expected.

I loved the fried oysters and spicy remoulade, although the roll seemed a bit huge. And excellent slaw and bread and butter pickles.

Service was friendly if a little anxious to clear our plates away. Lots of appealing choices on both the breakfast and lunch menu including savory beignets, gumbo, and a lot of sandwiches. Came to $48 for 3 including tax and tip, although you could definitely have lunch for under $10. Portions were generous. It's a sweet little spot on a grimy block.

Brenda's French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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  1. Thanks for the report on this place. Curious - was the gravy a white, sausage gravy or was it a red or brown gravy? I'm always looking for good biscuits & gravy, but I'm a white gravy girl all the way; preferably with lots of sausage and black pepper.

    7 Replies
    1. re: kresge86

      Light brown, I think, unless that counts as white. Not sure if there was any meat in it.

      1. re: Windy

        Definitely not a white gravy but I am unsure what a red gravy looks like. Try Rico's diner for white gravy (althought the biscuits were a little dense). Or even St. Francis Fountain.

        These had bits of sausage chunks, quite tasty. I would definitely order them again. I should add that this was a special so if you are going specifically for this, you had better call first.

        1. re: chaddict

          I went to Brenda's today and had the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits were spot- on. They had a slight cakey texture and were moist. The gravy was tasty but had a touch too much nutmeg. I would say it was a gray colored gravy more than white or brown. Also I had a cup of gumbo to go and it was way too oily. The spicyness kind of grew on me but the oily broth killed it for me.I pucked out chunks of sausage and gumbo and ate it with a leftover biscuit. I am hoping that in a few months it will improve, but I will return for the breakfast.

          1. re: finchycocoa

            haha, you guys are cracking me up with your gravy-color tones.

            Where I'm from "white", "brown" and redeye (not red) are types of gravy so when somebody asks about the gravy, they are not asking for a color-scale estimate, they are asking what liquid was used to make the gravy - milk, stock or coffee. The color/name indicates the combination of ingredients - "gray", "light brown" and other colors are not names/types of gravy.

            White gravy (aka cream gravy) - made with milk or cream, often includes a light amount of pan drippings
            Pepper gravy - made with milk or cream, can include some pan drippings has cracked pepper added
            Sausage gravy (aka country gravy) - type of white gravy, made with milk or cream and sausage.
            Redeye gravy - made with water/coffee and ham (not sausage), always includes pan drippings
            Brown gravy - made with stock (no milk or cream), usually includes pan drippings can include meat. Note: Brown gravy is usually made to accompany a meat dish so the meat is usually the same as what its covering.

            Where I come from brown gravy served on biscuits or chicken fried steak is a definite no-no. So its a really good benchmark question - if I'm about to order biscuits & gravy at a new place, I'll ask what type of gravy do they serve it with? If they say white, country, sausage or cracked pepper, I'll go ahead. If they say redeye and I'm in West Texas, I'll go ahead. If they say brown, I'll order something else.

            Brenda's serves sausage gravy on her biscuits. The difficulty of sausage gravy is that some people have a "more is better" philosophy and frankly, they are wrong. You need to have a good balance of thick gravy to sausage, otherwise its too greasy. Brenda gets it right.

            I had the gumbo on Friday and it was perfect. When we quizzed her roux technique, she admitted it was the old-school southern method, not French or new American. Yeehaw! I hope she doesn't change a thing.

            We also had the grits which were tasty. We had the apple beignets which I'd definitely have again but order sans powdered sugar, but I am easily overwhelmed by sugar.

            1. re: larochelle

              Thank you for the gravy lesson, that is all interesting to know!

          2. re: chaddict

            I assume by red gravy kresge86 is referring to Red-eye gravy which is made with coffee. Its very distinctive taste, if you had had it, you would know.

        2. re: kresge86

          Luka's in Oakland also has white gravy with sausage in it--check for availability before crossing the Bay. Great with chicken and waffles.

        3. Thanks for the tip. Those beignets look interesting;

          Chocolate - Filled with molten Ghirardelli chocolate

          Granny Smith Apple - Garlic croutons, shaved pecorino, anchovy tapenade

          Crawfish - Butter lettuce, fried shallots and spiced pecans with red wine vinaigrette

          A few other items caught my eye ... molasses ham, grillades (never had those), Snooze* Blend Coffee (* Hand-picked, blended and shipped directly to us from a little farm in Guatamala)

          Good to know of a place that serves breakfast until 3pm. Too bad they aren't open weekends.

          Brenda's French Soul Food
          652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          5 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            The crawfish ones sounds good, but not sure about that apple combo.

            Plain was just fine although a cup of coffee from a little farm might have been a good complement.

            1. re: rworange

              She just opened last week. Hopefully, she'll add weekends and maybe dinners. Otherwise it will be like the Monte Carlo which is also only opened M-F 9-3; a rare special outing.

              Monte Carlo Restaurant & Bar
              1705 Yosemite Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124

              1. re: larochelle

                I just called to find out their hours, and the woman on the phone said that they are currently open from 8-3 Monday thru Friday, but that they will be opening on Saturdays for breakfast starting next week!

                I am going to try this place soon since it's close to where I work! Thanks Windy and Chaddict for the tip!

                Dave MP

                1. re: Dave MP

                  Well that's good news. Let us know what you think.

                  There were lots of appealing lunch options; we were just in the mood for breakfast.

                  1. re: Windy

                    I bet I'll end up getting breakfast too :) (but at lunch time)

            2. "The grits were our main bone of contention, essentially a bowl of polenta."

              How do grits differ from polenta? Both are ground corn. Did they use large grain yellow corn and call it grits? Isn't the difference just the texture of the corn, a finer grind, and the color?

              8 Replies
              1. re: tobycat

                Yes, that was basically our discussion--what was the difference between grits and polenta. These were yellow, finely ground, and drier by comparison to hominy grits, which I think of as white, creamier, and puffy. Not bad, just not what 2/3 of us expected.

                1. re: Windy

                  The polenta was fine but when you have your heart set on grits...It just seems I have yet to have a respectable bowl of grits in the Bay Area. Polenta tastes more corn-y than grits and the texture is rougher, thicker, and drier. You could have turned the bowl upside down and they would have stuck to the bowl. Grits taste different to me, are more runny (depending on the maker, I guess) and one tastes the butter (I always add a pat) more clearly than with polenta. Don't get me wrong, I love polenta. But it was a bit of false advertising and I really wanted to see if I was going to finally get a good bowl of grits.

                    1. re: chaddict

                      I have not had many bowls of good grits in this town. Everybody seems to use instant white grits and use way too much water.

                      Eureka has white grits on their Sunday brunch menu. They use Quaker Oats, I asked. They were decent, for plain breakfast grits.

                      Just for You has grits on the menu, but they are seriously bad - soupy/watery.

                      Memphis Minnie's had really good cheese grits, but alas, they discontinued brunch service.

                      These days, I pretty much only eat grits at home (which I mail order from South Carolina). But then I prefer stiff, yellow grits so it sounds like Brenda's are EXACTLY the low country style grits I love.

                      Eureka Restaurant & Lounge
                      4063 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94114

                      Just For You
                      732 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                      1. re: larochelle

                        I can't remember having good grits in the city. Years ago I liked the grits at Lois the Pie Queen (served with fried chicken, a pork chop, and occasionally a slice of pie)

                        And I remember eating a delicious bowl of grits at Luka's Taproom with you. Can you only get them at brunch?

                        chaddict pointed out that Front Porch serves grits with crab. That plus the promise of conch fritters is going to get me to give Front Porch another try.

                    2. re: Windy

                      That doesn't make them not grits, just not the style of grits that somebody wanted. Yellow grits are still grits.

                      1. re: larochelle

                        In the context of a southern breakfast menu, it's reasonable to presume that when you order "grits" you'll get white hominy grits cooked somewhat runny.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I think its more reasonable to ask if you have a preference. Out here I've found that breakfast joints out here seem to be running about half & half so I always ask.

                          White grits are only the norm/default in parts of the south. I grew up on grits. I haven't made runny grits since I learned how to cook. I haven't had to make white grits years - once I realized I could bring it back in bulk on trips home or order it.

                  1. I totally meant to get over there today. We had the southern brunch at Eureka yesterday and I wanted to compare the two places.

                    I. too, am interested in why there was contention over the grits. What was the problem?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: larochelle

                      Now I'm curious about Eureka. How was it? (And do they have waffles?)

                      1. re: Windy

                        Good but, being more upscale, it was more pricey than Brendas. I don't remember seeing waffles on the menu. I'll write it up in a new thread so it doesn't get lost.

                        1. re: larochelle

                          I believe Eureka is owned by the same folks as Chenery Park, and since the best items on the CP menu are southern in influence, it doesn't surprise me to hear that the brunch at Eureka is southern...I've been meaning to try it and look forward to your report!

                    2. Windy pretty much hit the nail on the head. I'll add that I loved the slaw (no mayo), the remoulade was damned tasty with a kick, and the breading on the oysters was lovely but the oysters tasted a little strong to me. My scrambled eggs weren't over cooked, yay!

                      Service was well-intentioned but you need to be vigilant about holding on to your plate if you are still eating. She doesn't generally ask if you are finished and she won't wait for everyone to finish before clearing. But she is super sweet.

                      I will definitely return. I really want to try the crawfish beignets.