travel

San Francisco: Brenda’s French Soul Food


Brenda's storefrontOff Polk Street, in San Francisco, I found the most delightful surprise. I had passed numerous diners—usually a favorite of mine, those diners are—but they seemed to lack life in the Union area of San Francisco. And so I began
looking up restaurants nearby and came across Brenda’s French Soul Food. It had good reviews, so I wandered around the extra 1/2 mile until I finally came upon the unassuming outside. Just a sandwich board, the name and a door with black metal decorative grating around the door and windows.

A man was cleaning the door as I went to open it, but he quickly opened it and led me to an empty table near the front. The inside was fresh and new, though imitating the old in that way restaurants do: A mural on the right of a crawfish with Bon Voyage Shipping Co. on top of old brick, silverware held in Cafe de Monde empty coffee canisters.

Brenda's wallI ordered coffee and water right away and then was left to familiarize myself with the menu. Everything looked and sounded delicious, but the beignet flight ($10) held my interest. I knew I couldn’t eat four beignets even before I saw how large they were, but the chance to try all four flavors was too strong: crawfish, apple, chocolate and plain.

When they arrived, after a neighbor and I realized we didn’t have spoons and so conspired to use our knives to swirl our coffees, I was very, very pleased. Three of the four were dusted in confectioner’s sugar, with the fourth—the only savory beignet—dusted in cayenne.

beignets

 

I started with the savory crawfishcrawfish beignet beignet, which was creamy inside with scallions and cheese. I enjoyed every bite, which reminded me of my time in New Orleans.

I then moved on to the sweets. Not remembering which of the beignets were which, I dove into the one just after the crawfish. It turned out to be Granny Smith apple, which tasted like a sweet apple pie with its cinnamon and honey butter filling.

Savoring each bite, I thought I could go on when the waitress came by to see if I needed a box. “Oh no,” I said naively. “I think I’ll just have a little more.”

But by the end of the second beignet I had to admit she was right. I needed a box—I could not take another bite.

I later shared the chocolate beignet at lunch, filled with molten Ghiradelli chocolate filling with my brother and his friend Mary. And the next day I finished off the plain for breakfast. Essentially the four beignets lasted me three meals over two days for ten dollars. Amazing.

I’ve already added Brenda’s French Soul Food to the list of recommendations for friends visiting San Francisco, so you know it must have made an impression.

The specials also looked amazing, with Creole pot pie with cheddar biscuits and green salad. I can’t wait to go back and try their lunch or dinner menu, but until then, I have my memories.

 

Travel: A weekend in New Orleans

cornerAfter Christmas, my mom, brother and I decided to head to New Orleans for a quick trip away. My brother and I hadn’t been since we were little bitty and barely remembered anything about the trip we had made then. And my mom has great memories of New Orleans from when she was a child, visiting with her father.

We arrived on a rainy, dreary day. After at least six hours of driving, we pulled up to the swank Dauphine Orleans Hotel.

75We headed out into the evening, turning onto Bourbon Street, as I followed the crowd. My mom, who has been saying for ages she wants to go to Mardi Gras quickly changed round to my point of view as she saw just how trashy Bourbon Street actually is—and that on a non-party-hardy night. We enjoy a drink or two, but are definitely not the party-hardy crowd.

We found our way to Acme Oyster House, where we stood in line outside (thankfully it had stopped raining!) for about an hour. Acme and Felix’s across the street seem to be the busiest restaurants around, but know that pretty much anywhere you go in New Orleans includes standing in line. This wasn’t a huge deal for my brother and I, but my mom’s feet have been hurting, so keep this in mind if you’re traveling to NOLA.

Acme could be a post in and of itself, but I’ll try and keep it short. Sit at the bar, if possible, to see them shucking oysters. They said each of the workers shucks about 1,700 oysters a day. That’s incredible. The older man who was working at the bar entertained us with stories as he chipped at them with a knife? Pick? An instrument that shucks oysters! He said the hand he held the oyster with was numb from the cold and the other one was beginning to lock up with pain. I have no idea how he was able to open the things day in and day out.

There was a couple to our right who ordered a dozen oysters and found a pearl in one of the shells. My mom said when she was a girl she had found and kept many pearls, but once, after she moved, they were never found again.

We ordered a dozen raw oysters to share and mom and I split the Fried Peacemaker Poboy, while my brother enjoyed a whole one. The peacemaker combines fried shrimp and oysters complete with Tabasco-infused mayo. All of it was delicious.

It amused me how relaxed everyone was when you got inside, while the whole time waves of people are outside lined up waiting to come in. The place is small but homey and the waitstaff were nice and welcoming, cracking jokes with one another and some of the customers as they went about their jobs.Cafe de mondeThe next morning, we went to Café de Monde, because, well, duh! Everyone else was there, of course and we waited in line again, though the line moves fairly quickly. When you get under the big tent, know that the staff is going to tell you to find your own seat. Essentially they send people in waves, you sit down, a waitress attends to you and then this repeats continually throughout the day and night. Again, we had a great waitstaff both times we went. Yes, it’s hard not to go there each morning, though you know your arteries are not the better for the fried dough, sprinkled, no DOUSED, with powdered sugar and the hot cafe au laits.

We then went to French market, which is nearby, but I would advise you to wait until later in the day when more people are milling about for a more festive walk-through. Also, be hungry! They have lots of food vendors, from bread to cheeses, and of course, seafood.

We then headed to the Aquarium, which is just about 1/2 a mile down the road. We took the trolley, but it’s a quick walk, so save your $3 unless you just want to have the experience (and a bit of a wait).seahorses

The aquarium was fun, but gosh … so many kids. If you’re the one with kids, it’s probably perfect, though. We had a good time, but somehow could not figure out how to get to the parakeets.

churchOne of the things on my list was to see the St. Louis church. When we got near the steps my brother was appalled at a sign on the steps that said $6. “In Italy we saw tons of churches for free,” he complained. My mom, mom that she is, led us in there after asking repeatedly, “Are you sure you want to see the church?” Keep in mind, I never said, “Hey, here’s the church. Let’s go in.” Essentially, they led us into a museum next door to the church (it is hard to tell the difference even though the buildings are HUGE, because you’re under the awning near the steps), which we paid $6 a piece to go into and did not realize until after we left that, “Hey, that wasn’t the church. Here’s the church!” Needless to say, the church was free and indeed pretty cool. Not to say the Louisiana State Museum was bad. We just didn’t know that it wasn’t a church (despite not having pews and all that stuff). museum 2

We’re blaming the mishap on the jazz band in front of the square that had everyone paying attention to them (and not where we were going).

bandjazz

This is already a lot longer than I had planned on posting, so I’ll sum up the other places of interest I’d recommend:

The Audubon Zoo is on your way out of town, so hit it up also. This would have been more fun in the spring, but they still have lots to see. You can get a pass for the aquarium and the zoo for a discounted price.

Gorilla

Cooter Brown’s Tavern in Uptown New Orleans has great poboys and cheese fries. A very fun and quirky bar with tasty food. (Ranked 3rd for Best Bar Food of New Orleans by Gambit Magazine.)

Deanie’s Seafood is where all the locals told us to go and it did not let us down! Try the barbecued shrimp and the seafood platter and enjoy boiled potatoes in butter instead of bread before the meal.

Named “Best Seafood Restaurant”  by the Times Picayune and “Best Place for Crawfish”  for Tops of the Town 2014, New Orleans magazine.

Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter has the best bread pudding and it’s gumbo is pretty good to boot. It has won the Best Gumbo category in the Best of New Orleans poll every year since 1999. So, you should probably order gumbo. They have a vegetarian option, so don’t let not eating meat keep you away!

bread puddingPat O’Briens is famous for its hurricane drinks. There are several bars rolled into one, so whether you want to hang out on a patio, or karaoke, it has a little bit of everything. Just know that if you don’t want to keep the glass, you can get $3 back. I know most people probably want the glass at the time, but remember: You’re going to have to carry it around all night and then when you get home, you’ll probably think, “Why did this seem like a good idea?”

me mom and bobThat’s the highlights of the trip. Don’t forget to sample hot sauces and pralines at all the shops, listen to music and enjoy the art galleries along the way!orchestra