Almost six months to the day of its opening, Central Kitchen, located down the block from its sister restaurant Flour + Water in the Mission, started Sunday brunch service this past weekend. Naturally, I grabbed a few friends and headed down to check it out, not because I wanted the company, but because in my advanced age, I am unable to consume whole menus and require assistance, unlike in my youth of two years ago. Served between 10am and 2:30pm, half the dining room is saved for walk-ins, while the other half is reserved for OpenTable brunchers, so if the weather looks a bit dreary, firing up OpenTable is a good idea to save the hassle of a wait for a table inside.
If you have been here for dinner, the first thing you will notice is how much the split indoor-outdoor dining room seems better suited for brunch, with the giant windowed patio section naturally and brightly illuminated, that is if the sun happens to be shining that day. Of course, this might be an issue if you came to brunch with a pounding headache from too much enjoyment from the night before, as was likely the case with a table next to us -- a group of skinny-pants-wearers sporting shiny sneakers and sunglasses with hoodies over their heads. Although, in retrospect, perhaps they were all part of some odd Unabomber cosplay group that enjoys brunching.
While boozy drinks are de rigueur for this most easy going of meals, Central Kitchen's beer and wine license forces the restaurant to get a little creative for offerings beyond a mimosa by using fortified wines, like sherry, or other wine variants, like Vergano Americano. These cocktails should not get you gonna-get-topless-from-bottomless-mimosa drunk, they are all refreshing enough to provide that much needed Sunday boost, or tide you over until you get yourself to a proper bar, which could be next door once Trick Dog by the Bon Vivants opens. Also, at an average of $10, you will likely not want to have enough to get you sloppy drunk.
Starting off sweet rewarded our table with a cinnamon sticky bun with bacon, medjool dates, and walnuts ($5) and the sweet caraway and honey bread pudding with pears, quince, and pine nuts ($9). The sticky bun was warm, gooey, and sweet, with hits of salt from the bacon bits studded throughout; if Warrant was still relevant, they would be writing a sequel to "Cherry Pie" called "Cinnamon Sticky Bun with Bacon." And it would be as catchy as the original and a hit in dive and karaoke bars amongst inebriated air guitarists. The caraway and honey bread pudding, made from the restaurant's rolls served at dinner, seemed reminiscent of the Filipino cassava bibingka in aftertaste and texture, a caramel sweetness with a dense, firm pudding feel that dissolved in your mouth. If you are hungry or with others, get them both to start, otherwise, the sticky bun is all you need.
Skipping over the savory cheese and salumi plates, we ventured on to the seafood options. The smoked sturgeon with beets, huckleberries, and toasted seeds ($12) was a unanimous hit at the table. The interplay of the smoky, tart, sweet, and earthy flavors was as beautiful as the plating. However, the clean tasting and simple salmon crudo with fennel, mint, and Meyer lemon ($13) did not wow the table as much, but I suspect if eaten as a side with the soft scrambled eggs, it would have fared better. The restaurant also offers oysters if you are the type that wears pearls to brunch and needs shellfish to start your day.
Soon it was time for the crux of the menu, or the yolk of the matter, as it were. For those in the dark, Central Kitchen has recently acquired what Chef Thomas McNaughton refers to as, "The Rolls Royce of chicken coops." Why? Certainly not as a timeout room for his pet pig, Kona, but rather so the restaurant can keep its own egg-laying hens. These little egg factories will play a key role as the restaurant's brunch continues if the opening menu is any indicator -- the eggs have their own section composed of four dishes. Of the three we sampled, the baked eggs with chorizo and sweet potato hash ($14) and the pork belly benedict ($15) came out on top. The baked eggs with thickened, but delicate whites and the velvety yolk blended well with the oily and spicy chunks of chorizo, so well that there was the temptation to order a pretzel roll to sop up the chorizo grease and yolk mixture.
The pork belly benedict served on a split and toasted Arizmendi Bakery English muffin and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise is the dish to get if brunch is to be your only meal of the day. The thick slices of pork belly give in easily to a knife's light pressure, unlike the difficult to cut muffins which do a great job at absorbing the golden, runny yolk from the perfectly poached eggs. After finishing this dish, you will probably end up on your sofa, passed out from a food coma, waking up in time to catch Claire Danes doing her ugliest cry in the latest episode of "Homeland." The lightest of the bunch was the soft scrambled eggs with crescenza cheese, chanterelles, and nettles ($14). Airy and creamy, this dish allowed the eggs to take center stage, the rich flavor of the yolk being the most pronounced of the dishes.
If you are not a fan of eggs, then the beef alternatives include a grilled bavette steak with chicories and pecorino ($17) and a roast beef and cabbage sandwich on a pretzel roll ($13). Unfortunately, being killed by eggs prevented us from ordering any more items, but given how amazing the sandwiches are from the adjoining Salumeria, it would not be a stretch to assume the roast beef sandwich is similarly delicious. A few $5 sides such as smoked brown sugar bacon, pork sausage, and crispy potatoes are also available.
Being the first brunch service, the menu is bound to evolve and change as the kitchen finds its footing with diners, and most certainly as seasons change, because this is San Francisco after all. Although, if they never changed the menu, I could honestly say I would be okay with that.