Look, I'm fully aware that the holiday free-for-all is coming to a screeching halt this week. I know you've spent the past 30 days eating and drinking everything that came your way — all those cookies, all those cocktails, all those "well why not?" bites that added up to absurd, desperate thoughts of juice cleanses and kale-and-obscure-grain diets. But I'm asking you to postpone this fledgling urge to belt-tighten, for one more glorious meal anyway. Because the new Brenda's Meat and Three on Divisadero is a restaurant worth breaking your resolutions for.
Brenda's Meat and Three is owner Brenda Buenviaje and wife Libby Truesdale's spinoff from their hugely popular Brenda's French Soul Food in the Tenderloin, which is the kind of restaurant that makes you feel better by just walking into its airy, welcoming dining room. While Brenda's French Soul Food is more focused on New Orleans cuisine, Brenda's Meat and Three is more generally Southern (its "meat and three" moniker refers to the Southern cafeteria tradition of one meat and three sides). It's smaller than its Tenderloin counterpart, with only a handful of tables and an excellent horseshoe bar left over from the space's former incarnation as the BlueJay Cafe. The sparsity of the room's décor is a reflection of the menu's simplicity.
Options for the meat part of "meat and three" change every day, but follow a certain logic. There is almost always fried chicken, three pieces of it, the same crisp, beautifully fried version from Brenda's, with a spiced crust that has some personality. There is a wonderful meatloaf, airy and no relation to the tasteless slices of meat that usually masquerade as that dish. A hunk of braised short rib doused in mushroom gravy is so soft it can be cut with a spoon. A fillet of trout in a traditional butter and almond sauce manages to make even the "healthy" order decidedly not. All are good and worthy and you will not be disappointed.
Then there are the sides, which are the most interesting part of the meal and, if you're not feeling meat, can be ordered on their own in groups of four for $15. Stewed green beans turn from cafeteria food to something wonderful with the addition of bacon. Oyster stuffing is salty and savory. Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and pork-infused collared greens taste simply like the ingredients they're made from. Fried okra is pickled before it's fried, which gives each bite dimension. Roasted Brussels sprouts have enough butter to negate their vegetal benefits.
The menu extends beyond meat and three, offering a few staples from the original Brenda's as well as expanding into new Southern territory. Instead of Brenda's famous beignets, you can get calas, a lesser-known rice flour doughnut from the South that comes to the table hot and spongy, flecked with spice, served with jam and spiced butter, and dusted with powdered sugar. They're breadier than beignets, and more interesting. At dinner there are shrimp-studded hushpuppies with a marvelously rich chipotle remoulade, and a spiced meat pie served with chow-chow, a pickled vegetable relish.
Mornings bring biscuits and gravy, cinnamon-battered French toast, sweet potato pancakes, ham and red-eye gravy, and an assortment of egg dishes including the Delta Scramble, a take on the Hangtown Fry with fried oysters, shrimp, okra, and a spicy tomato sauce. That spice is echoed in the excellent Bloody Mary, garnished with pickled okra. At brunch, eggs Benedict (with Creole hollandaise and, if you want, fried catfish) come on Brenda's famously fluffy, buttery biscuits.
Am I gushing? I am. I can't help myself. This is food that makes me happy, and I haven't had a bad bite, let alone a bad meal, there. Perhaps the best example is the bologna sandwich at lunch, which sounded kind of eh when it came to choosing between it and something like shrimp and grits or a po'boy at lunch. But, oh man. A thick slice of fried bologna sat on the bun with pickles and pimento cheese, each messy bite melding into something greater than the sum of its parts. It's a sandwich I will think about on hungover mornings and with late-night munchies, a sandwich I will tell people about, a sandwich that will never ever be too much.