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Brenda's French Soul Food - great biscuit and beignet [San Francisco]

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I had a break from the conference I was attending in hotel row on Mason above Market, so made the short trek to Polk to finally try Brenda's after a frustrating multi-hour wait on a Saturday when she 1st opened.

I had a great lunch at Brendas for just over $15. One special was crawfish/andouille pie, but I ended up getting 4 sides: 1 fried chicken thigh, 1 biscuit, 1 cup of red beans and rice and an order of 3 beignet.

The biscuit was one of the best I've had, maybe the best ever. I ate only the crown third. I swear it was almost 3" high and light and fluffy. The beignet were denser than I expected but still tender with a crunchy crust. The homemade peach jam that came with it was great and reminded me of cobbler filling. The chicken was so so, but better later cold for dinner as the sturdy crust was still crispy. The red beans and rice could have used more oomph in the cooking liquor, but that was more than made up for by plenty of well browned pieces of andouille. The watermelon pickles were very piquant. My waitress took great care of me.

I ate only a large half of my food and polished off the rest for dinner that night. Biscuit heated up well in the toaster oven. Beignet were still good, even cold. The powdered sugar topping turned into a kind of glaze. Chicken was good cold. Picnic!

If you are making that walk, I suggest you go up to O'Farrell. I made the mistake of taking Eddy. 3 passing teenagers demanded my lunch (before I had any). I ignored them and they walked on by. Later I walked by a guy watering the gutter. Brenda told me Ellis isn't much better.

Brenda's in process of expanding to the adjoining storefront, which should at least double their serving area.

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

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  1. From my one experience ,I think their beignets are v. bad. Too dense and kind of dry, somehow. The addition of chocolate didn't benefit it much. The Louisiana place in Berkeley is much better, even if the service can be spotty sometimes.

    But all the other food at Brenda's is good.

    6 Replies
    1. re: eethan

      The beignet at Brenda's were the best I have had since I last had them at Cafe du Monde in the early 90's. It is true that they are less doughnut-like than other versions I have had in CA.

      1. re: eethan

        Same. I thought the beignets were terribly dense, with the exterior on the dry side and the interior quite wet. I did like the biscuits that came with the fried catfish benedict.

        1. re: eethan

          (link to the place in Berkeley)

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          Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen
          2261 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

          1. re: eethan

            Angeline's is right around the corner from my office. They seem to be immensely popular (especially with students), have a handsome space and put on a good party atmosphere.

            If you want food like you might get in New Orleans, go to Brenda's.

            1. re: chocolatetartguy

              Yeah, I won't speak for the rest of Angeline's food, but their beignets are superior. Although: after eating them, you will have a giant bowl of powdered sugar that you don't know what to do with.

              BTW, nobody has mentioned the grits at Brenda's, but I think it's great. My friend didn't eat any of his, and I was kicking myself the rest of the morning for not taking it from him.

              1. re: eethan

                I was wondering about the shrimp and grits. I like the version at Lil' Skillet. I had already eaten a small conference sandwich, so I opted for a "tasting" menu.

                I really wanted to like Angeline's since it is so close to work. I had several conversations with the guy who started the restaurant, but has since died. He seemed to be a genuinely nice, well meaning person and the restaurant is certainly a success.

        2. I had brunch at Brenda's a few weeks ago, and my dining companion and I weren't as impressed with the biscuit we were served, which was a bit too moist and cakey, wanting to come apart in crumbs. Perhaps it wasn't their best biscuit day.

          I had a really great biscuit at Aunt Mary's Cafe in Oakland a week or so later, tender and light, with great, flaky layers.

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          Aunt Mary's Cafe
          4307 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

          4 Replies
          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            I think it must depend on the day for a lot of things they make. I always liked them A TON and thought they were an amazing deal for the quality -UNTIL- the remodel. Then we had an absolutely horrible breakfast there and I will never be able to convince my family to return.

            1. re: Atomica

              I got there at the very end of lunch/breakfast service and there were only a half a dozen tables occupied. I put in my beignet order just before the 3 pm deadline. Perhaps my orders received more attention than if they had been crowded.

              I am not often in the Tloin on weekdays, but I would definitely look forward to returning when I am.

            2. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I also shared the shrimp and grits at both Brenda's and Aunt Mary's with my respective dining companions. Brenda's dish was good and, I guess, more traditional, with thick but creamy grits, lots of cheddar cheese, and savory bacon-tomato gravy. Aunt Mary's was looser and richer (our server said they're made with water and lots of butter), with deeply flavored roasted tomatoes and a drizzle of creamy goat cheese, and was the winner for me.

              At Brenda's, we liked the apple beignet best, and agreed that it is like the grown up version of a McDonald's fried apple pie. The granola pancakes were good, too: fluffy, with a sort of nutty crusting of granola. And huge.

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              Aunt Mary's Cafe
              4307 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                haven't been to Brenda's, but Aunt Mary's shrimp & grits is very good. I got the add on of Benton's bacon and they give you a pretty good handful of smokey goodness.

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                Aunt Mary's Cafe
                4307 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

            3. A friend and I went to brenda's for dinner on saturday night around 6 pm. the crawfish beignet was very dense with not much filling and way too coated in old bay. the crawfish pot pie was fabulous. hushpuppies were the show stealer of the evening. overall, $40 for two people for dinner wasn't too bad. we were pleased we got in before the wait.

              a sour point to note thought: we asked for the remainder of our hushpuppies and crawfish potpie to be wrapped at the end of the meal. we didn't look in the box to see how it was put together. a few hours later we found out: the potpie was slopped into an uncoated cardboard box and had soaked through. our leftovers ended up on the floor of the fridge.

              12 Replies
              1. re: Amandica

                Did the crawfish pot pie have andouille in it and topped with a biscuit? It appears that the beignet may vary in quality, but mine were great. Beignet are not the easiest thing to cook. I had one at Oliveto last weekend and it was too dense. There also seem to be differing styles of beignet. I've had some (from Cafe Fanny or Acme?) that are lighter and more doughnut-like.

                For you Angeline's fan, they appear to be expanding into the former frozen yogurt place nextdoor.

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                Cafe Fanny
                1603 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                Oliveto Cafe
                5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                  there are at least two very different techniques for making beignets which accounts for part of the big variations in versions -- the simpler technique is how many get familiar with them because it's what Cafe du Monde uses, and is more similar to a yeasted doughnut or cruller ; the other way is a choux pastry which makes for a light, fluffy interior.

                  1. re: moto

                    Moto, thanks for shedding some light on this question. I am used to Cafe du Monde (and Brenda's) beignet and I would describe them as yeasty and very slightly bready. The choux pastry variety sounds something like a French doughnut.

                    1. re: chocolatetartguy

                      there's an equivalent to the choux pastry in a Chinese dessert called 'egg puff', which apparently is a big item at the Cooking Papa restaurants ; there's also a place in oaktown C-town that makes them. Louisiana-style places are more likely to favor the simpler, cruller-like method to meet consumers' expectations in which Cafe du Monde plays a major role. it's easier for me to rationalize the bad calories of gobbling beignets at the CdM 'cause they're so fresh, inexpensive, and available at ridiculous hours of the day.

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                      Cooking Papa
                      2830 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                      1. re: moto

                        Not sure, but I'm thinking that what Eastern Bakery has called French doughnuts forever, are in fact choux pastry. They are moist and slightly eggy on the inside with a doughnut like crust. They are my favorite doughnut confection.

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                        Eastern Bakery
                        720 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                          I'm wondering whether what we called "crullers" when I was a boy in N.Y., might also be choux pastry...they had a distincly different texture, eggy taste and empty middle..I didn't like them at all...although they were my father's favorite! Then again he squeezed the jelly out of jelly donuts because he said he just liked the donut part..(didn't matter, ...more jelly for me to dip my donuts into!)

                          1. re: ChowFun_derek

                            Yes, Eastern's French doughnuts are mostly empty inside. The crust is soft and they drizzle them with a confectioner's sugar syrup. I have only seen these "doughnuts" at Eastern in SF Chinatown.

                        2. re: moto

                          Shanghai Dumpling King has egg puffs - eat them hot when they come to the table - don't wait until the end of your meal. Life is short; eat dessert first.

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                          Shanghai Dumpling King
                          3319 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121

                          1. re: Cynsa

                            Yes, they have them and they are fantastic. They don't seem to take long to prepare. You can order them whenever you want them.

                            1. re: Cynsa

                              I always reserve my dessert when ordering my entree.

                              1. re: Cynsa

                                Those are great, but they are even better (if you can believe it) at Asian Pearl.

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                                Peninsula Asian Pearl
                                1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                  Have you tried them at Asian Pearl in Richmond?

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                                  Asian Pearl
                                  3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                    2. Going here tonight for dinner for the first time. anyone had their oyster flight? smoked pork rillettes? catfish? i don't think i'll like the beignets (having never been to New Orleans) since i did like the Angeline's version and i don't think i'd like them dryer or denser, but i'm willing to try the crawfish one. Angeline's are even too filling for me to have more than one. Brenda's shrimp and grits sounds good too.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        Don't know about the shrimp, but the grits are buttery and fluffy. The cream biscuits are lighter than any angel biscuit I've ever had. I heard they are now selling them frozen to go. I wonder how they bake up at home...

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          I didn't think the crawfish beignet was very good. Not a lot of crawfish in the filling, and too salty.

                        2. CLOSED FOR REMODEL! damn.
                          we ended up at Olive, a decent bar with an excellent mushroom pizza drizzled with truffle oil.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            Any word how long the closure will last? Is it for the expansion into the neighboring space?

                            1. re: Frosty Melon

                              it is. there was no signage on the door that i saw that night.

                            2. re: mariacarmen

                              Hello everybody. Just wanted to chime in that Brenda's is not closed right now during the remodel and it still open during this transitioning time. Brenda's hours are Sun-Tues 8am- 3pm and Wed-Sat 8am- 10 pm. Maybe you stopped by when it was closed?

                              1. re: MsSammiw

                                Thank you for the update. Bringing the wife from Edmonton and this was one of our breakfast plans. Now we know we can still keep it on the list.

                                1. re: MsSammiw

                                  no, i was there Tues. night, at 7:00 p.m., everything was torn up, and there were workmen inside. we were able to open the door, and they told us the restaurant was closed. maybe it was just that one night, but the place didn't look operational. well, at least the new space.... Evil - you'd probably better call before you go, just to be safe.

                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                    As the poster above says, and Brenda's website says, they do not serve dinner on Tuesdays, only Weds-Sat. They close at 3 PM Sun-Tues. during normal business. Website doesn't say anything about closure, but regardless, it doesn't seem that it would have been open on Tuesday at 7.

                                    http://frenchsoulfood.com/home.htm

                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      ohhhhhhhhhh damn. sorry, i missed that. i never checked the hours on the website. totally my bad. sorry everyone!

                                      1. re: mariacarmen

                                        Yeah, it's probably not a good idea to say a place is closed to remodel without knowing the facts. Just saying.

                                        1. re: MsSammiw

                                          hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.... just seeing this. whatever. honest mistakes, you know? and i apologized. really too old to be scolded.

                                          anyway. i went tonight, FINALLY, for the first time.

                                          absolutely fantastic meal. we shared the oyster sampler - of the 3 the winner by far was the Oyster Casino - Bacon, scallion, biscuit crumbs, parmesan, gruyère. I'd happily have had a half dozen of these. perfect combination of smokey flavors, textures, everything. We also had the Crawfish Beignets which were each the size of a large Maine Coon cat's head - and wonderful - flakey outside, oozing inside, flavorful, not heavy at all. Shrimp and grits were next, with the tomato/bacon gravy a clear winner in this dish - it really made it. another dish i'd be hard-pressed to not order each time. Also, a special on the board - duck confit leg with a heavily spiced rice and some green beans. duck was good, a tad dry, but tasty (our server's eyes rolled to the back of her head when she told us how good it was - a little hyperbolic, for me, after we tasted it). and unfortunately, the rice was inedible. maybe i don't like the mix of herbs, but they tasted moldy and just really heavy-handed (maybe filé powder, which i'm unfamiliar with??) but it was awful and neither of us could eat it. i mentioned it to the waitress, telling her we loved everything else, and she apologized and said she would mention it to the kitchen. so...i dunno, a fluke, a flavor i'm not used to? inedible.

                                          but i'd go back here in a heartbeat. the newly expanded space (i'm told, i'd never seen it inside before) is lovely and airy.