Brown Sugar Kitchen's signature buttermilk fried chicken with a cornmeal waffle. The waffle is slightly sweet and surprisingly light, but you can also order the chicken a la carte. (Sarah Chorey)
by Sarah Chorey
We all know the saying good things come to those who wait.
In the case of Brown Sugar Kitchen, good things—in the form of finger-lickin' buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles—are now being heaped upon plates from San Francisco's Embarcadero to Uptown Oakland; those who've waited include not just soul-food-starved foodies across the city and the East Bay, but also the restaurant's chef-owner Tanya Holland herself.
Brown Sugar Kitchen's Buttermilk Fried Chicken
For over a decade, Holland threw her Creole heart into cooking southern-inspired classics with soul at her West Oakland restaurant, making a name for herself and her signature fried chicken and waffles, and even drawing city folks over to one of The Town's less desirable boroughs for a taste of what Oakland foodies were talking about.
Lovers of Holland's fluffy biscuits and savory smoked chicken-and-rice gumbo let out a collective nooooo when the eatery closed its doors in 2017; and while word of Holland's lease at SF's Ferry Building, snagged from Daniel Patterson's Il Cane Rosso back in 2016, has been making mouths water for years, the team needed time to raise funds for the project. Insert Holland's well-fought showing in season 15 of Top Chef, and that brings us up to speed, without a Top Chef title but with a burgeoning restaurant empire set to soak the Bay Area in maple syrup. Who dat.
Tanya Holland's Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
That's right, Holland has at last opened not one but two restaurants: The long-anticipated, fast-casual, counter-service version of Brown Sugar Kitchen at the Ferry Building, and a much larger (4,000 square feet!), full-service restaurant with an expanded offering in trending Uptown Oakland, near Drake's Dealership and Calavera. There's even buzz about an outpost of BSK soon to open at Oakland International Airport, as well as something cooking with the Golden State Warriors (well-known fans of hers) for the new Chase Center in SF's Mission Bay.
But before we all get ahead ourselves, let's just start with breakfast: Morning items such as a baked egg tart, cheesy grits with poached eggs, and breakfast sandwiches will only be available at the Ferry Building till 11am, so plan accordingly (lunch is served till 2pm). Here's a taste of what's on offer in SF.
The fried chicken and waffles steal a lot of the limelight, but the fried chicken sando is more than respectable, served on an Acme roll with aioli mayo and a generous portion of slaw. It's been selling out on the daily.
Now that's a biscuit. Holland and her team have perfected the art of the perfect biscuit —it's flaky on the outside, with layers of soft, buttery dough. Find both plain buttermilk (pictured) and bacon, cheddar, and scallion versions on the menu. Jam is optional, but these bad boys do just fine on their own.
Buttery, finely ground, and with an ideal level of creaminess, these grits work as a side with organic cheddar cheese, or as a hearty meal with the addition of poached eggs.
More for the carb category: Holland's mac-and-cheese is a gluten-free foodie's worst nightmare—i.e. heaven for the rest of us—with a rich, velvety texture and a sprinkling of crunchy breadcrumbs.
If you've saved room for something sweet. Brown Sugar's beignets are literally pillows of dough, plump and playful, with a healthy coating of powdered sugar. You can work out tomorrow.
While you're working your way to the front of the line, expect to be tempted by treats from their bakery case. Keep an eye out for flaky hand pies stuffed with fruity fillings.
But that's not all—there are also chocolate pecan bars—that's part brownie, part pecan pie—to take home.