Restaurant Review: French soul food spices up Civic Center

Soul food is neither fancy nor utterly complex. It’s not cooked with utmost precision, nor is it commonly made under perfect conditions with the finest and rarest ingredients. And frankly, it shouldn’t be.

The food at Brenda’s French Soul Food is meant to be simple, homemade and, like the name suggests, cooked with a little love and care. Thankfully, this Creole diner at 652 Polk St. delivers.

While not a traditional kitchen in New Orleans, Brenda’s manages to bring what was created in the bayou and translate it into an urban environment. But the real experience at Brenda’s is the food – and it does not disappoint. Offering breakfast and lunch, the food is modestly priced, with everything under $12. There are also three or four specials written on the board that are a little different, but still in the same price range.

The chicken, sausage and okra gumbo is a good way to start, priced at $3.50 for a cup and $7.25 for a bowl. The gumbo was well-seasoned and had a bit of spice, but not too much. It is hearty, so the smaller cup is a better way to start off a meal rather than the larger bowl. The red beans and rice with andouille sausage is a good traditional dish to try. The andouille sausage they serve is smoky and goes well with the rice. The beans were a little too thick, and a bit too much like refried beans than southern red beans. The sandwiches at lunch range from the Sloppy Josephine, a lighter turkey sloppy joe, to its vegan counterpart, made with tofu. Also on the menu is shrimp, oyster, and catfish po’boys. All are served with fries or coleslaw and watermelon pickles, which are actually surprisingly spicy.

The jewel of the restaurant is the breakfast. The menu has a variety of omelets filled with bacon, andouille sausage and vegetables as well as pancakes and French toast. If they have the sweet potato pancakes as a special, I recommend you try them – a bit on the sweet side, but good nonetheless.

One of Brenda’s signatures is the beignets, the official doughnut of New Orleans. They are topped with powdered sugar and filled with your choice of Ghirardelli chocolate or Granny Smith apples sweetened with cinnamon honey butter. Another morning meal option is the savory crawfish-filled beignet. Spiced with scallions, cayenne pepper and cheddar cheese, this dish is sure to please. The beignets range from $4 to $7 for a plate, but for $9 you can have a sampler platter of each. The dough is somewhat thick, but many customers like to cut them into fourths, which makes them a little easier to enjoy.

The Hang Ten, filled with ham, fried clams and green onions, is also a delicious dish. The fried clam’s slight crunch was a welcomed twist in the omelet; and the clams had a nice saltiness that was not too strong, but stood out above the ham amongst the egg.

The cream biscuit and the grits really made the dish. Both complemented the omelet, but could have easily been a breakfast themselves.

The cream biscuit had a great texture – crumbly and buttery to the point where it just barely held together – yet it was not too doughy, as many biscuits tend to be.

Lastly, Brenda’s also serves their Sweet Watermelon House Tea. For $2.25, it goes well with a shrimp po’boy, the Sloppy Josephine or even just by itself. Refreshing but not too sweet.

At first glance, Brenda’s may not seem like much; however, there is a reason why people are standing outside. The restaurant is modestly decorated and, though recently remodeled, is small and cramped. While this is the main reason the wait can be so long, the restaurant has a homey feel, almost like sitting at the family table. It can get a bit difficult to sit in, however, as even the waitresses have to squeeze through the small aisle of chairs.

The place is not quiet either. It is better suited for a casual Saturday breakfast rather than an intimate brunch for two.
If you are not a fan of Motown, then the music may not be for you. If you are, though, then the sounds of The Temptations and The Four Tops only add to the experience.

Brenda’s is definitely worth the wait. The food is delicious, the surroundings feel like home, and for the price, it makes for a nice way to start off a weekend morning.