Breeders' Banquet: Dining Out with Kids in SF

A fine site

Brenda’s French Soul Food

The Doctor is a hard working man. In fact, the only man I know who works as hard is my own dad. The Doctor often stays up past midnight plugging away at a particularly Gordian clusterfuck from the office. On weekends he runs his soccer league, does consulting for several other companies besides his own, and manages to be a pretty darn good dad in the meantime.

The Doctor is also a man of particular tastes and desires. His Kryptonite, as far as I can tell, is technology; this isn’t surprising, given that he spent most of his adult life studying technology and the remainder of his adult life working on it. What this means is that there’s no gadget or whatizit or gizmo that we could possible give him that he hasn’t already gotten for himself.

This can be frustrating when it comes to those gift-giving holidays like Father’s Day. The Doctor doesn’t play golf, enjoys grilling but on a strictly need-to-do-this-to-make-this-hunk-of-cow-meat-edible basis, considers cars a necessary evil, and would likely serve me with divorce papers should I present him with a tie, so the typical “Dad gift” categories simply don’t apply.

The Jaybird has decided that because the Doctor drinks a lot of coffee (see the above mention of post-midnight hacking sessions) that he must need a lot of coffee mugs. Given her druthers, she will always— always— find the display of coffee mugs in any store, pick one, and announce, “Here’s a good present for Daddy!” Our cupboard is overflowing with travel mugs, adorned with all manner of childish artwork.

I can’t keep giving my husband travel mugs, so instead we focus on making his “presents” an experience. A trip to the rock climbing gym, a weekend at Stinson Beach, or, as we experienced this weekend, a really kickass meal. Preferably prepared by professionals, though sometimes I do it myself.

This Father’s Day we packed up the minivan and headed to the Civic Center for one of our perennial family traditions: the Sunday Breakfast For Dinner at Brenda’s French Soul Food. Forgive me for the hyperbole, but there is NOTHING better than a New Orleans-style brunch dropped down from Pork-Booze-and-Butter Heaven into a sketchy San Francisco ‘hood on a Sunday evening. NUH. THING.

Brenda's Storefront

Brenda’s Storefront

Continuing with our lucky parking streak, we found a meter spot right in front of the restaurant. (It occurs to me that perhaps we are so lucky with parking because we go out to eat at hours usually reserved for retirees and worm-starved birds). Beware: the meters must be fed. Even on Sundays (GODDAMN YOU SFMTA). And they are hungrier than we were— a quarter gets you exactly five minutes. FIVE. Oh, but that is a rant for another time and place.

We went inside and wrote our names on the large chalkboard by the host’s station, where four other parties were already cooling their heels. The host offered to acquire beverages for us while we waited; the Doctor ordered a Cajun Bloody Mary and I had a pear cider. I’d brought a water bottle for the Bitz and the Jaybird. We found some chairs and sat down to enjoy the music and the decor. Brenda’s is not a big restaurant, though it is twice as big as it was when we first visited several years ago. The walls are painted with vintage-style advertisements for Louisiana seafood and a collection of mirrors hung in antique frames, which reflect the space and make it seem quite a bit roomier than it actually is. The condiments and silverware are set on the tables in empty Community Chicory Coffee tins (which also serves as the house brew). The walls are concrete but the high ceiling allows noise enough room to travel and prevents the restaurant from being intolerably loud. The population of patrons ranged from “mostly clean jeans and a hoodie” to “older lady coming from church” to “when I saw you outside I thought you might be a streetwalker” to—- well, us.


The waiting area

I didn’t mention the music yet, did I? I am not a fan of live music in restaurants. Usually the bands suck and you can’t hear yourself or your dining companions over the terrible slow jam cover of “Enter Sandman” or whatever post-ironic horseshit the mustachioed musicians are torturing innocent diners with.

Not so at Brenda’s. The band, a trio of gentlemen calling themselves “Gaucho,” played N’Awlins staples like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and gypsy jazz on their upright bass, steel guitar, and accordion at a volume that everyone enjoyed. Even the Jaybird, who normally disdains anything not performed by They Might Be Giants, enjoyed the tunes.

The fact that the music was good helped mitigate the long wait for a table. When we’ve gone to Brenda’s in the past (always before 6 pm) we have never had to wait more than five minutes for a table. On this Father’s Day, there was a party of at least 15 people sitting along an entire wall of the (cozily small!) restaurant. They were finishing up as we arrived and we assumed that we would be seated quickly once they left. Seriously, the entire— and rapidly increasing— population of the waiting area could have been seated in the space being occupied by this one party who Would. Not. Get. Up. And. Leave.

They never left. The thoughtful host managed to squeeze us into a corner two-top near the band after about 25 minutes of waiting. We quickly scanned the menu and made our decision. There is no kids’ menu per se at Brenda’s, but the menu is stuffed with things that kids love, such as pancakes, fruit, mac & cheese, granola, yogurt, french toast, scrambled eggs, a burger, etc.

Our server was friendly and efficient. Once we had ordered it only took about 15 minutes before our food appeared. We spent that quality time dancing.

Dancing with Daddy

Dancing with Daddy

The Jaybird preferred dancing in her seat, though everyone was refreshingly tolerant of children in general. They got lots of indulgent smiles and several other patrons stopped by our table to ask me how old the Bitz was and if they were enjoying their food and the music.


The Doctor was nursing his Father’s Day buzz with a pleasant glass of pinot noir and the Jaybird opted for orange juice. I stuck with water, which I shared with the Bitz. By the way, don’t ever share your drink with a baby. They are the WORST backwashers. There’s nothing grosser than taking a big gulp of refreshing H2O and ending up with little bits of floating unidentifiable food in your mouth.

The Party (as I shall heretofore refer to the people who wouldn’t leave) continued Not Leaving. In fact, a pair of them got up and took over ANOTHER two-top that the servers had just cleaned off, presumably to seat some patrons there. The list of names on the chalkboard was growing longer and the staff hovered partly in desperation over The Party, reaching in to their tables every once in a while to clear away the empty food plates. The Party was not taking the hint. I was laying the stinkeye on them as well, at least until the food appeared.

Have you ever seen anything that looked this good?

Pulled Pork Benedict

Pulled Pork Benedict

That’s the Doctor’s pulled pork Benedict with creole hollandaise. My plate held its slightly less-decadent cousin, fried chicken Benedict. Oh. Oh, it was good. The poached eggs melted down into the pork and chicken and mixed with the hollandaise to make an unholy union of deliciousness. The whole thing rests atop a perfectly crumbly, buttery homemade cream biscuit. Cream biscuits are not flaky, they are pillowy and tender with a shattering crust, and these are among the best I have ever had. As if this were not enough, the Benedicts come with a side choice of grits or potatoes. I had the grits, which were pooled with butter, creamy, and perfectly cooked—  bad grits (and I’ve had my share) are gummy and textureless. The Doctor’s potatoes were seasoned with a little Cajun heat and cooked with peppers. In fact, I have to stop writing about the Benedicts right now or I will have to pack the kids into their car seats and drive over to Brenda’s for another plate of them.

The Jaybird ordered a fruit plate and a side of fries to go with her plain cream biscuit. The fruit was fresh and sweet, consisting of honeydew, banana, pineapple, grapes, and strawberries; the fries were warm but not hot, which is actually a good thing for my kid. I snuck a couple fries and they were completely “fine.”

Potatoes, fries, fruit, and biscuit crumbs.

Potatoes, fries, fruit, and biscuit crumbs.

We munched away happily, transported by the amazing food and the lovely music. Full disclosure: I spent several of my more formative years living in New Orleans. While I cannot claim to be an expert on New Orleans food— I am not sure even a lifetime of study could ever make one an expert on NOLA food— I do have more than a passing familiarity with the major flavors and styles. Brenda’s makes the best New Orleans-style food I have ever had outside of New Orleans, and it’s better than many places actually in the Big Sleazy, as we affectionately referred to it in my salad days.

Despite my best efforts not to clean my plate, I did and so did the Doctor. The Bitz helped, especially with the pulled pork, the eggs, and the biscuits. He also ate some of his sister’s fruit and seemed quite sated by the time we asked for the check.

THE PARTY WAS STILL THERE. One of them, a child of two or so, had  taken a nap, woken up to eat a few more bites, and then started ANOTHER nap during the time they were there. Seriously, people. What is wrong with you? Have a little respect, if not for your fellow diners than for the hardworking servers and bussers who need those tables to empty and refill so they can earn the tips they need to support themselves. In my humble opinion, it’s unconscionably rude to spend more than an hour loitering after your meal is over. I counted six two-tops being taken up by The Party. I must give the staff at Brenda’s immense credit for maintaining their cool, resisting what must have been an overwhelming urge to kick The Party OUT, and remaining polite and friendly throughout. The folks in the waiting room were not as composed; I overheard more than one comment along the lines of “get the fuck out of those seats, assholes!”

We paid our bill, leaving an extra generous tip, and gathered the children together to leave. As we were loading the kids into the car, we saw the first members of The Party starting to trickle out the front door. I almost said something, but  I knew to do so would ruin the sense of joy and pleasure we were all enjoying from our experience at Brenda’s French Soul Food. Laissez le bon temps rouler and all that. So I kept my big mouth shut and smiled as they went by.


Rating: 9 out of 10

  • Changing Table: YES, in the women’s bathroom
  • Kids’ menu: NO, but the menu is filled with kid-friendly dishes
  • High Chairs: YES, standard restaurant high chairs

Brenda’s French Soul Food

653 Polk St. 

San Francisco, CA