Gumbo & Po-Boys @ Brenda’s French Soul Food, San Francisco

brendapoboy

The Shrimp Poboy @ Brenda’s French Soul Food, San Francisco.

I’m slightly skeptical of “chipotle” anything these days. To me, this pepper was arguably THE ingredient of the 1990s, as smoked red jalapeños began to officially hit the American mainstream. Not only did a burrito chain emerge from Colorado emblazoned with this very name, but television chefs such as Bobby Flay seemed to be infusing chipotle peppers into every recipe imaginable. These days, you can order a Chipotle Chicken Ciabatta at Jack in the Box or a select a packet of Ancho Chipotle Ranch Dressing for a Wendy’s salad. From my perspective, now that this ubiquitous pepper has successfully reached the drive-thru, its culinary cache is all but lost.

When I noticed that the shrimp po-boy at Brenda’s French Soul Food featured a chipotle remoulade, I was naturally a bit dubious, at least initially. On the surface, it all felt a bit gimmicky and slightly behind-the-times, the whole notion of a chipotle remoulade. But on the other hand, everything else about Brenda’s rang true, including the restaurant’s terrific word of mouth and its reputation for long lines of repeat customers. And then there is chef Brenda Buenviaje herself, a native of New Orleans and the product of a Creole-Filipino upbringing. All things considered, perhaps my issue with chipotle peppers was simply my own hang-up.

• • •

I can understand how Brenda’s French Soul Food stays crowded throughout breakfast and lunch (the restaurant closes at 3pm everyday). The location itself is tiny, enough so that it’s easily possible to brush elbows with the folks at a neighboring table. The scene can be surprising for those who are not ready for it: a little dining room jammed with diners, with waitstaff heroically navigating the cramped quarters. The best thing to do in this situation, at least if you’re alone, is to simply park yourself at the counter and wait for a menu.

I certainly won’t be the first one to mention that Brenda’s French Soul Food is fantastic — I’ll just join the chorus of cheers. My doubts about chipotle remoulade were put to rest as soon as I tasted Brenda’s pitch-perfect chicken, andouille and okra gumbo. This soup (pictured below) is the genuine article in every way, and most likely one of the best you’ll taste outside of Louisiana. Quite frankly, it’s a dish with no potential room for improvement. About halfway through this cup of gumbo, I began to suspect that — chipotle remoulade or not — the shrimp po-boy would easily pass muster.

Fortunately, I was right. Brenda’s shrimp po-boy is a great sandwich, although po-boy purists might demand an actual Leidenheimer roll — which they allegedly serve over at Yats — in lieu of Brenda’s toasted French roll (pictured above). Although I do appreciate the distinct texture and characteristics of Leidenheimer bread, the shrimp po-boy at Brenda’s proves to be an admirable rendition of the New Orleans classic. The shrimp themselves are big, sweet, and perfectly fried. And as for the chipotle remoulade, it holds its own rather nicely.

brendagumbo

The Gumbo @ Brenda’s French Soul Food, San Francisco.

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