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I was planning a birthday brunch for a friend of mine last year, in early December, when a fellow birthday-brunch-planner recommended Brenda’s. I was immediately sold on the idea – a French-Southern brunch place? Definitely count me in.

There were a couple of snags – Brenda’s typically has a two hour wait on weekends during brunch time, unless you get there at the ungodly hours of 9-10am. The restaurant is actually fairly small for its level of demand among the loyal regulars and fans who flock from miles away to experience Brenda’s. Seating groups larger than 6 is a major challenge. Our birthday brunch troupe was going to be at least 12 if not larger, with people trickling in over time; the logistics of making Brenda’s work seemed too daunting for a laid back Sunday morning.

So we moved our birthday celebration to another brunch place – turns out that even that venue did not end up working on the morning off and we relocated a bit further down the same street to an alternate brunch spot. A story for another day!

Since then, Brenda’s has been on the top of my must-try list. I actually showed up another weekend right at the end of the year with two other friends. The two hour wait was too intimidating to fight though, specially since we had plans to go to the de Young museum right after. That day, we relocated to a nearby Burmese restaurant instead. Good business for nearby restaurants really.

Third time’s a charm, you say. Well, I have to agree with you. With the new 101 challenge project, I had fresh reason to be adventurous and give Brenda’s one more try. This time we went prepared for a two hour wait. We pledged to be patient, and didn’t have plans to do anything afterwards except perhaps go to a park and vegetate and soak in the sun (and maybe text our friends on the east coast about the amazing warm weather we were enjoying with no rains in sight even at the end of January!)

There was a wait, but we got very lucky and got away with a minimal wait. We were hustled in through a side door – every available inch of space inside was strategically allocated to feeding hungry patrons and a one-way traffic flow had been set up to avoid pileups.

We were seated, nay, piled on, at a tiny table wedged into half the space that it rightfully deserved. The service staff were flustered, but attentive, courteous and fast. Soon after we wedged into our allocated micro-mini slots around the table, I realized that I’d have to step out and feed the parking meter. But I didn’t have enough quarters. I became that annoying customer pleading for change at the hostess stand and then had to weave my way through the ever thickening crowd of the customers in limbo who had been summoned inside the restaurant but were still waiting for their tables to become available.

Back after my brief sojourn, none the worse for wear, we all focused on the fairly extensive menu. Of course, we had to start with the beignet sampler – four fluffy pillows of pastry piled high on a sliver of a platter, dusted with powdered sugar or chocolate as appropriate. One was a plain beignet with powdered sugar. Sweet on the tongue, with an airy flakiness to it, yet dense enough to be a beignet. Another was chocolate filled – an obvious delight. The third was apples – a twist on apple pie meets donut. The best one though, was the savory beignet, stuffed with crawfish. The filling hit all the right spicy notes, with just the creamy texture without feeling like a chicken pot pie filling.

Once we waded through the beignets, we realized our orders of a brunch dish per person had been exceptionally ambitious. We were almost full already and our real food had not even arrived. While we chattered amongst ourselves and tried to block out the conversation of the adjoining table, our brunch entrees arrived in a fanfare of steaming aroma.

If there’s one item I should comment on, it’s the grits. You should mix it thoroughly before digging in, otherwise you will think you mistakenly ordered butter soup. It is that rich and more and served up in personal buckets. The biscuits and gravy that my friend’s order came with was also an indulgent treat. The eggs benedict were done just right. I do like my hollandaise a tad more lemony but the eggs were just perfect. As we concluded the feast, we concluded that we do have to return to check out their dinner offerings!

Brenda’s was a test of patience and persistence, with the dreams of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow brought to life with the savory flavors of French-Southern magic!

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