Monday, April 07, 2008

Brown sugar and waffles

Artichokes, fava bean leaves, asparagus, and soon, yes, rhubarb: Spring at last, spring at last, hallelujah, it's spring at last! The tiny page mandarins are still kicking around, though, and a sweeter little citrus you'll never see. Four of these, from Tory Farms, were about all I could afford from the Ferry Plaza farmers' market last Saturday, but they're so sweet and juicy you could grin all day just from licking your sticky fingers. After a spin around the crowded, crowded market(it's only April, people! Nothing to see here, no tomatoes, no peaches...where are you going to stand come July if you all pile in here now just for tangerines and deep-fried asparagus?) I headed back down to my local, the much more down-to-asphalt Alemany Market.

It was close to 1:30pm when I got down there, so many of the booths were already shut down and sweeping up, but I still scored a bag of 4 or 5 slim heads of red butter lettuce rubber-banded together for $1, plus cilantro, garlic, onions, peppers, and a big bag of brutto ma buono tangelos, golden nugget tangerines, Meyer lemons, and mandarins for a mere buck a pound. Flowers, taco trucks, strawberries (conventionally grown, and a little beat up, but $10 a flat' organics go for $35/flat): PQ says check it out. SE edge of Bernal Heights, Putnam and Alemany, Saturday mornings.

It was an Eazy-Bay kind of weekend, from breakfast at Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland to a French movie (Hors de Prix--Priceless--with Audrey Tatou, and a delightful romp it was) in Piedmont, drinks at Kingman's Lucky Lounge, coffee at Peet's on Grand Ave, even late-night eats at Rudy's Can't-Fail Cafe (the servers' black rocker tees read "Serving E'ville" with the RC/FC logo done AC/DC style on the front) in Emeryville (they're open til 1am! In the East Bay! Wheeee!) The only thing I missed was farmers' market cocktails at the Easy with the Red Meat Ranger, Papa Sueno, and their market pals Kelly (who sells fabulous girly lotions and soaps) and Arianna, who runs a small farm and chicken ranch in Watsonville. Arianna is cool, says Papa Sueno, because she farms, raises Peruvian chickens that can lay green eggs, and knows all about what's in season. Farmers are our new rock stars, now that we're all too sleepy to stay out late enough to go to gigs any more.

So, what will being in bed by 10, PQ can be up with the chickens herself, and a good thing too, if you want to get some of that fried chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar Kitchen. Don't let the industrial West Oakland setting fool you: Peralta Studios is just across the street, and the word is out about the homemade biscuits and doughnuts and Blue Bottle Coffee. Shuna of Eggbeater was working the biscuit dough behind the counter, doing a helpout for her pal, BSK owner Tanya Holland. The all-female kitchen crew was working hard, scooping grits and plating waffles on this busy weekend morning.

Oh, those waffles! At the last moment, I looked to the left, looked to the right, and realized the chicken would be little too much fried for first thing in the AM. But on their own, these waffles were light-as-a-feather babies, crisp and airy and golden brown. Real maple syrup, a smear of some kind of flavored butter, chicken-apple sausage from Aidell's: a very good time. The biscuits are very fine too, but only if you get them warmed up. Cold, they're still good, but they won't fill you with that special buttery-edged Southern-warmed lovin'. The home fries were good, the scrambled eggs were very good, the Niman Ranch bacon top-hole.

But now, the caveats. BSK, at least on busy weekends, does not have its service together. The hostess has no time (or inclination) for charm, the servers are sweet but overwhelmed. After finally snagging seats at the counter, then being ignored for many minutes, we went and fetched our own menus. The weekend menu itself is short--a fine thing, usually. I like a chef with an opinion, and there are enough places with millions of omelettes already. But there's short, and then there's running a breakfast place with no straight-up eggs-potatoes-toast option.

Now, I'd understand this, maybe, if this was a dinner place that did a fancy brunch once a week. But no, this is a joint that only serves breakfast and lunch. I understand that, grits and pie aside, this ain't no Just for You, no Rudy's or Al's Good Food Cafe. Holland's clearly not interested in running a short-order white-wheat-or-rye diner. What you can get are cheese grits and poached eggs, quiche, veggie scramble, French toast, or waffles (with or without fried chicken). But if you, like many, many people, want home fries, a biscuit, and some scrambled eggs for breakfast, you're going to get charged a la carte prices for every little thing, which means something like $12, with bacon.

Then they charged me for the fried chicken I didn't order. And did I mention it took close to 45 minutes between sitting down and getting breakfast? On the plus side, there were a couple of free (cold) biscuits to take the edge off, and an extra cup of coffee. (Another warning: that Blue Bottle coffee is all French-pressed, which means no waitress warming up your cup from the Bunn-o-matic. I imagine if you want more than a single dose of joe , you're going to pay a fresh $2 for every round. Haven't confirmed this, but I didn't see any warmups going around, so I'm figuring this for policy. And go easy on the half-and-half: it comes in tiny pitchers, filled only halfway.)

Not that I'm trying to be negative, mind--I came in really wanting to love BSK. It's a very pleasant place, with apple-green walls and a lively open kitchen, and some very handsome pecan and sweet-potato pies on display, right next to some massively nutty sticky buns. But it's still getting itself together, and a little more attention to the nuances of making customers happy--instead of just well waffled--would go far in getting the PQ's adoration, or at least her returning breakfast cash.

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